Saying Thanks

By Pamela Nowak

Recently, I’ve thought a lot about how much, and how many people, I take for granted.

How often do we all converse about losing people and how much they meant to us—most often in the past tense? People move, become less involved, or—worse—pass away. Too many times, we chat about how important that person was without having ever told them directly. This seems to occur in families, with childhood friends, in careers…well, pretty much everywhere.

We think conveying appreciation more with family members because there are built-in holidays that prompt us to tell mothers, fathers, siblings that we care about them. Yet, we have a tendency to mention it only on holidays and we forget entirely about our extended families. Have you ever told your favorite aunt how important she was in your life? How long has it been since you even spoke to your uncle? Your cousins?

And then there are those friends from high school who are remembered at class reunion time but easily forgotten in between. Recently, I discovered Facebook pages related to my former hometowns and was able to reconnect with people from my past…it’s been a fun experience. But…maybe it’s time to reach out to tell them how much their friendships meant all those years ago.

There are so many I’ll likely never have a chance to tell. I wouldn’t begin to know how to locate college professors, former bosses, co-workers who taught me skills I use today. One day, I’ll see obituaries and think about how important they were, and how I never told them.

And then there are those who are still part of my life, many of whom have guided me in my writing. Writers seldom develop their craft in a vacuum and seldom find the courage to undertake the submission process without the support of others.

So many fellow writers taught me craft, helped me grow, supported me as I floundered, hugged me in the face of rejection letters. RMFW is filled with people who impacted me as a writer and as a person. Yet, I may have never told them how much they mean to me. It’s as easy to neglect doing this when you see someone regularly as it is when you’ve not seen them for years.

It’s well past time to let them know the impact they’ve made.

My challenge, to myself and to my fellow writers, is to reach out to those who helped shape us. Whether it be a chatty note, a formal thank-you, or a “I never told you this, but…” next time you see them, take a moment to convey your appreciation. Tell them they’ve made a difference. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just heart-felt. The Colorado Gold Conference is a perfect time to do this but certainly not the only time. The opportunities are endless. All we need to do is take the initiative and convey our appreciation.

Think about those who are important to you. Then, reach out and let them know!

What Makes a Keeper Book?

By Pamela Nowak

There’s a big difference between an enjoyable read and a keeper book. For me, the keepers are those books that take me beyond light entertainment and involve me emotionally in the story. They are the books that make me feel as if I am in the story and make me gasp or worry or cry. They are the ones I remember long after reading them.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that for me, the books that do this have a few key elements in common: a firm grasp of scene structure, a plotline driven by GMC, conflicted/complicated characters, and tight POV.

Hah! So what do I mean by that?

Scene structure is critical. Early on in my writing, I heard Jack Bickham at a Colorado Gold Conference and immediately bought his book: Scene & Structure. His process made sense and (as a plotter) I immediately grasped the way it paired character and plot. It gave purpose to each and every scene and allowed me to keep from straying off on tangents when writing. As a reader, I find that structured scenes keep me more involved in the story, without feeling like the character is simply wandering through time with things happening to him/her.

Bickham’s basic tenet is that each scene should have a goal, conflict, and a disaster. The POV character has an immediate short-term goal. Early in the book, that goal is based on his/her long-term goal or the story question. With each disaster, a new short-term goal is formed which influences the character’s next actions. These goals are important because they allow the character to guide the plot rather than having things just “happen” to the character. This makes the character more sympathetic and guides the plot. Conflict is the result of something or someone that disrupts the goal and isn’t just made up (such as an argument for the sake of argument) and therefore will have a consequence for the character that will lead him/her to react, feel, and form a new goal which in turn moves the story forward. In short, scenes constructed in this way provide continuity and allow the characters to drive the story rather than the author.

Disasters can come in many forms from a blocked goal to partially met goal to a “yes, but…” goal (met but doesn’t turn out as anticipated). After each disaster, the character reacts, either on or off stage in what Bickham calls a sequel. He/she has an emotional reaction, processes/thinks about what happened, makes a decision, and forms a new goal. Of course, like scenes, there are variations in sequel format. The “scene and sequel” construction keeps the story always moving forward and character-driven.

