Have Books; Will Travel

Have Books; Will Travel

by Barbara Renner

Selling in Minnesota

I’ve written books, and I’m willing to travel to make sales. Selling books can be wet, hot, and downright frightening.

As Sunbirds, my husband and I escape to Minnesota for the summer. That’s where my Lonnie the Loon series sells best. We live in what is known as “lake country” – a lot of lakes and a lot of very small towns. Every single little town has a summer street fair, all with cute names, such as Turtle Fest, Potato Days, Pelican Fest, Looney Daze, etc. The townspeople love to buy crafts, fudge, brats, emu oil, lamps made out of guitars, and books. So, I unfold my six-foot table, set up my easel and sign, and wait for grandma to shuffle over and swoon over Lonnie.

The weather in Minnesota can best be described as erratic. The locals have a saying, “If you don’t like the weather right now, wait a minute, and it will change.” June is usually a rainy month, and that’s when the residents of Perham celebrate Turtle Days for an entire week. And, yes, they watch turtles race and enjoy a street fair. The first summer I set up my display of books, the rain dumped in the morning but eventually cleared up for the rest of the soggy day. My table was positioned between the pony rides and a man selling soft bows and arrows. Not many kids were interested in Loon books. Last summer the clouds opened up around noon, so I folded up my table and escaped, my car running over and dragging an orange cone in my haste.

My best sales occur at Looney Daze in August. The craft tables line Main Street, along with activities like a Loon calling contest, Weiner dog races, a parade, and a 5K walk/run. By August, the humidity has draped itself over the corn fields, and the best way to style hair for the day is under a hat. I don’t have a day tent, just my table, so I get a little gamy standing in the sun all day. One summer, the vendor to my right let me stand under her tent during slow times. I felt obligated to buy one of her wind chimes made out of silver forks.

The best venue for selling my books has been as a vendor at the Communities Collaborative Brain Development Conference at Shooting Star Casino on the White Earth Nation. The conference draws teachers and social workers in early childhood programs. Through these contacts, I’ve booked appearances as a paid guest author at a new library, a community college writing class, and a preschool.

The casino was particularly busy during the conference this year. There were no parking spaces close to the conference center, so I had to park in another lot. At my age, I find myself needing to mentally make notes about the location of my parked car or I will walk out of a store, search for my vehicle, and curse the person who stole my Toyota. I made a mental note at the casino: car facing north, end of row, single space. Got it. At the end of the day, I marched out with my box of books and bag of stuffed loons directly to my car, facing north, end of row, single space. Except, there was another car in its place, with people standing around it. After playing 20 questions, the nice couple helped me locate my car. It was in the next lot to the east, facing north, end of row, single space. That night, their friends heard a funny story about the little old lady wandering around the parking lot looking for her car.

This summer, I drove 120 miles to the Red Lake Nation to read my books to a group of pre-kindergarteners at a parent open house. They paid me a stipend and also bought 14 books, which made the two-hour journey tolerable. The drive in the middle of the afternoon took me down two-lane highways, through the woods, and eventually on the reservation’s winding roads around a lake. The theme of the night was waterfowl, and the coordinator brought her boyfriend’s white goose, which screeched and pecked in a cage in the cafeteria while everyone was eating a ground beef and noodle bake. After my reading, I reversed the drive home on unlit winding roads through the reservation, through the dark woods, and down two-lane, nocturnal deer-infested highways.

Now that I’m in Phoenix for the winter, I won’t have to worry about getting my books wet in the rain; the heat is dry, and the only frightening road to travel is the I-10 during rush hour. However, there’s still a possibility of my car relocating itself in a parking lot.

Barbara Renner and her husband have lived in Phoenix for more than 40 years. As “Sun Barbara RennerBirds,” they fly away to Minnesota to escape the summer heat – and to fish. While in Minnesota, Barbara became fascinated with its state bird, the Common Loon, and was prompted to write four picture books about Lonnie the Loon, because everyone should know about loons. However, books about loons don’t sell very well in the desert, so she is writing a new series of picture books about Quincy the Quail. Barbara visits elementary schools as a guest author to read her books and share interesting facts about loons and quails. She’s working on other children’s books and a special book about her yellow lab, Larry: Larry’s Words of Wisdom. Learn more about Barbara at RennerWrites.com, as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and GoodReads.

