3 Reading Tips for Writers

How many books do you read in a year?  Who’s your favorite author, and why? When was the last time you truly got lost in a good read?

Only about 18% of the adults in the United States read more than one book a year for pleasure. As authors we have to sit up and say, “Yikes!” However, as humans, we also need to acknowledge that our “market” is pounded constantly for time.  People are busy with work and personal obligations, social commitments, and even a dizzying array of entertainments. The quiet book on a shelf doesn’t exactly shout out for reading time.

But for us lucky ones, those who love the book, we know several good reasons to read.  And topping the list for us is simply that to write better we need to constantly aspire to read better.

Book photo: How to Read a Book - by Adler and Van Doren
Reading better to write better -- who knew?

Last week, I picked up a copy of “How to Read a Book” by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. This book, originally published in 1940, is still found in local book stores, selling well.  And no wonder. Adler and Van Doren conduct a thoughtful exploration of reading from multiple perspectives and different levels. This isn’t the only good book on reading, but, as once critic said, it “has become a rare phenomenon, a living classic.” If you get a chance, try to add “How to Read a Book” to your reading list.

After poking around "How to Read a Book," I started researching other books, blog posts, and articles on reading.  Here are three tips I hope will help you both to become a better reader and a better writer:

One - READ MORE

Well duh. Like eat more veggies and lose more weight, we writers know it’s important to read as much as possible. The question becomes not whether to do so, but how.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Keep an on-going book list – so you never run out of materials. Some people even set up a separate email account to send reading ideas to themselves, and follow-up emails with reviews and notes.
  • Keep reading handy – Have a book, anthology, magazine, or other reading material strategically lodged in those places you naturally gravitate to perch – your car, your favorite chair, the bathroom, etc.
  • Plan reading times – sometimes finding time is a matter of thinking ahead. Do you rush back to work from lunch and find you’ve only been gone 15 minutes? Maybe you can use that extra time for a good reading break. The twenty minutes before falling asleep at night, or turning on your light when the alarm goes off so you can wake comfortably with a good book are also good. If you look for time, you’ll find it.
  • Make reading a habit – Once you make reading fun, you’ll be inspired to return to it over and over. Keep track for a week of times you otherwise “waste” when you could be reading, and then change that habit for a reading one.

Two – MAKE YOUR BOOKS YOUR OWN

Adler and Van Doren encourage readers to jot down notes and questions in margins, underline unfamiliar words, mark in the margins great turns of phrase or quotations, and outline the book you’re reading in the couple of blank pages at the front or back of those books you buy.  I have a hard time with “outlining fiction,” but if you glance through any Cliff notes, you can see ideas for how this might be done.

One RMFW author was talking at her book signing, and mentioned that when her editor/agent suggested she write a mystery she went out, bought more than a dozen mysteries, and outlined them.  She didn’t run to the “how to write a mystery” section of the bookstore. She read the genre she was interested in writing. She made those books her own.

Three – READ AT NEW LEVELS

“How to Read a Book” talks about how most of us read at an elementary level.  This isn’t to be insulting, but accurate. If you’re like me, perhaps you too read at this level. Word. By. Word. Page one to “the end.” And if you’re as slow a reader as I, then becoming frustrated with reading more is understandable.  But here are some other levels of reading to consider:

  • Inspectional Reading – This is essentially skimming through an entire book, no matter the length, in a small set amount of time. Check the title, categorize the book, read the blurbs that so many of us struggle to write, and dive in here and there to get a complete feel for the book, before wasting time on something you don’t enjoy.
  • Analytical Reading – This is probably done the second or third time you quickly read a book. Start arguing with the author, ask questions (in the margins) and classify the book in several ways.  This is active reading to help you remember more, and enjoy the experience at a deeper level.
  • Syntopical Reading -- This is an expression developed by the authors to say that sometimes you need to read multiple books and sources on a single question, and that when you do this, your expertise is more highly developed.  As a mystery writer, for example, I wouldn’t want to read only Agatha Christie, but I need to delve into several authors in order to create my own concept of what a good mystery is all about.

In the past couple of weeks I have to admit that I’ve been indulging in Netflix reruns of “Murder, She Wrote.” In one episode, an aspiring writer asks Jessica Fletcher how he can become a better writer.  Without hesitation she answers, “Read, read, read!”

I hope you’ll share your own reading tips in the comments below.  Meanwhile, “Hound of the Baskervilles” is calling.

