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.

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.

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.

The RMFW Spotlight is on Liesa Malik

2015_Liesa Malik_Author1. Welcome, Liesa! Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I love being involved with RMFW! In 2003, I never imagined being so engaged, but each time I volunteer for something, new rewards come right along with the responsibilities. Currently, I am critique group moderator for the Littleton Writers critique group that meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Aspen Groves’ Tattered Cover. Actually, Mike Hope does a great job taking care of Tuesdays, so I’m more often at the Thursday meetings. I also write a monthly post for the RMFW blog, and am the PAL chair, which means I welcome new traditionally published authors into the group, help with the Writer of the Year, and have the pleasure of moderating the First Sale Panel at Colorado Gold.

2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

Thanks so much for asking! My second book, Sliced Vegetarian, was recently released through Five Star Publishing. You can purchase the book through the major venues of B&N.com and Amazon.com, but if you’re in Littleton, please check out the Barnes and Noble at Chanson Crossing (Wadsworth & Bowles) or Natural Surroundings gift shop in old town Littleton. Ron and Nina Else of the Broadway Book Mall also carry my books. And if you haven’t read my work and aren’t sure you’re ready to invest in this new author, please ask for either Faith on the Rocks or Sliced Vegetarian at your local library. Both are cozy mysteries set in Littleton, CO with a widow and retired special education teacher as the protagonist. Next up? I’m working on a story called Pot Shots—heh, heh, heh.

3. We've all heard of bucket lists -- you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish-- what's one of yours?

To make a living writing. Seriously, I’m about as old as the Rockies and have learned that enjoying today is the real goal in life. I enjoy writing, of course, ballroom dance, sketching and watercolor painting, and my family. What else could I ask for but to win the lottery, run for president of the United States, or help make Denver the literary capital of the West?

4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what's yours?

In a word, Pat? Productivity. It is amazing to me how long it takes to get an idea into a readable format--all part of the downside of a plotter personality. Until I know where I’m going with a work, writing doesn’t really happen.

5. What do you love most about the writing life?

Spiral notebooks, index cards, introducing myself to potential interview subjects by saying I’m a novelist, flowing pen strokes and clacking keyboards. It’s all great, and I love every bit of it—even revisions and edits!

2015_Liesa Malik_Sliced Vegetarian6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

Stop playing solitaire and use your time better. Learn to read, and read voraciously. Even if you’re never published, your mind will grow and you’ll have a better chance of developing your creativity. Reading can take all sorts of forms these days, and to understand that you don’t have to read from page one to “the end” to consider yourself as having read a work is important. Learn to skim, to search for facts in the written word, to keep a quotation log, to enjoy words everywhere and in all sorts of combinations. Then go for what you want in writing. Develop that vision and make it so.

7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

I’m somewhat spoiled here, Pat. I have a desk with my computer and a couple of monitors on it. Very cool. But sometimes that computer can run my life more than the other way around, so I also have a table that’s clear except for my spiral notebook. That’s where I brainstorm a lot.

As for the little things on my desktop, I have a timer that motivates and helps me structure any project I’m working on. I also have a slinky because I need to be moving a lot, and my husband isn’t too fond of my bad habit of gum chewing while thinking.

8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?

Yea! Books! This summer I had the chance to read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, and The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco by Laura DiSilvario. I also got to read some pre-published samples for the CO Gold writing contest. THANKS to everyone who entered, I had some super reading there. Lastly, I’m reading a couple of non-fiction books: Create Your Writer Platform by Chuck Sambuchino and The Frugal Book Promoter by Carolyn Howard-Johnson. And yes, I keep those great writer safety nets—The Chicago Manual of Style and Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style close at hand always. Sorry, Goodreads, I’m really far behind on updating you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Liesa Malik is a freelance writer and marketing consultant originally from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, but currently living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband and two pets. She has always enjoyed reading mysteries, from The Happy Hollister series, through Trixie Belden and into Reader’s Digest’s Great True Stories of Crime, Mystery and Detection.

