Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What to do Before You're Published

Friends, today I'm delighted to have C. Lee McKenzie here to give us advice about what we can do before we're published. Lee's latest book, Double Negative, is available now!

What To Do Before You’re Published
by C. Lee McKenzie

When I started writing fiction, I didn’t know much of anything about the business. Let’s be honest. I didn’t know anything. So what I’ve set out here is all that I’ve learned since 2009 when my first book came out. I know it’s not complete, and if I write the same kind of article in the future, it will be different. One thing I’ve learned is publishing doesn’t stay the same. 

If I could start again, these are the things I’d do before I published a book.
  1. Have a professional website and/or blog designed. 
  • Be sure the navigation is easy and the pages easy to read.
  • Buy a domain name. Mine’s cleemckenziebooks. I wish it were simply cleemckenzie. The simpler the better. 
  • Don’t use music. People often browse in public places and music isn’t always appreciated.
  • Be sure people can pull up your site on all their mobile devices.
2. Become visible on Social Networking Media
  • Goodreads. Even if you don’t have a book, you’re probably a reader, so join in. In fact, this is where I interact more as a reader than a writer. 
  • Shelfari. You can add in a list of your characters and a brief description. You can write a short blurb, and a longer summary. You can list your chapter titles. And because Shelfari is owned by Amazon, any changes you make here show up on your Amazon book page.
  • Facebook. This can be a place to meet more writers who are struggling with the same issues you are. Join some groups. Contribute.
  • Twitter. This is a great tool to point the way to your other pages. Join Chats about writing and books. Tweet and don’t forget to ReTweet. I like Tweetdeck (sometimes :-) because I can schedule Tweets days in advance. Planning ahead will be very important after you’re published.
  • LinkedIn. This is a community that offers helpful Forums. You can ask a lot of questions and get some excellent answers. 
  • Amazon. Poke around Amazon and see how it works. 
*Be aware of Authors Central and what you can do there once you’re published.
*Understand the pros and cons of KDP Select, in which you give Amazon a 90-day exclusive to sell your book. It has advocates and those who dislike it. Here’s a great discussion by Jane Friedman.
*Find out how to use Tags to your benefit. They’re important and can be tricky. One way to find out about them is to check out the “Also-Boughts" section. Find books like yours and see how authors have tagged them.
*Find out how to get Likes. They add to your chances of being noticed. I don’t do a lot of this, but if someone invites me to like them I do, if their site is appropriate. And I invite them to like me back. It doesn’t take that much time. Sometimes people invite me to a “Like Party.” If I’m in the mood, I’ll jump in, but it isn’t my favorite promotional tool.
*Find out about Lists and how they work to your benefit.

3. Get to know who reviews what and start a list with their links for easy reference. You can find reviewers who have read and reviewed books similar to yours on Amazon.

4. Find sites that promote books. Be ready to offer promotions such as giveaways on their sites. Here are a couple I like and they’re free for a basic listing: Book Daily and Ask David.

5. Investigate email marketing. Begin to collect emails of people who know you, know your work, are readers as well as writers. 

6. Think budget. How much do you plan to spend on promo and where? Book trailer? Facebook ads? Goodread ads/giveaways? Amazon free days?  (if you go with KDP Select) 

7. Find bloggers with a following. Follow them, support them when their books come out. Make your site interesting and not all about you and your forthcoming book. Above all, be honest. Show people who you are and what you’re about. Also never snark, unless it’s in jest. Even then be careful. 

8. Last suggestions: Remove any inactive blog from your profile. Remove Word Verification and set your blog to Must Approve. That will flash, “Your comment will become available after approval.” That’s so much better than WV.

That’s about it from me, but there’s so much I still haven’t pulled together. Some things I just will never have time to do. Some things I don’t want to do. My goal is to keep everything current. When I say I’ll do something on my blog or in any forum, I do it, or I explain why I can’t. Life does have other things going on besides books, and other writers understand.

Also don’t be discouraged when you publish and your book doesn’t hit the bestseller list. Do your promo, and if you’ve created a book people want to read, it will sell. Sometimes it skyrockets, then plunges in sales. Sometimes it sells at a steady but slow pace. While any of this is happening, keep your promo on track and write that next book.

Easy? Nope.

Fellow writers, what do you think about Lee's list? Have you done all of these things? Most of them? Does the list intimidate you? Anything else you'd like to add to the pre-published to-do list? Please share!

About Double Negative: Sixteen-year-old Hutch McQueen is a smart kid who can barely read. He makes one bad choice after another, trying to find a way to escape his rotten life at home and at school. Each time he gets into more trouble.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cover Reveal! The Summer of Crossing Lines

Friends, today I'm so happy to reveal the cover for my next contemporary YA novel, The Summer of Crossing Lines.