A Study in Clues: The Layered Story

As a mystery writer, I’m intrigued by the notion of clues.  The old “list of stuff in a scene” or, “what the butler saw” are clue-types I still enjoy. But to be honest, I often miss clues in mysteries, relying on my “gut feeling” to decide who the culprit of the crime is. To me, under the clues, deductive reasoning, observances and other detecting tools of the trade, is the story. And the story is what brings the reader along, even if I know that the person who seems the nicest is likely to be the killer.

M.C. Escher's Three Worlds from WikiArt.org
M.C. Escher's Three Worlds
from WikiArt.org

So, last week I dove into the classic mystery by Wilkie Collins, “The Woman in White.” I hadn’t read it before, and wasn’t expecting much.  After all, it was written in 1859 in the midst of the Victorian era. The sentences are long, the characters seldom get right to the point, and the niceties of the times could make the pace of the story seem beyond quaint, to nerve-wracking slow.  I thought I’d have no problem discovering “who done it” by chapter two. Was I in for an education.

Collins’ language, though typical of the time, engaged me completely.  He breaks all sorts of story rules by today’s standards, yet in doing so, enriches the reading experience completely.

The table of contents gives us seldom used concepts, like Epoch (a period in a person’s life marked by notable events), and a story started by one character and continued by another, based on the events. No mish-mash of multiple witnesses to the same event as we write today, but a continuous story told from the perspective of the best witness for that event. But every witness has a mystery of his or her own to resolve. Each was written in first person, but the personalities and their personal worries were so varied it was easy to keep them straight.

In the first paragraph of the tale, we are engaged with a question put forth in the form of a melodramatic statement: “This is the story of what a Woman’s patience can endure, and what a Man’s resolution can achieve.”  Okay, I’ll bite.

There is no dead body in the first chapter. Or the second. In fact, no one dies for quite a while in this tale. Yet time and again, I was caught up in the tension of what might happen. And when, at last, we get to the death, it seems almost inconsequential to the tale.  This isn’t much for detecting writers of today to pull from.

In fact, it wasn’t until the very end of the tale, that I understood a seldom used, but completely effective form of clue-setting—layering.  With multiple perspectives, we have multiple stories pulled along not just by a theme, but by subplots, each with mysteries of their own.  Why did Sir Percival insist on marrying Laura when she made it plain her heart rested elsewhere?  Who is this enormous Fosco, and how does he maintain that Svengali hold over so many people? Who is this woman in white, and why does she look so much like Laura?

Every page seemed to introduce a new mystery, even as it revealed new evidence of evil intent.  I’m reminded of the old Heinz ketchup commercial: anticipation. Layering.

And, I was truly grateful that not every mystery in the story was closed in the final pages of the book.  Some mysteries were solved early and others late.  The more you read the more you were rewarded in the puzzles and solutions before you.

In a way, The Woman in White reminds me of M.C. Escher’s lithograph of The Three Worlds. When you look at this picture of a pond with a fish in it, you’re tempted to walk by and say “so what?” But then Escher invites you in with the title of his work and you can see so much more because of the subtlety of laying he’s done with the fish in one world, the leaves in another, and the trees in a third world. Woman in White gives us at least that many layers.

So what’s the clue here? How do you plant it in your next story?  Learning to layer here.

The Value of a Compliment

So. Here we are, six months into the “New Year.” How are your writing resolutions going?  Are you getting 2,000, or 10,000, or whatever daily word counts you aspired to complete? Me either.

Have you finished that first novel and started in on your second? I’m right with you on missing that one too.

In fact, like 92% of the people who make resolutions, I have failed to meet my 2016 reading and writing goals.

And the start of my year hasn’t been all that much to celebrate either.  I entered two writing contests only to fail making it past the first round of judging.  I had one of those decade birthdays, and sometimes I feel every minute of how ancient my bones have become. Just lock me up in the museum and throw away the key. And while I started and love a new job, guess what that does to my writing time. Anybody have cheese to go with my wine-ing? Hearts bleeding peanut butter yet?

To me, there are always clouds for the silver linings in a writer’s life. We work alone, and are sometimes lonely. We’re introverted in an extrovert world. We’re creative in a nuts and bolts kind of society. If I focus hard enough, there are always things that give me the excuses for feeling bad, procrastinating too much, and generally leave me asking why I want to be a writer. Hint: if you’re in it for the big bucks, there are a whole lot of other ways to get that goal accomplished.

