Your Unique Story

conference1I think I may be addicted to writer’s conferences. Yep…pretty sure I am. I am just now returning home from another conference. And I am exhausted. My brain is full…it is certainly akin to drinking from a firehose.

But I had an amazing time! Even if I have to do all kinds of things I struggle with…networking, promoting my book, just imagine! All I wanted to do was soak up all of the information and go off in a corner and write as I felt inspired. But no….I learned early on that these conferences are just as much about the networking as anything else. And I did meet some great people there!

I also learned quite a bit. I attended sessions on Mind Mapping, Researching Your Novel, The Hero’s Journey, and more. And then there was the Keynote speaker…

I’ll let you all in on a secret, I don’t like Keynotes. I never really have. I just have a hard time figuring out what they are saying that is relevant to me. In my experience, they talk an awful lot about themselves. But, as I listened to this speaker, he said some really interesting things that did relate to me as an author, and as a person. He said that we each had a unique story. Now, there’s two ways to look at that in my opinion. So, let’s explore both:

tapestryThe Story You Have Been Given In Life. We all have a story to tell. Writer or not. Because we all have a past. Some of those events are painful, some are not. But all of those things woven together have created the person we are today, just like weaving a tapestry together. You know, from the back, a tapestry isn’t very pretty. I think that life from our perspective can be like that. From the front side, however, the reason for the mess becomes clear. It was to make a beautiful pattern of colors, complimenting and contrasting in a way that is aesthetically appealing. I believe that this is what our life will look like as we look back on it. Even now, when I look back on my hardships, I can see the beauty in them. The places where I have grown spiritually and grown as a person. This is my story. And it is unique to me.

The Story You Have Been Given To Write. As writers, we have been given, have been inspired, to write a story (or stories). Though the source of inspiration may not be unique to us or the subject matter may have many books written about it, NO ONE can tell the story the same way you can. The words you choose will be unique. Your ideas will be unique. The characters you give life to will be one-0f-a-kind. You are the only person who can tell that story in that way.

So, what is the purpose of the story we’ve been given…either in our lives or to write? As for me, I believe it is to communicate a message of love, of hope, and of faith. To point to something beyond ourselves. One of the speakers at one of the conferences I went to this month said that “writers write first to connect to another’s heart”. Why? To touch their life. To communicate something to them. And it is my belief that this message is ingrained in each of us – that there is something beyond ourselves. That we desire to connect to this message and to communicate this message. Why do so many people seek true love in romances? They seek something beyond themselves. Beyond the limits of their skin. Why do people read sci-fi/fantasy? Hope for a brighter tomorrow. You get me? We long for that connection to something bigger, grander…more. Do you feel you have a story? A message to share?

 

“The Lady Bornekova” COVER REVEAL!!!!

cover revealThis has been quite the journey…and we are on the home stretch. THE LADY BORNEKOVA book release is set for mid-July and that date is fast approaching. My cover came in yesterday and we are ready to reveal it to everyone!!!

The Cover. This cover is the product of some collaboration between the artist and myself and LOT due to the cover artist’s great talent. For that, I can take no credit. The cover is everything I could have envisioned. I am thrilled!

The Story. For those of you who have not been following my blog, THE LADY BORNEKOVA description is here. It is the story of a young lady coming to her own as her country faces one of its greatest trials in its history – civil war. Where does she stand? What about her family? In the midst of her struggle to find herself, she finds love, but can that young love survive the trials she must face – including a mysterious individual with murderous intentions? Interested yet?

Clean Reads. The publisher I am working with is called “Clean Reads” (formerly “Astraea Press”). They have been fabulous! Stephanie, the owner, has made herself available for this newbie’s questions and has really been amazing to work with. You can learn more about this company here.

Pre-order. If you would like to pre-order the book, I understand that this option will be available soon. Check in on amazon and cleanreads.com for pre-order information.

And so, without further ado….HERE IT IS:(click to reveal)

Pitching to an Agent

snoopyOkay…here’s my limited experience pitching to an agent. This is what I have between my research and actually doing it. I hope it helps someone out there.

First of all, we need to understand one thing about agents. They need writers. There are only two people necessary to make this whole book thing work: the writer and the reader. Everyone in between is icing on the cake. And as the world of publishing is changing (as I’m coming to understand), the role of the agent is becoming…fuzzier. Do we still need agents? Absolutely! They do play an important part in the middle work between writer and reader, but that role is changing. That’s all I’ll say. Mostly because that’s all I know.

A baseball player pitching with spin on the ball. (motion blur on ball)

The Pitch. What are you going to say to the agent? Well, “Hi, my name is Sara” is a great place to start. But what about after that? How will you communicate what your book is about? Maybe you have a “what if…” sentence to hook the agent. Maybe you have a riveting tale to spin for him/her. But you should be able to boil down your book in 1-3 sentences (which I understand is called “the elevator pitch”) – this comes in handy whenever anyone asks you about your book. Plan it out. Write it down. And practice, practice, practice. But be prepared to give an oral pitch.