A graduate of the University of South Florida with a degree in Mass Communications, Liesa has built on her writing interest with long-standing membership in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and recently joined the board of Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America. Most days you can find Liesa either at her desk, at a local ballroom dance studio, or on the web. Visit her website or blog. Liesa’s most recent book release is Sliced Vegetarian, a Daisy Arthur mystery.

Chris Goff–Author on the Rise

By Liesa Malik

The Published Authors Liaison (PAL) is a sub-organization within RMFW that exists to provide networking and promotional opportunities for traditionally published authors. This begins a series of profiles on some of our PAL members in the hopes that you will make an opportunity to read their books and meet them either at Colorado Gold or in other venues throughout the country and the year. . .

Photo of Christine Goff
Christine Goff -- Photo courtesy of Mark Stevens.

INTRODUCING CHRIS GOFF

Kevin slid a paperback across the table and said, “Try this author. She’s really good, and I think she is, or was, a member of RMFW.”

The book, A Rant of Ravens, by Christine Goff truly was a good read, and a fun start to the great Birdwatcher Mystery series of five books with regional bestseller status and nominations for several awards. The sixth in the series, A Parliament of Owls, is set for release this fall from Astor+Blue Editions.

Christine Goff (Chris to friends), has been writing fiction since 1984, joined RMFW in 1988, and has played several key roles our group. She is the 2002 RMFW Writer of the Year, and has a number of other successes in the Rocky Mountain writing communities. Like many PAL members, Chris continues to support our community with behind-the-scenes efforts.

WORKING WITH RMFW

“I’ve often judged 30 or more entries a year in the Colorado Gold contest,” said Chris. “We all have a responsibility to give back. I got a tremendous amount out of RMFW in my formative years, and enjoy celebrating the new success stories.”

Chris’s multiple roles in RMFW have been a tremendous boost to our community, but the three she enjoyed most are Newsletter Chair, PAL Chair, and President.

“I have a graphic production/editor background, so Newsletter Chair was right up my alley,” said Chris. “And then PAL members offer so much in the way of support and credibility to the (RMFW) organization, and often behind the scenes--judging manuscripts, mentoring, critiquing, teaching and championing those who are working so hard to make it in the business—that as PAL Chair, I was pleased to get some things happening in support of our published writers. Lastly, as President, I was proud to be able to steer us through a controversial year and help RMFW weather a public relations storm.”

You’d think that a writer with such an illustrious resume might be tempted to sit back and relax. But not Chris. She’s on to new writing adventures and continues to support our writing community with fresh projects.

OTHER PROJECTS

Last spring, Chris gathered several organizations together to help bring about Genrefest, a one-day workshop that highlighted national best selling author, David Morrell. Mr. Morrell, a friend of Chris, was one of the famous authors to endorse her newest offering, Dark Waters, a thriller set in the Middle East (Crooked Lane Books).

“Dark Waters is Chris Goff’s breakout book,” said David. “A relentless international thriller with a terrifying topic and an impressive heroine, Raisa Jordan. It’s been a while since I had such fun reading the work of a fellow writer. Well done!”

DARK WATERS  Cover ArtANNOUNCING DARK WATERS

“Dark Waters is a book that came into my head years ago,” said Chris. “The idea sparked in 1999, when I was in Israel with my then 11 year-old daughter, who was there for some medical treatments. But, with my first Birdwatcher’s Mystery coming out in 2000, and three-books under contract, I put the idea aside. Then in 2008, finding myself out of contract, I decided to pick up Dark Waters again.

“Seven years later, I just got my hardcover copy in the mail and the book will be coming out to the world in September. Writing a thriller is very different than writing a cozy. It was a big change for me. There’s a difference in pacing, a difference in character development, a difference in stakes. And then there was the international setting and the political aspects of the book...just a lot of things that made it much more challenging. I have my fingers crossed readers are going to like it.”

Knowing the quality of work Chris generally produces in every aspect of her writing life, the book is bound to be a success. You can find it on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and IndieBound.

MEETING UP WITH CHRIS

Chris will be at Colorado Gold, September 11- 13. She’ll be on a panel with Jeffery Deaver, and presenting a workshop on Elements of Mystery.