Then, for me, this past month happened and I have to push those gloomy clouds back. The silver linings refuse to stay closeted.

Someone told me that they liked my work.  Liked. My. Work. Really?

In fact, this generous person said, “I just wanted to tell you how much I loved your book! I couldn’t put it down and finished it in two days.”  This from a total stranger to me. Well shut my mouth and give me a keyboard. I think I can try this writing thing again.

And then a friend said to me, “My mom adores your books and wants to know when the next one is coming out.” For the first time in months, the question, “how’s the writing?” hasn’t left me feeling guilty and defeated. My friend’s face shone with being able to share this great review, and we’re talking about writing a short story just for mom for Christmas.

And this past Tuesday, Lindsay Woods of KRFC Radio in Fort Collins, replayed an interview she did with me a year ago on her Tuesday Talk Show.  What an ego boost! One full hour with no commercials (KRFC is a nonprofit organization), talking about a favorite subject—books and writing.  Lindsay read out loud some of the reviews both writer friends and professional reviewers gave my latest book.  I had forgotten them long ago.

I have a clipping file of reviews, and when I take the time to look through them, I always feel energized for writing projects.  I also like Aaron Ritchey’s advice from yesterday’s column, “write every day, as much as you can.” I like how there isn’t a specific number of words. Just write.

I also like Mary Gillgannon’s notion that writing takes energy.  She’s right.  Exercise is important. So is filling the spiritual well as she talks about.

So here’s my tip of the day – keep your compliments.  Whether or not you’re published, or a contest winner, you receive writing compliments from time to time.  Save that critique group note that says you’ve mastered the use of ellipses.  Hold onto the thank you note that says it’s no wonder you’re a writer; your last letter home was terrific. Cherish the rejection that’s accompanied with a personal note from an agent or editor.

I have a bright blue binder where I keep print out of reviews – on friends’ blogs, from the press, notes from loved ones.  Now I know where I need to look to build the kind of positive energy that makes writing what it was always meant to be – a joy.

Hey! I just realized the New Year is only 6 months old – I can get some writing done.  Hope you do too.

Wishing you a positively creative day.

The Freedom to Write

Happy Memorial Weekend!  So many things to celebrate—the beginning of summer, the joy of family, our gratitude to veterans and those who lost their lives in war.

Like most of us, I hate the idea of war.  I know what it’s like to lose a loved one suddenly, and to have my child killed in action in a place far away under conditions I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy would be a trauma I don’t think I could endure.  It all seems so senseless. But wars have been fought since humankind first began to gather in tribes across our world. We are a violent species, and our children of 18, 19, 20 years pay the price for this.

Photo for the freedom to write.
Thank you to all our service personnel who protect our right to write.

What soldiers do, though, is bring you and I as writers a solemn and precious gift—the gift of a free press. The gift of being able to say and write what we feel is important.  The US Constitution in the first amendment recorded under our Bill of Rights guarantees our freedom of expression.  Our military personnel protect that freedom in a very real way.

I don’t know if my uncle worried about the specifics of a free press when he went to war in the 1940s, or when he had to shoot or be shot in the South Pacific.  He was just a kid who did what he was told. In all the years I “knew” him, Uncle Jack only talked of his military service once. That was just a year or two before he died, but the stories he told were frighteningly vivid even after almost 70 years had passed.  Uncle Jack’s service and the service of his buddies in WWII guaranteed that a book like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible would be published and not burned as so many books were by the Nazis. Thank you, Uncle Jack.

And even when journalists and soldiers come in principled conflict as happened in the 1960’s, our freedom to write, to challenge our mores and common thinking are protected.  While young men and women sailed across to Vietnam to, as the posters said at the time, “meet new people – and then shoot them,” our journalists at home and in the rice paddies far away were protected and even encouraged to write, to discover, to unearth the important stories.  That’s how we ended up with such classic writing as the Watergate investigations by Woodward and Bernstein, published in the Washington Post, Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, and the television show, M.A.S.H. that criticized American involvement in foreign wars.

Today, journalists travel with armies, report in countries about political and human rights violations, cover our world with information.  According to the website cpj.org (Committee to Protect Journalists), there were 73 journalists killed in 2015, and so far in 2016 there have been 10 killed as they did their jobs of writing.  Today, people still sacrifice their lives so that crucial truths have the chance to thrive.