The “Shiver”. Above all, you must communicate “the shiver” (as Bob Mayer calls it)…that thing that makes someone say “tell me more”. Can you communicate “the shiver”? Most importantly, you have to be able to exhibit your passion about your book. I mean, it’s your book. If you don’t care, they’re certainly not going to. Why did you write the book in the first place?

The One Page. Many agents/publishers will want a one page, or will find it useful. This is an attractive one-page print out that generally has your title, tag line, blurb, genre, word count, short bio, and contact info with a picture that communicates something about your story. Check the agent’s website to see what they expect you to bring to your meeting though. You can also google “novel one page examples” to see a few.

The Synopsis. Some agents want a synopsis. This is generally a 2 page (double spaced) summary of your story. Not many writers enjoy writing synopses. I would rather pull out my own teeth. But it is something we have to do from time to time. Try to narrow your novel down to as few necessary details as you can while still communicated the major characters’ arcs and still get the main idea and theme of the book across. Think of it this way: it’s used to communicate the WHAT, not the WHY of your story. Oh, and have fun…I know I will :-/

Writing Sample. I would plan to bring the first 2-3 chapters of the book you are pitching as a sample of your writing. The synopsis should give some indication of how you write, but in those constraints, who can really showcase what their writing is really like? (That’s what I say anyway.) The agent may ask for a sample there or may ask you to send the writing sample. I feel it’s best to have everything there in case they ask on the spot. It is not likely at all that they will ask for the whole manuscript. So, I would not worry about having that on hand. But, especially if you are not published, only pitch something that is completed.

ask_questionsAsk Questions. No matter how the agent responds to your pitch, be prepared to ask questions. This is a unique opportunity for you. If they liked your novel/your writing, great. If not, all is not lost, make the most of this chance to pick their brain and get some feedback. And some of your questions answered.

REMEMBER…BE YOURSELF!!! The agent really is a real person. It is a real conversation. Try not to be intimidated. I am always so nervous and my first pitch I prepared, prepared, prepared the night before. And then he asked me some questions I had not thought to prepare for. But I kept my cool and took the questions as they came the best I could. The session ended up going really well and he wanted to hear more from me. Go figure…

Now…here comes another question. Do you need an agent? Only you can answer that question. I currently have a publisher I am happy with who likes my writing. I know that an agent can “open doors” that I cannot open for myself (mostly to bigger publishers) and negotiate subsequent contracts more intelligently than I can. So, that is something to consider. For now, I will keep taking advantage of the opportunities that these writers’ conferences afford me to pitch to agents and publishers for the feedback and the experience.

Pantser Vs. Planner…shall the two ever meet?

Are you a Pantser or an Planner? These are terms I didn’t really know a couple of months ago, but have become all the rage in my writing circle lately. Thankfully, the writer’s conference I attended this month did a presentation on exactly what these terms represent.

plannerPantser. This person writes “by the seat of their pants”. They just write. No plan, no outline, no script for where things are going to go. They just let the work flow out of them.

Planner (or Plotter). This person plans out their book, outlining their writing sessions, scripting everything. They know where they’re going to go before they get there.

I’ve heard it proposed that all writers are some amount of both of these. I would say that you definitely lean more heavily one way, but I can agree that you retain some element of the other side in your writing. Even the Pantser makes notes and has some idea of where the story is going. The Planner (Plotter) will discover something new as they write, they will “push the envelope”.

So, what about me? I am definitely a Pantser with some element of an Planner. I have a general outline of my story with dates of significant events laid out (as I am a Historical Fiction writer) and some idea of the scenes that are coming. But, by and large, the work flows out of me. I let it come. After all, as someone once said “how can I know what I think until I see what I say?”

I hear over and over again, that to gauge which one you are, just look at your life. What you are in life is usually what you are as a writer. That rule does not hold for me. Those of you that know me know that I am a list maker in my daily life. And I live and die by the list. I would NEVER go to the grocery store without a list. Just thinking about that gives me some serious anxiety. Really…I need a moment to breathe here. So, in life, I’m definitely an Planner/Plotter.

What about you? Which way do you lean? It’s important to understand your own creative process. This only makes your writing stronger…the way you carve out your time and set the stage for your (sometimes very limited) writing time. So, if you don’t know, I’d look into it some more and give it some thought. Maybe this is old news to you, maybe you, like me, are new to this concept. Either way….happy pantsing or planning!!

Having Goals

goalsAs many of you know, I am well into the marketing stage for my debut novel’s release next month. Consequently, I am having to face a steep learning curve as marketing is certainly not my strong suit. What am I doing to overcome or even begin to tackle this steep curve?

  • I searched the web and found some resources (such as Joanna Penn’s books on Marketing).
  • Visiting the writer’s conference was a huge first step. I learned a bit about my author platform and marketing there.
  • But I also picked up some further resources. One such resource is Bob Mayer’s books on writing. I am working through his “Write it Forward: From Writer to Successful Author” right now. I also picked up his “The Novel Writer’s Tool Kit” (which I have yet to start…but you’ll probably hear more about it in another blog).