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Why I Love My Critique Group

Why I Love My Critique Group

by Katrina Shawver

critique group2 8-21-2016

I know without a doubt that my debut book, Henry: A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America, would not exist in its present form without my writing critique group.

Wendy, Sande, Becky, and I met monthly for three years to share draft sections of our evolving stories. We offered each other constructive feedback, ideas, and encouragement. We were an unlikely group, as many critique groups come together based on a common genre, be it memoir, fiction, sci-fi, or other. Instead, we came together based on geography and the shared desire for constructive feedback on our writing. We all wanted to join a critique group and we all lived in the East Valley. It worked. That we became good friends was an unexpected bonus. Today we still meet monthly, even if we do not have writing to share.

I recently published a historical biography of a Polish Catholic who survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald during World War II. My background in newspaper writing and blogging means I am great at 500- to 800-word pieces, but incredibly challenged at churning out a plotted, cohesive, and engaging 80,000-word manuscript. My critique group helped me alternate the harshest stories with lighter ones, identified key confusions and inconsistencies, and fell in love with Henry, my main character. They helped mold the book into what it is today and validated both my writing and the belief that this story must be told.

Wendy writes murder mysteries and also published the nonfiction book, My Six-Year-Old Inner Artist, Everyone Has One! with its companion workbook during our time together. Her artistic talent clearly helps her writing shine. She paints beautiful imagery through her word art with every scene she writes in a way I envy. The depth of her characters, clarity of details, and punch of each chapter ending grew through our feedback. As she plans a permanent move to Florida, we remain connected through email.

Sande writes about suicide prevention, and published the resource, We Need to Talk about Suicide. Sande and I still joke that we both write on the “cheerful topics” of concentration camps and suicide. She brings a gut honesty and the passion of her 25 years in the field of suicide prevention to her writing. Sande was the first in our group to become a published author and hold her book in her hands. We raised a toast to her success. Today, she is near completion of two additional books. We stood by her as her husband endured a complicated, expensive, and lengthy course of treatment for cancer.

Becky is our free spirit with a heart of gold and a passion for meditation and finding her inner peace. We tell her every month that she is crazy not to be writing constantly. The stories that flow through her pen comprise beautiful, honest writing. She’s fun. During our time together, she attended writing retreats in Bali and Nepal, and published several articles in an online publication. While her time is now focused on running a family business and attending graduate school, we still tell her she should never stop writing and will always count her as an essential member of our group.

I know from experience that an effective critique group is essential to developing an engaging read. The members of a quality critique group are both a writer’s earliest beta readers, most critical editors, and strongest encouragers. It is also essential to “click” in personality and agree on shared group goals and guidelines. For us, it is less important that we write on similar topics. Our success lies in being both writers and critical readers. Sometimes writing is best critiqued from the more distant perspective a reader might have. Thank you to Wendy, Sande, and Becky for your trusted guidance, honest feedback, and encouragement. I count each of you as my friends for life.

________________________Katrina Shawver
Katrina Shawver is the author of Henry, A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America, officially released on November 1, 2017. The book is published through Koehler Books and is available in hardback, paperback, and ebook formats on most book sites worldwide. Visit KatrinaShawver.com where she blogs regularly.

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The Joy of Bad First Drafts

The Joy of Bad First Drafts

by Brian Flatgard

Ernest Hemingway declared most first drafts to be shit, and Anne Lamott famously Feces cartoon. Doodle styleencourages the shitty first draft. Today I’ll share my experience writing a first draft, and how embracing bad writing is the path to a great book.

There are a thousand ways to avoid writing, but only one way to write: commit words from your brain onto a screen or paper. For me, the challenge is to reach a state of flow where I’m fully and fearlessly engaged in the writing process, and to keep the flow going once I’ve put down those first few words.

I’m at work on a memoir about my father and his death. It was difficult enough to revisit old emotions, and the last thing I needed was to hear my own voice declare that my writing wasn’t honoring my dad. Then I read about the concept of the “shitty first draft,” and let that become my writing mantra.