This leaves you and me with an important role in the story of human history.  If we have the freedom to write whatever we want, we have the obligation to write and reflect our world passionately in our stories.  Whether we write romance, or crime, fantasy or creative non-fiction, let our writing be from our hearts, and be as honest as possible.

This Memorial weekend, as we acknowledge our fallen soldiers who protect our freedom of expression, perhaps we can also spare a moment for the journalists who exercise that protected freedom. And in the process of remembrance and gratitude we can encourage our own growth as humans and writers.

5 Ideas to Boost Your Writing Confidence

The blank page is to many authors what a large audience is to a shy and introverted soul asked to give a speech. Terrifying.  And it doesn’t help when writing friends are completing that next chapter, submitting another short story to an anthology, or simply garnering another 50 readers to their blog.

Before succumbing to the terror of the blank page, know that there are things you can do to bolster your writing confidence and hopefully increase your productivity at the same time.  Here are some ideas you might try and some thoughts for your own writing journey:

  1. WRITE BADLY - Yep, go out and enjoy using redundant phrases, sloppy attributions in dialog, or poetic and superfluous adjectives to your heart’s content.  Make a game of it. Try starting a story with one of these clichés and see if a spirit of fun doesn’t just take over your creative time:
    1. “It was a dark and stormy night. . .” (check out the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest if you get something good going here)
    2. “She looked into the mirror admiring her glossy brown tresses . . .”
    3. “He wore his disappointment like a badge of honor. . .”

Remember: not every piece of writing you do has to be publishable or profitable.

  1. MAKE A MESS – I used to try to buy pretty notebooks with kittens and puppies and happy sayings on them, but I found I never wanted to write in them. I feared writing the “wrong thing,” and messing up the perfect bound books. Now I buy cheap-o notebooks and often intentionally slop up a page or two. Kind of like breaking in a new pair of sneakers—what’s a little mud-slinging among friends? If you only write on a computer, try hand writing sometime--very freeing, and confidence building.
  2. WRITE NEW – Stuck in a rut with your romance writing? Try taking some of your favorite characters and putting them into a horror story. Or try writing a poem (I once wrote one about my Jeep—still have and enjoy it). Or a blog post for the RMFW blog. Or a real love letter. Sometimes taking a "vacation" from what we normally do, increases our ability to focus and be productive when we return to our work.
  3. WRITE SHORT – Think in terms of filler articles for your favorite magazines or e-zines, or maybe enter a flash fiction contest. You probably know a lot more than you think you do. The competition is fierce for these articles today, as the filler is a disappearing form of writing (a filler is a tiny article, joke, anecdote, or other copy that used to "fill" print space in the old days of typeset layouts), but more and more companies' websites need short blog posts, Twitter tweets, and other "content" for their social media. It's opportunity for the flexible writer, may give you some ego-boosting clips and maybe even put a few bucks in your pocket.
  4. WRITE DAILY – Okay, no guilt here. I don’t count words completed in a day.  Tried that. Led to increased guilt over the time I wasted counting and tracking words “completed” instead of writing something I could call commercial fiction. Instead, I try to keep that cheap spiral notebook with me for when an idea jumps to mind. There’s a notebook on my nightstand and one at my desk. I have notecards in my purse for emergency moments of brilliance, and there’s always my dictation function on my phone if all else fails. Jot down fun stuff like character names, titles of books you’ll write, a run-in with a nasty total stranger (did I ever tell you about the guy at the dog park I almost punched?) and, of course, a plot twist that will go into your next novel nicely.

And here’s a bonus tip—most of us write because we simply cannot go without writing. But when we get caught up in the “business” of writing, we lose both our fresh voice, and the thing that brings us to the writing table—our creativity. Deep breath. Relax. Write.

If you have ideas to share, please do!  I’m always on the lookout for a great motivational tip.

ON ANOTHER NOTE:

Tomorrow, Saturday April 23, RMFW will host its quarterly board meeting.  If you’re interested in how our all-volunteer organization gets things done, or want to get more involved yourself, please join us at the Sam Gary Branch Library, 2961 Roslyn St, Denver, CO 80238. The meeting starts at 1:00.

Writers and Public Speaking

A couple of weeks ago, some RMFW author friends and I were discussing book promotion, and the topic of public speaking came up.  Public speaking. As in one of the most fearsome activities a person can do. These brave souls are willing to think about taking heart and book in hand to stand up in front of total strangers. They’ll speak with microphones or just more loudly than normal, they’ll gesture, they’ll change voices with each new character, all in hopes of selling more books. How cool is that!