GMC is closely related. Debra Dixon’s GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict emphasizes plot construction that relies on a character with a goal who is motivated by something and runs into conflict (something that blocks them from meeting the goal). The key difference here is the motivation element. A character has a back story that has shaped him or her into who they are. Goals are (or should be) related to their backstories—which really is part of character development. If you’ve ever read a book and said, “now why did she do that?” you’ve encountered a story that lacked motivation elements. As I writer, understanding motivation allowed me to more fully define my characters—villains and heroes alike.

And that leads me to complex characters.

My favorite books are those that have heroes or heroines and villains and even secondary characters with pasts that have shaped them into who they are when the book begins. Their backstories have created both inner and outer goals. I think of it this way: the outer goal is what the character wants but the inner goal is what he/she truly needs. The outer goal is usually related to the story question and launches the story. The inner goal is related to the deep part of a character and his/her arc; it’s tied to his/her flaws and often, the character doesn’t even realize it motivates his/her actions. Give me a complicated character in need of growth and you’ve got me hooked.

Pair up that character development with a tight POV and the result is an emotional link that keeps the reader constantly involved in the story; the reader feels like he IS the character. A tight POV means that descriptions are relayed in a way uniquely that of the POV character. An artist would experience the world in a broad palette of color and technique; a musician would interpret life via music. A man who has been in prison would temper things through a different lens than a free-spirit who spent time in a commune. A writer who uses words and phrases and metaphors that relate the world to the character employs tight POV and lets the reader feel what the character feels. This goes a step further when actions and movements and internal thoughts and reactions are all related in the same way.

It’s rare to find books that employ all of these elements but when I do, I read them again and again. They go on my keeper shelf and I buy such authors without regard to the exact plot simply because I know their books will be good.

If I have one goal as an author, it is to employ all of these elements and to have readers say they were so involved with the characters that the book became alive. In short,... to be put on the keeper shelf.

It Ought to be Easier!

By Pamela Nowak

It’s been a frustrating few weeks, starting just after the wonderful high that came when my ARCs arrived. Over the course of these weeks, I’ve discovered a number of databases and lists that need to be created to ease the life of authors. Yet…they haven’t. Or at least I haven’t discovered them.

Mutter, mutter, mutter, sigh.

With my new book being set in Colorado, I knew I wanted to pump up pre-publication marketing. I’d already made my list of things to do. When the ARCs arrived, I hit the internet to find the lists I needed to get them done. And found them woefully inadequate.

First, I needed to get those ARCs sent out to book editors at Colorado newspapers. I thought that would be an easy task. I already knew there was a list of book review editors and contact info for the largest papers in the U.S., but I wanted to target Colorado papers since my publisher was taking care of the national audience. I figured the list I’d located (but hadn’t yet studied in depth) for Colorado newspapers would be the same. Clicking on the link, I opened the list. There are a lot of newspapers in Colorado—154 to be exact.

I skimmed the list. It was a just a list. In order to locate addresses and contacts, I had to click a link for each one of them (or I could purchase a download of all addresses). I got ready to buy the list just as it occurred to me that I didn’t know which of them had book sections. I’d have to click every link on the page, visit individual paper websites, locate the A&E section (if there was one), determine if there were book reviews, and look up the appropriate staff person.

Of course, I made it harder than it had to be. I realize that. I could have narrowed the search to papers in the larger cities. But I figured I might as well be thorough since I would need to target papers for press releases later. I don’t normally do press releases, except in Denver, but my gut says the effort might pay off for this book. So, I went through the entire list, skipping only the business and farm/ranch publications. The process took a huge amount of time and it occurred to me that it ought to be easier.

I’m now looking at my googled list of libraries. It’s pages long—I haven’t counted them but it’s longer than the newspaper list. Since my book is targeted to libraries, an announcement letter advising of the Colorado setting and local author status needs to go out. Again, it’s a list with links for more info (and again, I can purchase a download of them) but it contains few email addresses. I can save time, buy the download, and use snail mail, of course, but that’s an expense I had hoped to avoid by using email. Librarians I know have told me email is considered a desirable way to receive new-release communication. Guess what? The only ways to find that info are to 1) click on every website and look it up or 2) call the central number for each library and ask for it. It ought to be easier.

And, then...Colorado bookstores. I haven't googled for that list yet but none existed two years ago. That would be another worthwhile database.

RMFW is full of authors who use information like this, right? Maybe it’s time to find a volunteer to collect info like this from those who have already done the legwork and set up a resource file that could be accessed by authors. Author Resources, we could call it. Hmmm….