“I’m easy to approach,” said Chris. “I hope people feel free to just come up and introduce themselves. I figure unless someone is clearly having a private meeting with an editor or agent or another author, anyone should feel free to step up and listen in on the conversations, and join in when there’s an opening. I love to meet people at conference.”

Chris will also be one of three Guiding Members of RMFW to receive recognition for their long-term support of our organization at the conference this year.

Asked for her one piece of advice for aspiring writers, she said, “If you want to be successful, treat it like a job. It’s so easy when you’re working on your first book to treat writing like a hobby. So many of us put in our three or four hours, then go off and do other things. But the truly successful authors treat it differently. They’re putting in eight to ten hours a day, sometimes six days a week. They spend their most creative hours writing and their less creative hours editing, social networking, making phone calls, promoting. As soon as you have a multiple-book contract, you have to start looking at it like work. Fun work, but work nonetheless.”

The Basics of List Building

By Liesa Malik

Lists are everywhere—the to-do list, the project task list, and most of all, the illusion of the golden contact list.

Screech! Breaks! Illusion?

That’s right. Many people believe that you can purchase, rent, or find on-line great contact lists for the asking. Unfortunately, in the years I’ve been in marketing, I’ve only found one absolute truth where the golden contact list is concerned—it doesn’t exist. But don’t let that stop you from trying. Even the largest companies continue to search for the golden list.

To me, the best list you can have is the one you develop yourself. Here’s how I’d suggest you get started:

BE COMMITTED TO COMMUNICATION

Photo of Contact List
However you build it, they need to be contacted.

I don’t mean the blast out to the universe kind. I mean reaching into your community (list) and regularly touching people one-on-one. A few weeks back, someone from The Ladders employment agency contacted me and asked for my advice on writing careers. He said he considered me a “thought leader.” Not only did that puff up my ego, but it also gave me a blog post on my personal blog, which the representative asked to use in his work with writers. Very cool. AND he earned a follower to The Ladders.

BUY OR RENT

What’s that you say? Why waste money on a list you know isn’t going to be great? You buy lists or rent them because it gives you a place to start. Just as a detective knows that all clues in a mystery aren’t going to lead straight to a killer, all lists aren’t going to lead you to multiple thousands of sales. But you may find a handful of contacts that eventually become associates and friends.

BUILD ONE OR TWO CONTACTS AT A TIME

Yes, this sounds very inefficient. But the real contacts you make often end up being supporters for years to come, whereas blast recipients remain strangers, and your name can easily become synonymous with the word, “annoying.”

COMMIT TO CONSISTENTLY BUILDING YOUR LIST

Ouch! First there were Facebook and LinkedIn. Shortly thereafter followed Twitter and Pinterest. Today there is Goodreads and a host of other social media. With all this posting and messaging, where’s the time for list building?

My advice is to relax. Social media posts are the same as blasting to a huge mailing list. I suspect more posts are written than read. There are no real connections when someone has 1,000 “friends” or more. Create an editorial budget and schedule, or invest in a multi-media service like Hootsuite, and get back to enjoying your life of writing. But connect, really connect with a handful of true friends a month. Here are some ways to make new friends (i.e. contacts) and keep building your lists:

  • Go to meetings and let people know you’re an author or aspiring novelist. Meetup.com has a bunch of interests listed and ways to get involved with your community.
  • Volunteer—you kill two birds with one stone here—you give back to your community and you build friendships.
  • Speak—Does your church need a witness? Does the cub or brownie troupe down the road need to earn a communication badge? Ask your local librarian if they have a speaker’s program. I’m excited to say I just joined my local chapter of Toastmasters. I have visions of opportunities to come.
  • Never forget family and friends! Haven’t written the Christmas newsletter in a while? Try again. Or better yet, pick up the phone and spend 10 minutes with great aunt Sarah, who is part of that romance book club.

Lastly, while we do sincerely want and need contacts in publishing, we also have to be good contacts back. Know an agent looking for westerns? Promote your friend who writes westerns. Your publisher having a hard time getting writers to do self promo work? Send along ideas that have worked for you.