There’s tremendous power in willfully writing poorly. I had no thought of what was good or correct or chronological or appropriate for my book. I simply sat down, committed myself to not moving for an hour, and grabbed the pen. And then wrote unceasingly, letting myself mess up, go down wrong paths, repeat myself, contradict myself, revel in clichés, and write bad metaphors. Any time I told myself the writing was bad, I reminded myself that this was my intention and I kept writing.

Amazingly, my writing improved after about 20 minutes, and I would often write for much longer than my hour minimum. I wrote many false starts, which I came to see as warmup laps before actually entering the race. My wrong paths led me to realize that aspects of mine and my father’s lives – which I had thought were boring, or had taken for granted – were in fact deeply important to the book. I’d end each writing session amazed that I’d filled up so many pages of my writing journal.

More importantly, I enjoyed writing. I told myself that nobody would ever see this first draft. It was my own private plaything. I spent months doing this, until I finally realized I had not much else to write for the memoir. And that I had 96,000 words waiting for me to shape them into a second draft.

My metaphor for that first draft is spitting in the dust. I made a big mess and got my hands dirty as I shaped that wet clod of words into clay: raw material I am using for the merely crappy second draft.

__________________________Brian Flatgard
Brian Flatgard
is a writer and poet living in Phoenix, Arizona. His website is brianflatgard.com.

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Twelve Tips for Better Email

Better email.jpg

Twelve Tips for Better Email

With email continuing to reign as the communication mode of choice in the business world, billions of work-related messages are sent and received every day.

Because emails lack facial expression, tone of voice, and body language (emojis generally are not appropriate for business email), carelessly composed messages can create misunderstandings, harm relationships, erode loyalty, and ultimately lose business.

In addition to brushing up on grammar, here are a dozen tips to help you fine-tune your email communication.

  1. Leave the TO field blank until you are ready to press SEND.
  2. Use the SUBJECT line to inform, rather than just identify; it should read like a headline that briefly summarizes your message and draws in the reader.
  3. Base your message content on your recipient’s need to know. Consider journalism’s 5 W’s: Who, What, When, Where, Why (and sometimes How).
  4. Use standard grammar and spelling.
  5. Use short words, short sentences (8–12 words), and short paragraphs (50 words or fewer = 3 or 4 sentences), with a line space between paragraphs.
  6. Use bullet points and numbers to organize information.
  7. Fill no more than one laptop computer screen.
  8. Keep your spellcheck function on at all times, and reread your message before sending.
  9. If an attachment is necessary, add it before you start to compose your email. We’ve all received or sent emails that refer to missing attachments.
  10. Reply the same business day, even if it’s just to confirm receipt and advise the sender when you will respond in full.
  11. Respond to all questions posed, and try to anticipate others to reduce the number of back-and-forth messages.
  12. If the topic changes in an ongoing thread, start a new email with its own subject line.

Email can feel quick and casual, but when used for business, it deserves close attention to detail. Your first impressions and ongoing business relationships are at stake.

Kathleen Watson has nearly three decades of experience as an independent business writer, serving clients in both corporate and academic settings. Her weekly blog, Killer Tips from The Ruthless Editor, offers practical word and punctuation tips, as does her recently published book Grammar For People Who Hate Rules: Killer Tips From The Ruthless Editor. Contact her at: Kathy@RuthlessEditor.com.

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Top 3 Social Media Mistakes Author Are Making

Top 3 Social Media Mistakes Author Are Making

by Justin Larson

SM for business owners.png

I have been doing marketing for many business owners – authors among them – I have seen many common mistakes I want to bring to your attention. This is meant to teach you what to do and not to do in order to succeed in the social media world.

1. Boosting Their Posts

dont boost your postsYes – you read that correctly. Boosting your posts can be the wrong decision. There is no particular order to this list, but the #1 mistake I see entrepreneurs making with social media is that they think they are advertising their businesses by “boosting” their posts.

And why wouldn’t you – Facebook dangles the opportunity in front of you every chance they get. “Today’s post about your book is doing really well. Get in front of even more people by boosting your post!” For those who don’t know what boosting a post is, versus paying for a Facebook ad, here’s a simple explanation.

Facebook ads tend to have a bigger immediate impact and more directly achieve campaign goals, like lead captures, app installations, and sales.