Carol Berg speaks at RMFW
Public speaker Carol Berg.

I decided to look into what it would take to join or form a speakers’ bureau. To do so, I interviewed Karen Loucks Rinedollar of the Denver Speakers Bureau.  I also joined Toastmasters last May, and have found public speaking a fascinating subject.

JOINING/FORMING A SPEAKER’S BUREAU

Karen was generous with her time and she shared both some thoughts on speaking and on forming a bureau, or place where those looking for speakers can find talent to fill their needs.

“To sell more books?” asked Karen. “To sell more books, write more. Become a New York Times best-selling author before trying to join a speakers’ bureau.”  While kindly said, Karen left no doubt that people wanting to get involved with public speaking need to have credentials that make them more desirable as “draws” to a public speaking event.

But writing more doesn’t necessarily mean writing more books.  She suggested developing a great and actively read blog (I understand RMFW’s blog is always looking for contributors), or writing article in your area of expertise. If your main character is a mad scientist, is it possible to build credibility by writing scientific articles for Popular Science?

“Establish yourself as a professional,” said Karen. “That makes you more attractive as a speaker.” And more likely to be picked up by speakers’ bureaus.

Absolute speaker musts? According to Karen, there are two big items:

  • Have a good website. Event planners look for speakers on-line as much as anywhere else, and you should have a portion of your site dedicated to enticing them.
  • Post great samples of your work—Yes, you can use an iPhone recording as you get started, but be sure to show samples of how you interact with your audience and use your best video clips to do so.

As a parting thought, Karen expressed some caution. “When you work on public speaking part-time, you’ll get part-time success.”

TIPS FROM TOASTMASTERS

When I joined Toastmasters, I had visions of being coached and growing to be the next Steven Colbert. Now I spend a couple of hours each week with people who talk both extemporaneously and in prepared speeches. Colbert? Not so much, but as with a critique group, Toastmasters offers a great opportunity to test your speaking skills, as well as developing other leadership qualities. This organization is well worth the investment.  Here are some tips for public speaking from my time spent among my public speaking friends:

  • Choose a good topic to speak on. Yes, even in a book signing, you’ll want to have something interesting to talk about.  Do you write mysteries? Maybe you can research and talk about local cold cases or what it’s like to ride along with the police as a Citizen’s Academy member. There are four purposes to public speaking: entertain, educate, inform and persuade. Oh, and the persuading doesn’t include, “buy my book” talks.
  • Respect the clock. This one is a very difficult challenge, but I’ve seen speakers who go on five, ten, twenty minutes overtime, and their audiences become uncomfortable and antsy. Practice, practice, practice, with a timer!
  • Be prepared to speak extemporaneously. At many writers’ conferences I have heard speakers talk about how boring it is to be asked things like, “where do you get your ideas?” or “how long does it take to write a whole book?” But, as a librarian friend told me, “These are the questions that readers really want to hear answers to.” So be prepared. Write the story of writing a story. Buy into it, and I think you’ll find some good material for public speaking there.

Are you public speaking to promote your book?  Maybe you can share some tips with the rest of us. Would you like to see “Public Speaking for Authors” at Colorado Gold? Please let me know.

Playing with Rhetoric

In this year of politics we are likely to hear the common complaint, “Oh, that’s just the candidate’s rhetoric. Wait until they’re in office and we’ll see what really happens.”

picture of jfk inauguration
Kennedy used antimetabole to inspire a generation.

Rhetoric definitely has a bad reputation. The first definition in the dictionary implies that rhetoric allows people to use language for influence and persuasion, but without honesty.

I had a class once in rhetoric. Took it because someone said it was practically an automatic A, and heck, who wouldn’t go for that? Unfortunately, a new teacher took over, and I never worked harder. We had to read Aristotle and discuss the importance and forms of arguments and logic.  Guess what? Aristotle didn't use rhetoric to lie. I barely survived the course.

Today, as a writer, I wish I’d paid more attention. Rhetoric was a good class, and the influence of an articulate speaker (or author) has maintained an important part of my writing aspirations since. If I could come up with phrases like, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country,” I think I would be a happy writer indeed. President Kennedy apparently borrowed the structure of that comment from a school headmaster, but you have to admit, he used it well. That phrase inspired a generation to launch the Peace Corps, go to the moon, and march for peace and equal rights. Rhetoric. Good words.