I’ll be talking more about lists and contacts in my talk “Author Platform 101,” at Colorado Gold. If you liked this post, I hope you’ll join me there.

Keep writing and keep sharing. Book sales are all about the lists and contacts we make.

Finding Your Words Through Passion

By Liesa Malik

My_Workspace-300x2251This is so embarrassing that I hate to see the word in print--BLOCKED. I’ve been blocked. I know that professionals do not allow themselves to succumb to such a silly and amateur problem, but I’ve been stuck in the quagmire of “my writing sucks--I have no ideas--why did I ever want to be an author?” kind of whine and cheesy party for far too long. With little to no income from writing, I’ve been on the verge of giving up and going to find a day-job.

Yesterday, I even spent half the day submitting a resume on-line for a position I’m pretty sure I don’t want. And the process was excruciating. The site kept crashing 20 minutes into my application and required much more than a resume. Forget blood. I practically had to donate my total genetic map, and still find references before the process was through. Now I have to wait—don’t call them, they’ll call me. Right.

With a hopeful heart, I tell you I hit bottom when hitting that submit button.

And then it happened. I had an unexpected conversation that changed things around.

Over dinner, my good guy made a heroic attempt at talking with me beyond the usual discussion about when I was going to pick up the laundry or what’s for dinner tomorrow. I usually refer to adventures in new topics as pressure cooker conversations, because he pressures and I get hot under the collar. My friend started peppering me with “business” questions about my work. Things like:

  • If you’re not making a living with your current publisher, why don’t you find a new one? (Can you tell he’s unfamiliar with the publishing world?)
  • In most of the detective books I read, the hero has a super-power. What super power does your Daisy character have?
  • If I were to write a book, I’d like to knock off my old business partner. How do you make victims and bad guys?

BINGO! That was it. I agreed with my guy about how satisfying it is to kill off or make someone you know the villain in your book. I’ll never admit to murdering anyone I know, nor will I say that a killer in a Daisy story is really some neighbor or ex-colleague. But real people often inspire my stories. It’s those real people who generate the kind of true feelings your writing work needs.

With my latest novel, for several months I’ve been “researching” a general topic about which I know little and have no strong feelings for. Can you say “directionless?” I’ve dabbled with a few character sketches and even “tried on” some murder suspects as the one who really did it. Nothing ignited any excitement in me. There were no aha moments.

But in recalling and talking about my first two stories with my good guy, I remembered those whom I had strong feelings about being the frame on which I built other characters. Suddenly, there was a clear reason my work on book three had stalled.

Stories are about people not topics. Stories and characters can be built, but they need the skeleton of genuine people and their life stories underneath. You can change your friend’s gender, looks, occupation, and more, but to create an interesting and believable character, you need to have memories from one to five others to refer to.

After dinner, I charged up to my room and hit my ideas journal. I started writing down the names of people I feel passionately about. I grouped them in terms of “I really respect this person,” “I truly despise this person” “I think this person is funny” kind of thing. In the privacy of a personal journal, you can get away with such judgementalism. The only rule was to have passion about whatever name I put down.

Now I have something to channel my characters with. And hopefully, this small tip will help if you’re feeling stuck. Experience your passion to write passionately and avoid getting stuck. Good luck to you . . . I am off and running to play with a little murder--passionately.

Why You Should Vote for the WOTY   

By Liesa Malik

writeroftheyearOkay, friends, here’s the low down, the scoop, the real deal – the WOTY is fixed! That’s right. Fixed! And you know why? Because each year three distinguished authors willing to represent our organization with their work end up on a ballot that is under-supported.

It’s rather like local elections. According to Governing Magazine,  during a study by the University of Wisconsin, researchers found a steady decline in voter turn out. Not great at 26.6% in 2001, by 2011, that turnout declined to 20.9%. That’s roughly one in five people who took advantage of the American electoral process. These minorities of voters influence how we’re being governed today.

What has this to do with the Writer of the Year? Plenty. I don’t have any exact figures, but in checking with people involved in the voting process last year, most of our group did not vote for the WOTY. Shame on us all!