In any case, as I continue working my way through my marketing plan, I anticipate a few more glitches cropping up, a few more cases of muttering, and more time spent than intended on tasks.

It just ought to be easier!

The Learning Curve of a Reluctant Social Media User

By Pamela Nowak

I am past my second year of using (or, uh, having) social media and stepping back to take a look at my progress (er…learning curve).

I’ve had a website since I signed my first book contract, roughly eight years. It was updated as I added more books but I never really did much else with it. I finally took an online class on blogging and converted my website to WordPress. It took me awhile to do so but the online tips helped and I created a website I could maintain myself instead of paying someone else, one with a blog page!

The trouble was, even though I had a blog page, I wasn’t using it. I had a list of topics I developed during the online class but I wasn’t using the list. Life was busy enough! My page sat there, static.

I created a Facebook page and a Twitter account shortly thereafter. Being a private person, I didn’t post often, usually just news about my upcoming book release. I learned, from a RMFW conference workshop that year, that social media does not work well that way. No one wants a constant sales pitch. No wonder I lost a few friends. Sigh.

So I started changing what I was doing. It was slow going, at first…finding things to say that were personal but didn’t make me feel bare or ridiculous. I started with updates on my knee replacement progress and notes about my pets. It got easier.

During the past year, I’ve found that middle ground, posting occasional tidbits about myself while avoiding oversharing personal information. I share posts about things I care about or that reflect me or that I find entertaining. I now devote time each day to Facebook, choosing to do so during evening hours, after my work time. A new phone with a Facebook app allows me to do this anywhere. You can get a lot done during commercials!

Because I dislike conflict, I don’t share controversial posts and stay away from politics and religion. According to the class I took, I am supposed to let my views shine through but I choose not to set up argumentative situations because I realize I have lots of friends who don’t agree on things. I like and comment on others’ posts. And, I share good news about fellow writers. Every now and then, I share something about my books but I try to keep those posts to a minimum now.

I have reached out to establish relationships with other authors in my genre and network via Facebook. I’ve extended my network of friends. What I don’t like is dealing with “friend requests” that appear to come from someone who knows a mutual friend only to discover later that it is someone creepy (sometimes really creepy).

Recently, I discovered how to use Facebook and my blog page together to avoid that daunting “my blog is due” feeling. I post small factoids on Facebook (the only Facebook activity I do at my work desk) and then combine a week’s worth of posts on the same topic into a blog post. Easy-peasy. I still don’t have a blog following but, then, I haven’t yet started pushing my blog on group pages or following others’ blogs.

Twitter…well, that’s another story and I guess I’ll get there eventually. Maybe. The length limit on tweets makes it more superficial to me and less a priority on my time.

Do I have a long way to go before I am effectively driving any sales with my social media? Absolutely. But for now, I’m learning and I’m applying things I’ve learned. Yep, I’m making progress.

Launching Your Book—What Works and What Doesn’t?

I’m about six months out from the launch of my next book and am working on plans for the launch. Call it a publicity plan or a marketing plan or a launch plan…it pretty much boils down to the same thing. The tough part is that I don’t have any true data indicating what works and what doesn’t.

With that in mind, I thought I’d explore strategies today. I’d love to generate some conversation about your experiences. It might not be hard data but maybe someone will come up with new ideas or even new takes on old ones!

Booksigning Events. They are at the heart of every launch but I see wide variation in how authors use them. Some go for a single, big event at a well-known venue which may come with an advertising fee. Others book events at multiple locals, concentrating on chain retailers. Some prefer to schedule with small, independent bookstores.  Authors also vary on how long the launch season lasts. Personally, I’ve done all of the above and have generally seen more response from a single big event I can blast about. With hard-cover books, I rarely sell a lot unless there is a personal connection or the timing matches a gift-giving holiday.

Online Events. More and more authors are doing blog tours or online interviews. I’ve not done much in this area…some isolated interviews but no big blog tours. Yet, I know other authors use this technique heavily. I routinely receive e-blasts about blog tours and often wonder how successful they are.

Advertising. This can be expensive and complicated. Some authors work with on-line advertising services that send information about their new release to thousands of subscribers. Others may purchase ads in local media to generate interest in signing events. I’ve tried this route in the past and seen no direct correlation to sales. On the other hand, I have received some very nice reviews in connection with ads. I’ve become selective, however, in my expenditures here.