Here's the blurb:

When her protective older brother disappears, sixteen-year-old Melody loses control of her orderly life. Her stuttering flares up, her parents are shrouded in a grief-induced fog, and she clings to the last shreds of her confidence.

The only lead to her brother's disappearance is a 30-second call from his cell phone to Rex, the leader of a crime ring. Frustrated by a slow investigation with too many obstacles, and desperate to mend her broken family, Melody crosses the line from wallflower to amateur spy. She infiltrates Rex's group and is partnered with Drew, a handsome pickpocket whose kindness doesn't fit her perception of a criminal. He doesn't need to steal her heart--she hands it to him. 

With each law Melody breaks, details of her brother's secret life emerge until she's on the cusp of finding him. But at what point does truth justify the crime?

The Summer of Crossing Lines is coming soon! You can add it to your Goodreads list here. If you're willing to help me spread the word when the time comes, just holler! Guest posts, interviews, tap dancing while juggling name it. I'll appreciate any help I can get :D

Are you looking for a new summer read? Have you enjoyed your summer reading so far? Wanna share some good news? I'd love to hear it!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Advice for Writers from Author Sarah Skilton

Friends, we have a special treat today. My good buddy and amazing author, Sarah Skilton, is here to answer a few questions. Sarah is the author of HIGH AND DRY and BRUISED. If you'd like to read about my writing lessons learned from Sarah's books, click here for HIGH AND DRY and here for BRUISED.

And now, a Q and A session with Sarah Skilton:

1) What sparked the idea for HIGH AND DRY?

The idea for High and Dry came about because I love mysteries, and I love 1940s hardboiled movies such as Double Indemnity and In a Lonely Place. I also liked the show Veronica Mars (a mystery series set in high school that was recently revived by Kickstarter), and I wanted to try my hand at writing a boy narrator point of view. High and Dry is quite different from Bruised, my first novel, in that it takes place during a single week rather than over several months' time. It was great challenging myself to write a completely different style of book and I really enjoyed the process!

2) You used to be a script reader. How did that experience help you when it came to writing your own fiction?

I used to be a professional script reader for the company that puts out the casting Breakdowns. Basically that entailed reading scripts for TV shows and films that were casting, and writing up character descriptions so the talent agents and managers would know which of their actors to send out on auditions for which projects. I read hundreds of screenplays a year and it was fantastic for learning about pacing, dialogue, characterization, and tone. Another rule in screenwriting (besides "show, don't tell") is "enter the scene late and get out early," and I try to take that to heart when I'm writing my novels. 

3) Tell us a bit about your writing process. Plotter? Pantser? Somewhere in between?

As a complete cliche, I carry around a small notebook in my purse that I use to jot down ideas whenever I get them. I definitely like to have a sense for where the story's going before I begin. I know the ending very early on even if it changes in some specifics once I get there. I keep one document for notes/vague outline, and another document for the actual manuscript, and the two don't always end up matching. However, to sit down each morning and write, I have to know the direction of at least one chapter in advance or I'll panic. I call it the cushion.

4) What's the best writing advice you've ever received? Why did it resonate with you?

The best writing advice I ever received was to write the story you most wish to read. If you're writing something to please somebody else, or because you think it will be popular, but it's not something you're passionate about or excited to do, I think it will show in the writing.

5) Any additional advice you can offer writers who are seeking an agent or pursuing publication?

I would say don't beat yourself up if you have days where the writing doesn't come easily or you fear that everything you've written is junk. Give yourself a day or two off. Your brain will continue working on the story, and it'll come up with answers you didn't know you had.

As for seeking an agent or pursuing publication, follow all the directions posted on an agent's website to the letter. That'll already put you ahead of 85% of the other people who are sending queries! No joke :) Also, check out @SaraMegibow "10 queries in 10 tweets" series on Thursdays for more hints and help.

Sarah, thanks so much for the valuable information! And I love the advice about writing the book you most wish to read. Kristin Hannah, author of one of my favorite books--Firefly Lane--said something similar. She was frustrated by the lack of "friendship novels" for women. Her mom said, "Then write one."

Are you a fan of hardboiled movies? Are you a plotter or pantser? When submitting to an agent or publisher, do you study and follow their guidelines? Any tips you'd like to add?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Bestselling Author Jody Hedlund on Research Trips--Plus a Giveaway!

Friends, today I'm honored to have award-winning, bestselling author Jody Hedlund here to tell us about her research trip for her latest release, Captured by Love. (Btw, I recently finished her book, and will share writing lessons learned in the near future)

Take it away, Jody!