WHY THE WOTY MATTERS

The Writer of the Year is someone who represents the highest standards of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers organization and represents our organization throughout the publishing industry. I spoke with Shannon Baker, the 2014 Writer of the year and she said that winning this distinction was life changing.

“Right before the nominations last year, I was ready to quit writing,” said Shannon. “I felt defeated. But the nominating process boosted my confidence, and the vote validated that newfound interest in continuing to write. Not only that, but being able to put the Writer of the Year title behind my name has opened a lot of doors for me.”

She mentioned that she was recently requested to speak at the CU Friends of the Library annual district event. It was a dream come true, yet Shannon said she didn’t approach this group, they contacted her.

Also, at every event, speaking engagement, and book sale (and more of these opportunities come up for the WOTY), Shannon says she does her best to put in a promotion of RMFW.

“I think it’s very important for the Writer of the Year to speak well and knowledgeably about this great organization we’re all a part of. If the Writer of the Year cannot or will not do this, why should they be voted to that honor?”

We hope that at some point, winning the WOTY would be similar to winning a Pulitzer Prize, but until that happens, everyone who is part of RMFW still has a certain celebrity, albeit a tad smaller, for people who love to read.

WHO IS THIS WRITER OF THE YEAR CANDIDATE?

To make finalist, a person must fulfill these hefty qualifications:

  • Be a traditionally published author with a book released in the previous year (in this case, the 2015 WOTY has had a book release in 2014)
  • The WOTY winner is a member in good standing with Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers—while the WOTY is NOT an award recognizing volunteerism (that’s what the Jasmine is for), being active in our community is important too. After all, the Writer of the Year is representing us all in the larger publishing industry.
  • Have a high quality of writing. This may seem like a duh point, but the vetting committee read samplings of each author and had to distinguish candidates based on critical reviews of their work. Talk about hard work! So many great pieces of commercial fiction writing, so few slots we could fill. Whew!
  • Offer proof of significant achievements with their writing work—regional or national reviews or, awards, guest blogs and more.

Every time someone meets the WOTY, they’re being introduced to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers as a whole. This makes your writing platform even stronger when you mention that you’re part of our organization. Free publicity. How cool is that?

OLD WRITERS’ TALES

In years past, I felt much like you might be feeling today. That is, I didn’t know the writers personally, hadn’t read their works for the most part, and felt that some secret inner circle of friends put together the nomination list in a smoke-filled back room of political dealings.

Sorry to burst your literary dreaming, but this isn’t how things work. The same people are not nominated year after year. In fact, we haven’t had a WOTY become part of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Hall of Fame. The one qualification for that distinction is to win the WOTY three times. While there have been a number of two-time winners, no one has made the top selection three times.

How things really work is that an author can either be nominated or apply to the WOTY committee for consideration. After all nominations are closed, the WOTY committee of at least five members spends approximately two hours per candidate, reading the application form, checking out websites, and most importantly, reading and evaluating a piece of the writer’s work. This year, with as many candidates as we had, this means that about 135 volunteer hours went into narrowing the distinguished field to just three names.

WHO ARE THE 2015 NOMINEES?

Please watch for the April newsletter when the finalists will be announced. Then, beginning April 20th be sure to vote.

HOW TO VOTE

This year we’re going to try something new. Although you will still have two months to make your decision, we’re hoping to implement voting online via the RMFW website. Please keep an eye on your emails for more information.

And what if you haven’t read the nominees’ work? Try visiting your local library, or you could go onto the major bookseller sites to at least read a sampling of the work. I think you’ll be pleased if you do.

Be sure to read the author profiles that will be a part of the newsletter announcement. I think you’ll agree that we’re lucky to have such high quality writers in our community.

Still think the WOTY is a sham or a fix? The only way you’ll know for sure is to sign in and vote. Personally, I’m excited for all of the nominees and only wish we could select from everyone who sent author information.

Think I’ll go try to up my own level of writing. Someday I'd like to qualify . . . for a WOTY .