Book related swag. This would include post cards, book marks, magnets, pens, and any other cute little item with the author’s name and a book title. The expenses in this area can also climb quickly. I can’t say that I’ve ever been able to correlate sales with swag. That said, I have found an inexpensive supplier and do like having bookmarks in my purse. I use them like business cards. It’s highly possible that someone has purchased a book as a result but there really isn’t a way to measure this.

Book Trailers. This was huge a few years ago but seems to have quieted down. Lacking necessary skills, I haven’t explored this area, though my publisher did a great trailer for me on the last book.

Reviews. I like reviews but I have never paid for them. I’m fortunate that my publisher sends ARCs to national reviewers and gets good response. I’ve sent out some of my own, locally, with mixed responses. I’ve also sent to some online reviewers. Since my last book, there is increased conversation about Goodreads reviews being important but I’m not sure I’ve heard anything quantitative. For me, good reviews from recognized reviewers are priceless. I have no sales data but they greatly enhance my credibility as an author—something that it valuable to me.

Direct announcements. I sent announcement letters to everyone I knew with the launch of my first book. I think it generated a lot of interest for the launch signings and, yes, some sales. Since then, I haven’t seen as much of an impact and my list has been trimmed. I also rely much more on social media announcements.

Press releases. These seem to work much better when sent to smaller media. My hometown paper almost always runs something when I send out a release. Metro papers don’t.

Library packets. I’m not sure if these work or not. Since my publisher markets to libraries, I do try to make contact with the libraries in Colorado as well as the state in which my story is set. I don’t know if the contact is effective but it’s a route I always follow.

Book clubs. Over the years, I’ve made contact with local book clubs and enjoy interacting with them. I usually let them know. So far, Oprah hasn’t considered any of my titles.

Radio and Television. Here, too, I’ve done little. A couple radio interviews but no big appearances. No guest spots on national morning news shows. Hmmmm….

So, readers, what’s been your experience? What do you do for your launches? Can you connect what you do with sales? What feels right?

Publishing Options: How to Wade Through the Swamp

By Pamela Nowak

I received a request for advice from a fellow writer. Poised on the edge of publication, she is looking at options. As I thought about how to answer her, it occurred to me how different things are now from how they were fifteen years ago, when I was moving into that stage of my career.

Back in the old days, we reached for the most recent addition of The Writers Market and our notes from conferences then made lists. All the information we needed was in one tidy book: names, contact information, query procedures, submission guidelines. Formats were standard, word counts were based on a word-per-page formula, and there were fewer options. If a publisher wasn’t listed among the names in that book, it wasn’t one you wanted to submit to. You simply prioritized them and queried. Except for advance amounts and reputation within the genre, there was little else one needed to consider until an offer was received.

Wow, have things changed!

Today, the options have exploded. Big publishers, small presses, self-publishing, and combinations of them abound. Guidelines vary and so does everything else.

With all the options out there, research is more critical than ever. There is no longer such a thing as an industry standard—in submission guidelines, in contracts, in press runs, in distribution, or in anything else. Writers today need to be constantly aware of the ever-changing business of publishing. They need to consider what they want, what their skills are, and what publishers are (and are not) offering.

If you want to pursue traditional publishing, you must look at what the publisher offers. Do they release in mass market paperback, trade paperback, hardcover, digital, or a combination? Are different formats released simultaneously? What is the distribution system? Do they offer marketing support? What type of product do they release? How supportive are they of their authors? What type of advances and royalty percentages are paid? Are your rights tied up for a limited amount of time or in perpetuity? Will the publisher get you reviews? The list goes on and on.

If you are considering independent publication, you need to look at your own skills. Are you experienced in social networking? Do you know how to access reviews? How much time are you willing to put into marketing? Do you like spending time online?

But I feel you also need to be aware of what you want in terms of your career. Do you want to reach your goals all at once or are you willing to get there via steps? What is most important to you? What are you willing to compromise on, if necessary? How devoted are you to your genre and style of writing?

Larger publishers offer you wider distribution and sell their books at a lower cost while small presses may have a narrow distribution, smaller print runs, and may only offer higher cost formats. Larger publishers are more rigid with the category standards while small presses tend to be more flexible. If you are willing to adjust your length, complexity, or sub-genre, larger publishers may be the route to go. If you are firmly tied to something that doesn’t quite fit, you may want to look at small presses. But don’t sign unless you are fully aware of those limitations in print runs, distribution, cost per book, and earning potential.