Boosted posts can help you build your brand’s reach and fanbase – but they don’t generally lead to sales; ads are more likely to help you translate your brand’s presence into tangible outcomes.

Just to be clear, one is not better than the other. There is a time and a place to use each, like using different tools, depending on the job. You don’t always want to use a hammer – sometimes you will need a wrench.

2. Boring Content

Just like posting “Buy my book!” “Buy my book!” “Buy my book!” is repetitious and very annoying and comes across as spam, posting boring content is also useless!

What is boring content? Boring content is a post that has no purpose. For example, sales postes where people talk about themselves and why they are the best, or why there product/service is the best. Nobody cares until you care about them. Show your audience you care. Demonstrate you are the best by telling a success story that engages your readers.

Another example is when you re-post content from other sources. It’s great to share things you saw on another website that you thought was helpful or interesting, but if that’s the majority of what your page does, you may not get too far with your marketing.

A hint that your content might be boring is if no one is liking or sharing your posts.

6 tips for making an interesting post… 

  1. Open with a question that will pull readers in.
  2. Catch them off guard or make them think.
  3. Tell a story.
  4. Connect your topic to current events or trends.
  5. Inject humor.
  6. Add controversy.

3. Not Knowing or Tracking Who Their Audience Is

You could take a whole course on this topic alone, because a lot goes into identifying red chairs.pngyour specific audience. If you are just beginning to find your audience – or starting over because you’ve identified them – change things up by writing your content or marketing materials like you are speaking to one person. Create an avatar in your mind of who you your reader is and be very specific about things like gender, relationship status, age, parenting status, favorite sport/team, pets, home life, job, finances – in short, everything about that avatar’s life.

If you already have an audience, you can track them in one of many ways…

Google Analytics: All users remain anonymous while contributing to the collective data. Any demographic or socioeconomic data around those users comes from what Google knows about them.

Facebook Audience Insights: Similar to Google, all users remain anonymous while contributing to the collective data. Also, any demographic or socioeconomic data around those users comes from what Facebook knows about them. Facebook has more info than Google, though. Facebook knows everyone’s interests, groups they like, music, movies, and so much more.

Marketing automation: When users fill out a form on your website, each individual’s information should go directly into your marketing automation funnel. If your system is automated, the form software puts their name, social profiles, and possibly a face into your database. Now, you can track how this individual interacts with every aspect of your marketing, from first to last touch, which are primarily top-of-funnel activities. In addition, marketing automation platforms can go beyond your website to incorporate your emails and social media content, too. If yours isn’t doing this, it should be!

CRM: This software typically is connected to the sales team. It also is used to track an individual prospect through the sales process, but it typically focuses on activity in the middle and bottom of the sales funnel. You can connect your marketing automation tools to the most popular CRMs, including Salesforce, hubspot, and insightly. Integrating the two enables sales and marketing teams to better communicate. This is important even if you are both your own sales and marketing teams! Now you can see all the data available to help complete a sale. This is also a great way to determine which leads are good (and why).

Justin Larson
is a social media marketing professional. As a child, he was raised by many Justin Larsonentrepreneurs. His grandparents on his dad’s side owned a woodworking business that is now owned by his aunt and uncle. His grandpa on his mom’s side owned a construction company and his maternal grandma owned a hair salon. He helped his parents in their woodworking machinery and lumber business, doing computer work and posting products online. He even helped create their first business website. It wasn’t perfect, but he knew from that moment on this was what he wanted to spend his life doing. Now he works with authors and small business owners who want to grow their businesses. Although social media is free to use, it can help explode business growth if used properly. Visit GreenForestMarketing.com to learn more.

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Writing for the Theater

Writing for the Theater

by Vaughn Treude

everyone's a theatre critic

One of my goals as a writer is to improve my skills by practicing many kinds of writing. So when a friend referred me to join the “One Voice” theater collective, I jumped at the chance. I had expected it to be a short stint but ended up enjoying the sense of camaraderie that came with a writer’s collective. Eventually, I brought my girlfriend Arlys in on it, and together we created several scenes of our new play, four of which were brought to life by our actor friends.