Beyond the Page: Your Writing Career

By Liesa Malik

As a marketing professional, I’m always looking for the next great thing to grab attention and make my clients’ products or services successful. I watch for ways to build awareness and markets of buyers, vendors, and supporters, and believe that these efforts lead to financial success. That success often doesn’t come in large numbers but in small efforts that stand out.

As a critique group leader, I send approximately 55 invitations each week to people involved in writing a commercial-length novel. My co-moderator sends notices through his Yahoo group for another large group. This may sound massive, but each Tuesday or Thursday evening finds us at Panera Bread with many fewer attendees than invitees. We generally host from five to fifteen people who take the invitation (and their writing commitment) to heart.

Picture of Colorado Gold Attendees
Getting involved with writing.

I’m not offering this to make lapsing Littleton Writers members feel guilty. After all, in marketing, a direct mail piece with 27% return is astronomical. Those who can’t or don’t take advantage of the invitations have many extenuating circumstances and reasons to delay one more week.

However, if you’re a writer who isn’t a member of any critique group available through RMFW, I suspect you might be making your journey to publication more challenging. This critique opportunity is one small differentiator between aspiring and published authors.

And all the above is not meant to guilt you into more active membership in your critique group, or sign up for Colorado Gold tomorrow, but to encourage you to think about your writing career beyond the page. You already know how to write; most of us write very well. But there’s more to being a writer than producing words on a page. Here’s what I mean:

Get Involved.

I know someone who just applied for his dream job. We both know he won’t get it. That kind of job requires connections and references he’s pretty much neglected for over thirty years. If you’re not involved in your community, you’ll never feel like a true member, and when opportunity comes knocking, yours is not likely the name that will surface.

The same holds true for your writing career and community. Yes, quality writing is of paramount importance, but being involved with other writers is a great way to keep your skills up-to-date, enrich your social life with like-interested acquaintances, and be in the know when a new opportunity comes your way.

In the past, I heard a lot about the “cliques” of RMFW. Personally, I have to say, HOGWASH! The reason you may hear the same names over and over when it comes to recognitions and awards is because you’re witnessing the outcome of people who stopped dreaming and started working at their writing careers beyond the page. They built reputations one raised hand and one volunteer moment at a time, and those efforts have come back with a “thank you” attached. That’s a strong platform.

Build Your Author Platform.

“Author Platform” seems to be the term of the moment. Writers without their first sale become obsessed with this platform and how to build it. They join every social media venue possible or follow all sorts of publishing gurus wherever those wizards can be found. It’s like watching the movie star fans who believe that if they only impress the right actor or producer, their own careers will be made. Hate to say this, but there are no recipe books for author platform success.

I remember when “platform” was called “personal branding,” or even being “as good as your word.” All this means is that you have a personal reputation for things like writing a good story, or you have a lot of people interested in buying your next book. You build that reputation by getting to know others, not by sending letters to every publisher listed in the latest Writer’s Market.

In marketing, we’re all about the story you present. But with writing, your story will sell when you reach out, volunteer, get to know others, and risk sharing both your story and yourself with others. The RMFW website has constant opportunities for becoming involved.

And if you want to build your platform using traditional corporate marketing efforts, please keep in mind that corporations spend triple figure budgets on getting a few new buyers. Can you afford that kind of spending? And what’s your Return on Investment (ROI) for such spending? It’s more time consuming, but a lot less expensive to build your brand with a handshake.

Making Friends helps Make Stories.

And speaking of handshakes, let’s focus for a moment on the richness that making friends in this wonderful community adds to your life. Yes, I remember that everyone is shooting for publication and large book sales, but let’s be honest here. Isn’t writing the story a whole lot more fun than trying to figure out where to place your next book, or how to get onto the "Oprah" show? Don’t we have a lot more fun “talking shop” with other writers than making “small talk” at some cocktail party full of strangers?

I have to admit, I haven’t done a whole lot of volunteering in the past. But in the months since I chose to embrace this wonderful community of writers, I’ve had email correspondences that get me excited to open my mail screen each morning, and shared hugs with people I both admire and respect. I’m sometimes lost in the volunteer work and don’t get enough writing done, but then I look up at the rich life I’m building, and smile.