Behind the Scenes of Captured by Love
A Research Trip to Mackinac Island (Part 1)
Research is an integral part of writing historical novels. Obviously there are many ways to research including reading biographies, studying time-period books, finding original journals or documents from that era, and reading other novels or watching movies about the topic (and then analyzing them). 
Those are all critical and important ways to research for a novel. 
Another way I like to research is by taking trips to the location of my books. While a trip is a helpful and fun way to glean more information for my stories, I don't consider those trips to be quite as crucial as the other kind of research I mentioned. 
Yes, trips can be helpful. But usually SO much has changed in one hundred and fifty years, that it's difficult to "see" the location as it would have been at the time of the story. Buildings, landmarks, vegetation, and physical geography (like coast lines, rock formations, clearings) have changed, sometimes even drastically.
Nevertheless, whenever possible, I try to go visit the settings of my books. I'm still able to glean
tidbits about weather, some local history, and even sensory details about the place that add authenticity to a story.
When it came time to plan a research trip for Captured by Love, I was really excited. It had been several years since I'd visited Mackinac Island in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and I was eager for an excuse to go back! I asked my mom and two older daughters if they'd like to go with. And I really had to twist their arms to go! *wink!*

As time would have it, the trip had to wait until the end of September. But that actually ended up being a beautiful time to drive north because the leaves were just beginning to change. That meant we were greeted by vibrant shades of yellow, orange, and magenta as we drove the three hours from my home in the central part of the state, crossed the five-mile-long Mackinac Bridge, and entered the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Mackinac Island is only accessible by boat and no motorized vehicles are allowed on the island. Many visitors bring their bikes along and others rent bikes when they arrive. There is also the option of taking horse-drawn carriage rides, which was our preferred mode of transportation. 

With the breeze blowing off Lake Huron, even on the sunny day, we were actually quite cool and had to use the wool blankets they provided to stay warm during our carriage ride.
Our guide for the tour was a history connoisseur of the island which the history buff in me absolutely loved. 
I learned an incredible amount during the several hours we rode about the island. Here are a few interesting facts:
  • Lilacs aren't native to Mackinac Island. The French brought them over as well as dandelions (which they used for wine)
  • The island is 3 miles wide and 4 miles long
  • Mackinac is the old French spelling for the island and Mackinaw is the English version
  • In the winter ice forms 3 miles wide around the island, so that it is inaccessible to ships
  • Because of the lake effect, it's not unusual to have up to 8 ft. of snow at one time 
  • Only a couple of feet of soil cover the island. The rest of the island consists mostly of limestone.
During the carriage ride, we stopped at Arch Rock, which is a fascinating rock formation that is in the shape of–you guessed it–an arch.  The view of the island from the top of the arch is spectacular. I could see up and down the coast of the island in both directions. 
It was the perfect place to imagine that I was Angelique MacKenzie (the heroine of Captured by Love). I wanted to get into her mind, fall in love with the island, and see it's amazing beauty and the solidness it offers amidst the seas the surround it.
Join me in the next post as I share more about my research trip on Mackinac Island, specifically my visit to the old military fort there. 

How about you? Have you ever visited Mackinac Island? What's your favorite thing about the island? And for those who haven't visited, what's your favorite vacation destination?
Want to win a book? Enter a Rafflecopter giveaway by July 15th!  
Jody Hedlund is an award-winning and bestselling author of inspirational historical romances. As a busy mama-writer, she has the wonderful privilege of teaching her crew of 5 children at home. In between grading math papers and giving spelling tests, she occasionally does a load of laundry and washes dishes. When she's not busy being a mama, you can find her in front of her laptop working on another of her page-turning stories. She loves reading almost as much as she loves writing, especially when it also involves chocolate and coffee.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Living vicariously...through YOU? #IWSG

Welcome, fellow Insecure Writers! Click here to sign up for this amazing group.

Do you embark on dangerous missions? Do you wield a sword or rob banks? Me neither. We writers usually leave that sort of thing to the pros...our characters.

On the other hand, my hubby is a risk-taker. He does barrel rolls on his Sky Ski, and jumps triples off the diving board. For his recent birthday, he did a tandem jump out of an airplane.

People may assume I live vicariously through him, but I don't. I have no desire to do those things. Not even a little. My bucket list includes tamer options, like visiting Alaska and Mount Rushmore.

As I watched my hubby hurtle toward the ocean at 120 miles per hour, an idea hit me: some writers may live vicariously through other people, and even through their characters. But what if other people are living vicariously through you, the writer?

Yes, you.

Imagine all the folks out there who want to write down their thoughts, but don't. Or wish they could share stories, but think they can't.

If you're putting words on the page, or on the screen, or in a blog post, you're doing what other people wished they would do. If you've gathered the courage to submit your work, or if you've taken the leap into indie publishing, you're putting your heart and soul out there for others to read and offer judgement. That takes a parachute full of courage.

The next time you feel as if you don't have guts, or that everyone else is wild and adventurous, remember this: others are watching you. They may even be inspired by you. And maybe, just maybe, someone is living vicariously through you.

(Here's my hubby on his tandem jump)

Are you a risk taker? Do you live vicariously through someone else? Or do you feel like someone else lives vicariously through you? Have you ever jumped out of an airplane? Is it on your bucket list?