So, how can we use rhetoric, or more precisely, rhetorical devices to enhance our writing experience? There are whole lists of devices on the Internet that can add emotion, lyrical rhythms, and resonance to our writing. Here are a few:

Alliteration

Alliteration is the recurrence of initial consonant sounds. These sounds can be easy or harsh on the ear, and will draw attention to themselves by their repetition. What if you were writing a story was set in a florist shop? You could name the store, “Moe’s Flowers,” and be done with the job, or you could play with the beginning F sound and create something like “Flo’s Fantastic Flowers,” giving your readers a sense of Flo and her pride in her business without expending a lot of page real estate on that thought.

Epizeuxis

Wow. What an interesting word that simply means to repeat for emphasis. Can you imagine a child who wants the sucker in your hand? What does she say? “May I have that please?” or “Gimme, gimme, gimme!” Can you use that epizeuxis rhetorical tool to enrich some of your characters’ dialog?

Amplification

Similar to epizeuxis, is amplification. This is repeating a word within a phrase to emphasize its importance. In Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, he used “of the people, by the people, for the people,” to emphasize the importance of those who died on the battlefield, who mourned the lost souls, and who had to rebuild our nation after the great Civil War. When used in a conscious effort, amplification can truly hammer home a point. Maybe you could use it to underscore the theme of your story, as in, “Love is gentle, love is kind,” she said, and kissed the soldier good-bye.

Rhetorical devices are worth studying as you work on your next story. As you engage in rewriting a chapter, maybe play consciously to make a thought stand out using a rhetorical device. Or hide a thought by making it as mundane as possible, sandwiched between phrases that sparkle with their rhetoric.

Do you have a favorite rhetorical device? Please share. Beyond our annual Simile Contest at Colorado Gold, do you indulge in a regular rhetorical device?

Wishing you a creative word day.

RMFW Writer(S!) of the Year Begins

RMFW Writer of the Year Pin
Who will be this year's WOTY and I-WOTY?

Big news everybody!

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers has opened up two selection committees for great Writers of the Year this year. For the first time not only will we have a traditionally published WOTY, but also an independently published, or I-WOTY as well.

If you’ve been experiencing some publishing success please check out the website (rmfw.org) and look for the guidelines and entry forms. You may be the next representative for our great writing community. Here’s how the process works:

January 22 (that’s today), the entry period begins. Any member who has had a book published recently is eligible to enter their work for consideration. Or, if you have a favorite RMFW author too shy to enter for him or herself, please feel free to nominate your colleague. Entries are open from January 22 through February 24.

And here are a couple of tips:

  • If you’re a traditionally published author who entered a book last year, and have a new book this year, you can simply update your information to re-submit. This should save you a good deal of time.
  • If you’re an independently published author whose book originally published between January 2014 and December 2015 (that’s the past two years), you can enter your work for consideration for the I-WOTY. This may change in the future, so now is the time to enter your work.
  • You can find out all of the details for entry on the RMFW website. Go to Events, and select 2016 Writer of the Year WOTY & I-WOTY. Read through the requirements and then enter your work by following this link: http://rmfw.org/about-rmfw/pal/woty-nominations

How the work is judged:

Each work is reviewed a couple of times before three finalists for each recognition are selected. After you have submitted your work, a quick review is made to be sure you’ve entered for the appropriate vetting committee. As all basics have been checked, your application will be forwarded to a panel of judges. Each judge on the panel is responsible for reviewing your application and reading a couple of sample chapters from the work you submit. Every entry will receive approximately one hour of evaluation by each judge (for a minimum of five hours of review on your work). The judges will keep a tally of the works and candidates they think represent the best in RMFW writing.

In March, the vetting committees will meet and select three finalists for each award. You can be sure that these judges have several years experience writing and working with RMFW writers, and are well-qualified volunteers with your best interests at heart. Still, only three finalists are allowed for each recognition, so please remember that whether or not your name is selected this is not a reflection on you or your talent as much as it is an effort to find an author to best represent the writing values of our organization. Over all, we are very proud of the incomparable talents of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

Starting soon after April 15th open voting begins among the finalists. This is the opportunity of our whole member community to voice their opinions on who our WOTY and I-WOTY should be. We try to give everyone plenty of time (and reminders) to select the two writers they think should be recognized as RMFW’s Writer and Independent Writer of the Year. Voting lasts until mid June.