How ‘bout you? Do you volunteer? Do you feel this helps your writing career? Where will you next be involved?

Judging A Book By Its Cover

By Liesa Malik

Malik_DierdreThree seconds is all you get. Three seconds to make the difference between a sale and a pass on your book. No matter how much time you as an author have put into your novel, or how carefully your work has been edited, artist Deirdre Wait of High Pines Creative knows you have those very few seconds to attract attention, make an impression, and influence the purchase of your book off a shelf. It’s her job to make those seconds count.

“Anyone with a computer may think they’re a designer,” said Deirdre, “but a good design requires technical and research skills as well as good ideas.”

She should know. For twelve years, Deirdre and her artist husband, Chris, have produced successful covers for Thorndike Press, Five Star Publishing, and independent authors. Generally, they produce 30 to 50 projects a month. Five years ago, the Waits moved to Salida, and currently work from a ranch they own there.

“As people, we may not have a long time on this earth, so Chris and I work on having a good time while we’re here.”

Deirdre didn’t start out to become a cover designer. She has a degree in marketing with several credits toward an additional degree in English literature, and her first work was on a newspaper selling ad space. But then, Chris, who has a background in software, purchased a home computer and Quark Express. The two artists learned that software and began selling more and more of their work.

“With this work, we never get bored,” said Deirdre. “In other design work, you’re told exactly what the client wants and you produce it. But with book covers, you have nothing to work from but the publisher’s notes, and through them, the author’s wishes. This is a real challenge, but we like it.”

STEPS TO A COVER DESIGN

Even with no specific graphics to work from, there are still steps to producing a quality cover design. Those requirements vary for each cover in order to preserve the individualism of the authors. Here are some of the items Deidre uses to produce a good cover:

  • Ask, what is the book about? Who is the audience? – If you were designing a cover for a cozy, you wouldn’t want to go into the dark tones of a hard-boiled mystery. Try to use color schemes that the audience may be drawn toward.
  • Research for the correct time period and props – “One time we were designing a cover for a Western, and used the wrong gun type. You can bet we heard about that very quickly,” said Deidre.
  • Produce covers that catch attention in 3 seconds or less – “Did you know that Amazon puts up about 100,000 new titles each day? No one has time to go through them all carefully, so as an artist, I have to provide a reason to stop skimming and look more carefully at my books."
  • Develop a mood for the book, and then dive into image searches. "Right now, I’m working on a cover for a story set in India. I’ve asked a lot of friends for images and cloth samples, and am finally ready to put the design in place."
  • Type is important, hugely important. For a while, it looked like cover designs would be pushed to the side with the advent of the ebook. However, Deirdre said that the new media delivery system has as much call for artists as ever, if not more. “Now you need to consider type very carefully,” said Deirdre, “because you have to format your ebooks to be displayed on the new smart phone platform. She said the image on a phone can be as small as one quarter inch wide by one half inch tall. If you use a script or other complex typeface, chances are the design will fall apart at such a small size. Use big type, she said, because it truly pops in the small images used today.

TIPS FOR AUTHORS

If you’re planning to hire someone to do your book cover art, or you want to send across good ideas for your publisher to pursue, Deidre suggests these tips:

  • Take the design process seriously, and work to communicate your vision with words. This is difficult, but not impossible.
  • Be prepared to spend a reasonable amount of money for the cover art. People claiming that they can develop a cover for $50 - $75 are generally not going to have the credentials and experience to get you what you want in a timely fashion. You should expect to pay $200 or more for a good design. The high end for designs is about $3,000, but that is for big name publishers using special papers, inks, and printing forms.
  • Boil your design down to as few objects as possible. Don’t ask for an entire scene to go into your cover. It clutters the page and dilutes the message. It invites people to go to the next book, instead of yours.
  • Don’t give too much away. If people can get the whole story on the cover, why should they buy the book?
  • Work on creating the best title you can. This way both your reader and your artist will be excited.

Lastly, Deirdre said, “No matter what they say, every single person out there is going to judge your book by its cover. Everybody likes pictures, even if they’re only on the cover.”