If you want your book published without lots of editing, there are a host of small presses who offer that option. But those publishers will not have the same reputation for quality as those who edit more deeply. That doesn’t mean your manuscript is not well-written. It simply means that if the publisher doesn’t edit much, they will inevitably achieve a reputation for producing books that lack editing. Does that matter to you?

You’ve received an offer but the publisher wants your rights in perpetuity. What is most important to you--getting your book in print or being able to get your rights back in the future?

You want your book in front of reviewers. Which publishers will get them there? And…what publishers have reputations for getting good reviews? Are you willing to do the editing that might be necessary to achieve a good review?

If you are thinking about self-publication, are you willing and able to market your book online? Do you understand the various distribution channels? Do you accept that you will have to work hard to make sales?

Here's a look at my experience. I signed my first contract in December 2006, just as small presses were beginning to emerge as a viable option. Signing with a small press had not been what I had originally envisioned but it was an option I began to look at when I discovered large publishers were no longer buying western historical romance that didn’t fit neatly into category lines or stereotypical characters.

In looking at my goals, I realized that I didn’t want to change genres and I didn’t want to write less complicated plots in order to comply with category guidelines. This was not an area in which I was willing to compromise. Therefore, I needed to look at options that would allow this. I researched carefully, looking for a small press know for quality products, good editing, and review connections. I accepted some limitations (small press runs, limited distribution, and higher product price) while holding to those things that were most important to me.

As a result, I’ve taken a slower route, Yet, it is one that allows me to write the type of books that I always envisioned and, when the market shifts, I will be in a position to pursue publication that reaches a larger readership at a lower price point. It’s a route that is working for me but might not work for others.

In the end, my advice for navigating your options is to research what publishers offer, to examine what is most important to you and to know where your skills lie. I would do this even before you query a publisher and certainly don’t accept an offer until you have fully researched and thought about these points. On the whole, it’s easier than it’s ever been to achieve publication but easiest is not always best. There is much more to consider before you select the route that’s best for you.

Happy hunting!

Those D—- Workshop Proposals!

By Pamela Nowak

The call for workshop proposals for the 2015 Colorado Gold Conference came out earlier this month, spurring my usual under-the-breath comments about preparing them.

Workshop proposal forms force us to think and organize without knowing whether the effort will net results. It’s the reason we hate to fill them out, especially when they ask for detail. After all, who wants to spend time planning out an entire workshop when it might not even be selected? That seems like a whole lot of work for nothing.

Yet, is it for nothing?

Though I hate filling out proposal forms, I recognize their role. Having served as a conference chair and a member of the workshop committee, I am well-acquainted with how hard it is to make selections. A topic may sound interesting or a short summary might make promises of being geared toward advanced writers. In fact, I recall selecting some of those, back when proposals were less detailed. Months later, the presentation failed to live up to the promises. Attendees, drawn by the same short description, left feeling cheated. That dissatisfaction was reflected on feedback to the conference organizers. And, as more and more people submitted proposals, it became very difficult to decide among those on the same topic; there simply wasn’t enough detail to adequately compare them.

Over the years, especially with the growth in submitted proposals, the form has asked would-be presenters for more information, details, and organization. I’ve filled them out and it takes a lot of time and thought.

I am forced to think beyond my general topic to figure out what, exactly, I will teach. I must determine how I will fill the time and what will make my workshop unique and different. Not only must I write a short description, I must also provide a detailed one. And an outline! Gee whiz! Doesn’t anybody realize how much time that takes??

The thing I’ve discovered, though, is how much easier it is to actually prepare the workshop if it is selected. I have a firm outline to guide me and I don’t scramble at the last minute to figure out what I’m going to do. As a result, I have a much more cohesive lesson plan. I flesh it out more, in the months prior to conference and I arrive prepared and ready to fulfill the promises I made in my short description.

And if the proposal is not selected, it goes in a file for another year or another conference, saving me future work. In fact, some presenters have a whole collection of proposals which they can use for multiple conferences. Once prepared, they need only tweak or update them as necessary.

First-hand knowledge tells me how much easier it makes the selection process for the committee. With nearly five times the proposals as available slots (perhaps even more), it allows conference planners to have enough information to determine if presenters will offer organized workshops or whether they will ramble without focus. It reveals details which convey unique takes on familiar topics. The committee knows if a workshop will be hands-on or lecture-driven. Members can see if there is enough information to fill the time or if it appears the speaker will stall.