The transition from novels and short stories to plays was not as easy as I’d expected. My early works were lengthy and complex and didn’t lend themselves well to the stage. On a lark, I decided I would write a musical comedy about online dating, loosely based on Arlys’ weird experiences in that arena. It was a lot of fun, but also challenging – especially the music, as I hadn’t written any songs in quite a few years.

One of the first challenges was learning to pare down my narrative excess. Theater is all dialogue, with the occasional stage direction thrown in. The first instinct of a novelist is to throw in a narrator so they can use all that pretty description and profound inner monologues they’re accustomed to producing. Of course this only works in very specific situations, such as the nostalgia piece Our Town. For everything else, the cardinal rule is “show don’t tell,” which is a rule novelists should live by, as well.

Another important issue involves stage direction. Richard, our director, had us all read excerpts of works by many famous playwrights. Some gave very detailed instructions for actors and sets. Others provided almost none. I got the impression that these days it’s unfashionable to try to micro-manage the actors. A director will also want to produce their own interpretation of a play. In other words, the theater is a collaborative medium, and writers should respect the other participants by keeping stage directions to a minimum.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the matter of script formatting. The playwright’s true audience is the producers, directors, and actors who bring their words to life. They expect it to be written in a format that optimizes its utility in table readings and early rehearsals. I understand that in the movie industry, scripts that deviate in the slightest from the standard format are immediately tossed. Luckily, there are online resources that explain these things. Here’s a good resource regarding standard stage play format. Using a word-processor template can be a great help. One of the reasons for the strict specifications is to keep the timing consistent. As a rule of thumb, a page of dialogue equals a minute onstage, but in practice that can vary greatly. Here’s a good discussion on the topic: Does one page really equal one minute?

Although challenging, theater writing is an invaluable exercise for novelists. As an added bonus, it incorporates a social element that the solitary habit of writing normally lacks. Arlys and I have forged many friendships from our theater experience. Larger cities like Phoenix often have showcases for local talent, and they’re always looking for new works. These provide good opportunities for publicity and increased name recognition.

This short post has barely scratched the playwright’s experience. I have detailed some of the principal challenges of writing for the theater, as well as its many rewards. It may be a cliché, but it remains true: there’s no business like show business!

vaughntreudeVaughn Treude grew up on a farm in North Dakota. The remoteness of his home, with few children nearby, made science fiction a welcome escape. After many years in software, he realized that the discipline of engineering could be applied to writing fiction. Check out his works at VaughnTreude.com and look for his exciting new website, SteampunkDesperado.com, coming soon!

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Discovery: I Still Have a Purpose

Discovery: I Still Have a Purpose

by Beth Kozan

It was kind of a chance encounter, my interview with a social worker from hospice to see which programs Elliot might qualify for. After I’d answered just a few social-work-familiesquestions, the hospice worker asked if I had worked in a health care setting. “I was an adoption social worker before I retired,” I explained. “I counseled pregnant women, some of whom placed their babies for adoption, and I did adoption home studies and court reports.”

“Ah,” she said. “My first professional assignment was at a Florence Crittendon Home in Utah! It was so interesting to work at a place with a long history of adoption in the midst of great changes.”

I told her about my book: Adoption: More Than By Chance, about some of the adoptions I participated in, and the current book I’m working on, Helping the Birth Mother You Know. I even mentioned a couple of other subjects I want to write about: the close-knit woman writer clipfarming community in Texas where I grew up; my memoir about my developmentally disabled first born; the intense subject of custodial interference and the devastating effect on children kidnapped by their parents.

I am now on the receiving end of services, and I feel helpless – daunted by the new challenges of caregiving. Suddenly, I felt myself come alive again. I thanked this social worker for reminding me that there are no accidents, and she was put in my path to remind me that I still have gifts to bestow.

Beth Kozan
is the author of the book Adoption: More Than by Chance and the forthcoming Beth KozanHelping the Birth Mother You Know. Beth worked in adoption for 35 years and retired to write. She has many more books than these titles to write and will emphasize and explore the concept of community in her additional books. “Growing up in a close agriculture-based, rural community in Texas, I felt the comfort and bonds of caring for others which is often missing in our busy lives today. Exploring and building communities for today is my writer’s goal.” Follow Beth on Facebook or visit her website, where she reviews books and films featuring adoption.

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