The Summer Party

Each summer RMFW gets together to enjoy a summer party, and part of that celebration includes the announcement of recognition for our writers of the year. There will be announcements for this event in our newsletter, on our blog, and on the Yahoo groups set up for RMFW members. Keep an eye out and be sure to join us.

WOTY & I-WOTY Panel

One of the highlights of the WOTY & I-WOTY selections is the chance to visit with all of our finalists at the Tattered Cover bookstore. This annual event kicks off the Colorado Gold celebrations and is a fun evening of interviews, prizes, and a chance to socialize with writing friends. You’ll want to be sure to mark your calendars for this event.

If you’re thinking of entering your work for consideration, please do! The vibrancy of our community remains because of the participation of everyone of our 700 plus members. Wishing you great luck on this, and always, continued writing success.

Become a Content Connoisseur in 2016

My friend, Laurence MacNaughton, shared an interesting article with me not long ago called 30 Fresh and Fun Ideas For Your Newsletter. As marketing people, Laurence and I are all over anything that helps generate valuable content for our readers, and we thought that some of the principles in the article would work for authors too. With this in mind, here are 12 blog post ideas for authors interested in strengthening their platforms in 2016. If you post monthly, your year is set. Weekly writer? Generate four articles from each base idea and you’ll never run out of great content.

1. Create and use top 10 lists

This one is so fun and easy that I’m using a form of it for this article. Commit to a number and fill in the points. If you write mysteries, how about naming 10 of Agatha Christie’s best works? Romance Writer? Ten best (or worst) bodice rippers you’ve read. Take informative, silly, or thoughtful approaches and you’ll have your readers clamoring for more.

2. Advertise reader & writer conferences & workshops

This idea is great because you can use it to keep up with industry events to satisfy your own needs, and advertise where you’ll be for book signings, etc. Your readers will know where the next best events are and will be there to learn as well. This is community service at its finest. Just remember to add links and acknowledgements as appropriate.

3. Produce an “Author’s Studio” video tour

Even though our main focus as authors is on the written word, our world revolves around the visual. And with so many phones equipped with video cameras this can be a fun project. Tour your studio, or go to the inspiration place you’ve selected for building a new world in your next novel. Photos make great illustrations for your writing work, and readers love them.

4. Getting social? ASK for followers!

Yes, a lot of authors claim to be introverts. And when you’re working on a new story it’s understandable that you need your alone time, but when you’re blogging, tweeting, and otherwise community or readership building, get social. ASKING for followers is one of the best ways to get them. We are in business after all. And the subject will help you write in a new style--persuasion as opposed to entertainment.

5. Connect your work with unusual holidays

Love this idea! Did you know that January is National Blood Donor Month? Are you writing the next great vampire story? Connect and enjoy. Holiday Insights is a website with many bizarre and unique holidays. Combine them with your writing themes and you’ll have valuable content each year for many years to come.

6. Where in the world is my book?

We’ve all played the “where’s Waldo?” and “Flat Stanley” games. Why not do the same with your book? Visit libraries and bookstores that carry your work and snap a picture. Only one copy on the shelf? Turn it into a puzzle to find. If readers and friends send snaps of your book? Post it online. This is great fun, and a subtle way to self-promote.

7. How-To articles with a twist

Go ahead. Right now, before the New Year hits, think of a list of writing skills you have or want to acquire in the year ahead, and turn your research into valuable web content. Think outside the box. Everyone’s written an article on creating big characters. What about writing a how-to on the walk-on or cameo character? Have you come up with a great acronym for warding off writer’s block? Go further. How To sharpen six pencils in 30 seconds or less. Play with this and have fun. Whether or not it turns into a blog post, you almost always benefit from explaining how something works.

8. Tell the story of writing your stories

If your career was focused on a brick-and-mortar business you owned and not a book you wrote, writing a corporate history would be important and valuable. As an author your own writing biography is equally important. You can write current articles on your travels, personal experiences, and most of all, lessons you’re learning on the road to publishing that next great book.

9. Refer-A-Friend promotions

Like asking for followers, it’s important to grow your readership continually by getting others to talk about you. Incent your current fans to invite a friend by offering a piece of SWAG (stuff we all get) to anyone who refers a friend and that friend signs up to get your newsletter or to follow your blog. Do a profile on your biggest fans to keep the excitement going (and produce more valuable content for your blog).

10. Advice columns work for you

According to the New Yorker, the first advice column was published in 1691. As you can imagine, this kind of writing has gone under many changes since then, but remains a popular form of writing. Start by making up readers with questions and before long, your advice column may become as popular as Conan the Grammarian.