Still, there is that niggling voice that tells me it might all be a waste of time since there is no guarantee a proposal will be selected. That’s true…but there is usually a benefit to being selected, beyond sharing information with others and enhancing one’s exposure (for example, RMFW provides a conference discount). To increase the odds of selection, there are things we can do.

  1. Choose a topic that is unique yet not so different that it will appeal only to a small group of people. Conference planning centers around offering a slate that will be interesting to a broad group.
  2. If your workshop is centered around a familiar topic (such as an element of craft), offer a new technique or viewpoint. Make your proposal stand-out as something new. Give the presenters a reason to select yours instead of one of the other seven about the same thing.
  3. Select a relevant topic, something that pertains to writing or publishing today. If you aren’t conveying new information, relate how old information is once again (or still) important to attendees.
  4. Be detailed without being minute. If there are several proposals on the same topic, the details will make your proposal standout and will provide the committee with needed information. At the same time, you don’t need to provide multiple pages of detail. If it takes an hour to read your proposal, reviewers might give up.
  5. Show you are organized. This is what the outline will reflect. It will show how you plan to cover your topic, where you will offer information. It is your opportunity to show that you will not just ramble on but will, instead, offer relevant information in an organized fashion.
  6. If you are proposing a panel, you will want to take special care to show how the session will be structured and that it is not just a group chatting about a topic. The most frequent complaints about panels is that the speakers seemed unprepared, that it was too anecdotal and lacked instructive content, and that speakers seemed to lack a united focus. Including specific topics and questions will help the proposal stand out, as will including a moderator to keep the panel on-task. It is important that every panel member prepare ahead of time rather than contributing “off-the-cuff.”

Okay, time to get back to that proposal…

Change

By Pamela Nowak

Change...it’s a quiet word, not really representative of all that’s associated with it. For each of us, it has a unique set of implications. Since I’m in a contemplative mood, I’ll spend today exploring them.

When I was younger, change represented the unknown, with all its uncertainty. It was something I usually avoided. It often brought implications I didn’t like. I was forced into new ways of doing things and reactions I didn’t expect. Most especially, there might be risk in change and I wasn’t a fan of risk. It took me out of my comfort zone and I rather liked my little box.

We’re often advised not to make major decisions during times of change or to not make changes during times of stress—I’ve heard both bits of wisdom cited. This implies change is to be avoided, that it may be sought without thought, or that it may come back to bite us. It suggests that change somehow controls us.

Yet there is the adage that change is good. When we’re “in a rut,” change may prompt good things…new ideas, fresh takes, etc. It is the reason we build in turn-over in governing by-laws and we bemoan the lack of it when talking about entrenched politicians.

So, is change good or is it bad? I suspect it can be either—sometimes at the same time and altering upon the unique circumstance. Certainly, new ideas are to be applauded but the loss of old wisdom may be mourned. It is up to us to look at it from each angle and to adjust to it, be it positively or negatively.

At this point of my life, I choose to look at change as opportunity. How I react to it, what I do with it, is up to me. I’ve come to see that boxes can hold me back, make it impossible to stretch myself, to try different things or to react in new ways.

When I moved to the Denver area after several significant life changes, my dear friend Liz Roadifer gifted me with a gorgeous angel figure releasing several butterflies from her extended hands. The card that came with her indicated she was Arabella, the Guardian of Change. This quote was on the card: “Happiness always looks small while you hold it in your hands, but let it go, and you learn at once how big and precious it is.” (Maxim Gorky).

Arabella sits above my desk. She reminds me daily of the gifts that are in change and my role in releasing them. I can’t control what happens, but I can control how I react to it.

So, what does all this have to do with writing? It is a writing blog, right?

During our writing journey, from our first floundering attempts to becoming authors and building careers, we will encounter change after change. At first, we will be forced to decide if we will adapt our writing techniques as our craft develops. Will we reject painful critique or find the grains of truth in it? We will encounter reality that is different from our expectations with each rejection letter. We will see sales that may not be what we anticipated (be it low sales or a run-away best-seller). All of these are changes, all of them in addition to the changes we will meet in “regular life.” How we respond, what we find in each fork in the road, is up to each of us.

Life is not always kind, nor are our journeys smooth. The changes we are confronted with are not always those we would ask for, nor are they what we want. But they all hold opportunity...if we look hard enough. As you think on this year nearly gone and the new year approaching, I hope all of you are able to find the possibilities in the changes that have come your way.

Just Right?

By Pamela Nowak

So what is it that makes a writing group just right?

As a current member of four different writers’ organizations and a former member of others, I’ve discovered each has its unique flavor and that I get something different from each one of them.

One of the groups I belong to provides broad industry support. It is a large organization, genre-specific, national in scope, and focuses primarily on the business of writing. Development of craft and marketing tools are offered as well. There is a monthly publication for members, multiple on-line loops/list-serves targeted to specific information sharing, and local chapters. A national conference is held annually but it is costly and so many people attend it that it feels impersonal. It is what I think of as my professional organization. But it is not a writing family.

I joined another group at the suggestion of a writer friend. This is a smaller group, regional in nature, also with an annual conference. I am a member but have little involvement in the group.

Another of my groups exists to promote women writers. It is small, represents multiple genres in both fiction and non-fiction, and has traditionally focused on member networking. There is an annual conference, a loop/list-serve, a Facebook page, and opportunities for promotion in an annual catalog of publications. I’ve made some good friends among the membership and make efforts to support fellow members but I often don’t feel a daily connection to the group.

Nor do I with the various list-serves/loops that I belong to. They assist me in gathering knowledge about particular topics and connect me to others who as seeking the same information, but they are not nurturing and I know almost none of the other “members” personally.

In RMFW, however, I have a completely different bond. In my early years of membership, I relied on this group to guide my craft development. I found educational opportunities abundant and critique groups invaluable. Classes, newsletters, conferences all allowed me to grow as a writer. Early on, this was the organization that I most identified with. Friendships grew within critique groups, then with those I met at conference, and I have discovered some of my closest friendships within RMFW. Once I began volunteering, I discovered an even deeper link to the group and fellow members. For me, RMFW is a family.

But there must be something that makes each one of these groups different--something which makes one appeal more than another.

Logically, a group that represents a single genre or gender group or region should be more of a family. A small group should have a closer membership than a larger group. But that’s not necessarily the case. Each group has its own character and each of us looks for something special within a group. Some of us may love the genre-association of a large national group or the social-focus of a networking group or a gender-based organization. Fellow members of the same groups I belong to may feel very differently about them. I have friends who claim one or another of them as their “family” while I do not.

So, I guess that means there really is no answer to my question.

A writing group is just right when it’s just right.

Here’s hoping each and every one of you has found the right group!

Memories and Milestones

By Pamela Nowak

Memories are precious things. I’ve known that for most of my life but was struck anew at just how priceless they are when helping pack up my mom’s household items as she moved to a much smaller residence last month. We came across box after box of old photos, school projects, handmade cards, and baby items. As we went through them, the past came flooding back, bringing smiles and tears.

Our writing20141014_151926 life, too, is filled with memories and milestones.

Several years ago, just after I was offered my first book contract, a fellow writer offered this advice: make a scrapbook—you will want to remember the emotions you felt during this journey.

It made sense because they were really great emotions!

I began packing things away in a plastic tote, deciding to 20141014_152021chronicle the whole journey. I pulled out my files of rejection letters, my contest entries with score sheets and comments, even old critique group comments. I’d saved them all, pat-rack that I am. Here was my chance to put them to use. I added in print-outs from emails…the offer, the negotiation20141014_152218s, the contract. I added congratulatory notes from friends, announcements I’d made on list-serve groups, cards and letters. I included pages from internet sites: my website, blogs I was invited to participate in, review sites. Added in were photos, reviews, news clippings, announcements of signing events, and other remembrances.20141014_152628

Purchasing scrapbooks, I sought background pages to reflect writing, romance, and dreams. I did the same with stickers and 3-D accents. In the end, I created several scrapbook volumes chronicling my writing journey.

Every now and then, I pull them 20141014_152743out and relive the moments of struggle and reward. Like my mom’s boxes, they are full of smiles and tears—exquisite, treasured pieces of the past. They reflect accomplishment and provide a sense of renewed commitment as I step toward the next phases in my journey.

Consider the idea of creating your own scrapbooks. Even if you don’t have a creative bent in that direction, keep the memories together in one spot. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy—just a collection of milestones to reflect upon and set your course for what’s to come.