11. Reader Research & Results

There are a few ways to create surveys and polls on line.  Why not satisfy your curiosity about your readers as well as giving away some fun information?  We all participate when someone asks a question like, "If you could eat dinner with 10 dead people, who would they be?" Find out popular names for heroes and villains, places people always wanted to go, favorite character flaws, and soon you'll have a treasure trove of information to inspire your next story. Meanwhile, your blog readers have fun participating in the world of creative writing.

12. Talk about the weather

Really! Believe it or not, when all else fails, weather remains a popular subject just about anywhere.  In England, apparently three quarters of the population talk about it more than anything else.  According to the PinPoint article referenced earlier, "At some point, the crazy weather will impact your area. Consider writing about it."

Wishing you every content success in 2016.

5 Tips for Using Your Business Card

This past weekend some writing friends and I were discussing why we need business cards and how to use them. The business card, after all, seems like an outdated concept in our world of electronic everything.

Picture of Bob Popyk's book, Here's My Card
Learning to use a business card well will help your writing business.

As a marketing person from way back, I’m not ready to chalk off this ubiquitous form of personal branding just yet. Business cards have been around since the 17th century, after all, and are a handy form of advertising that meet some pretty hefty requirements. Business cards tell others about who you are as a writer, how to best reach you, and what social media you can be found on. Well duh! But did you know that you can use business cards to build your readership, impress the editors and agents you meet, and build great business relationships?

Lately, I've had the chance to dive into a fun read by Bob Popyk, called Here's My Card.  He has some terrific examples of how to use your card that you can add to your own experience.  I've used some of his tips, and generated some of my own to put together a solid marketing effort when meeting other people in the publishing industry.

Here are five ways you may not have known about, or forgotten to use, in employing your business card to enhance your writing business:

 

  1. Collect new readers
    You’ve heard it before. When you’re standing in line at the grocery store, bagel shop, movies and more, talk with people. Even introverted writers can do this one-on-one activity. Almost inevitably, people will ask what you do. If you’re prepared with a card, not only will you make someone’s day by meeting a “real author” or “real writer,” but you’ll have them following you on Facebook or liking you on LinkedIn. Just ask. When you bring out your card to hand to them, bring a second one, flip it over, write “Important” on the back, and ask your new friend if they’d like to be on your mailing list. Ask for their email address. Presto! A new fan for you.
  2. Connect with total strangers
    This tip is so simple it’s hard to understand why more authors don’t use it. You’re stuck on that first weekend of the month paying your bills. Blah, blah, blah. No one enjoys this task. How ‘bout adding a little fun to the process by stapling your card to the check you write? Yes, this means spending about three cents more on your bill, but it’s a very low cost advertisement for people you might otherwise not ever reach. If you send this card to the same vendor every month, again, flip your card and jot a note like, “This month’s recommended reading is . . . (a book you just finished reading).” Great community service on your part.
  3. Support your writing community
    The next time you’re at a conference and talk to someone who has business cards, ask your friend for two or even three of their cards. Let them know you like their work and want to spread the word about them. Talk about making someone’s day! Just be sure to try to follow up and actually hand out those cards. This works especially well when your friend writes in a different genre from you.
  4. Picture of how to post your business card in publicPublic exposure for your work
    We’ve all seen those bulletin boards at the grocery store, at the library, sometimes at church. People post business cards in hopes that they’ll get a call about their service. Here’s what I’d suggest. Cut a piece of colored paper a little larger than your business card, and write across the top of it, “Read a good book lately?” Pin your business cards (3 or 4) in the center of this sheet and onto the bulletin board. Check your stock every few weeks. You may not add to your mailing list, but you’ll add to your readers.
  5. Make friends with librarians
    My neighbor is a retired librarian and she told me that these wonderful people are not in the habit of using their business cards either. If you go into a library and meet a librarian there, start to hand out your card. But then pull back and point something out on your card that the librarian needs to know. “Sometimes people have a hard time with my email. It is dot net and not dot com.” Don’t be obnoxious about this tease, but when you use it effectively, the librarian is going to read your card more carefully when he or she gets it. Then, be sure to ask for their card. When you get home, write them a note and perhaps suggest a display that just so happens to have your book in it.

Business cards continue to be the individual artist’s best advertising friend. Do you have your cards ready?picture of collecting business cards