HAVING GOALS

write it forwardOne of the things Mayer talks about in his book is having goals. I would say that I have goals as a person and as a writer (for certain). But did I have honed, defined goals that I could spout out if asked? Not really. He challenges the writer to do just that: create targeted, or “strategic” goals. And then post them. That’s another thing I was missing. To be honest, I’m still not sure how necessary that part is, but I’m willing to give it a try. So, I have crafted a strategic goal and a one sentence statement that is my “brand”. These are things I can easily share if someone asks, but more importantly, can keep in mind when I write and when I market. They will be what I base everything on. I need to do something every day toward my goal and everything I do needs to fit into my brand.

THE “TO DO” LIST

Beyond these main statements, I have crafted (based on his recommendations) business goals, book goals, and short range (daily and weekly) goals. So, my daily “TO DO” list has grown. But it includes things I wouldn’t have thought to put on there before and just assumed I would get around to. Such as write “x” amount of words per day. It wasn’t on my list before, so I didn’t get to it every day. I also planned out which of the four remaining unpublished works I’m going to spend time smoothing out each day this week and next week, so that when I sit down for my (very limited) writing time, I know what I’m doing.

GIVING YOURSELF SOME GRACE

graceNow that my  list is way long, I also have to take this and marry it with the other side of things. The recovering perfectionist. The side that has received the wisdom of grace and counseling. If it were up to me, I would take this list as law and base my daily worth on whether or not it was completed. Truly. My fellow perfectionists out there can relate I’m sure. Counseling has taught me to give myself grace when the list has remaining things at the end of the day. I don’t know what Mr. Bob Mayer would have to say about that. But I have to take my desire to be a successful author and make it work with the reality that I’m a stay-at-home mom of three very small, very active kiddos. I have to prioritize and be okay with things remaining undone on the list.

In closing, I’d like to encourage you whether or not you are a writer, to take on this exercise and create a targeted goal. Really hone in on what you want to accomplish in 5 years, or whenever. Even if it’s a “blue sky” goal that seems impossible right now. Whoever it was once said “if you aim for the moon and miss, at least you’ll land among the stars”. Aim high. Work toward that goal. And let the chips fall where they may.

 

It takes a village…

20150611_093907

My office today.

Today I’m coming to you from Disney’s Polynesian Resort! My family is on vacation and are enjoying Central FL. Today in particular, my husband and I are having a writing date at the Polynesian Resort, followed by lunch at the Kona Cafe (in about an hour). So, this is my office today. It’s nice to get out and have a change of scenery. It’s also been nice to be away away from the kiddos for a writing date. It gives me a chance to really sit and think.

So, as I sit and think over my journey, I’m coming to realize all of the people that go into making a book happen. And all the more as I’m working on subsequent novels. Let’s see if we can go through the list…

Writer – First there’s me, the writer. Story’s gotta come from somewhere, right? The writer has to first be inspired to write. Do we write what we know? Sometimes. Probably more often than we admit. But I, in particular, have a Biology degree and experience in Sleep Medicine and Zoo Education and I write Historical Fiction with meaningful romances….go figure. But I have developed a great love of history and historical places as I have traveled and do a ton of research as I write.

Beta Readers – Next come in my Beta Readers. These are friends with whom I share my work and accept very valid feedback from. One of my beta readers is an avid reader of many different types of books. She is invaluable for helping make sure the reading is “smooth” for the reader and makes sense. She also helps give me feedback on speaking in the time period. She does have a History degree 🙂 Another Beta Reader has an English degree. She is great for content feedback and telling me where the story needs to expand and where story lines have been left a little thin. My other Beta Reader is also my Proofreader. She is great for grammar, commas (My name is Sara and I have a comma problem), and other types of story feedback. They are each so valuable to me…my novels are what they are because of these three ladies. Can’t forget my sounding board, faithful hubs, though. He is great and wonderful at giving instant feedback.

Critique Group/Critique Partner – I also attend a writing group in my hometown where we share scenes and receive and give regular feedback. Our fearless leader has just critiqued the first four chapters of Trail of Fears in detail to prepare it for submission to the agent I met at the writer’s conference last week. Her thoughts and suggestions are priceless to me. She is also an author who has published and is currently working on her next book. Hubs and I just love, love, love our critique group. The folks involved are so talented. It is a highlight of our week.

EditorsEditors only make your work stronger (I can say that about everyone else too), but I strongly encourage you to keep this in mind about editors. So far, The Lady Bornekovaon it’s way to publication,  has been through three editors (and I think that’s it…I hope). A content editor (who examines character and story believability, continuity, etc), a line editor (who is more concerned with grammar, did you use the right word, is there a better word, etc), and a proofing editor (I haven’t gotten those edits back yet, so I’m in the dark about what that editor’s specific job is).

Publisher – Of course you need the publisher! But I will say that I have particularly enjoyed working with my publisher. Any time I have a question or just need some reassurance about something, I can shoot my publisher an e-mail and she gets back to me in a day or two. She is great!

Agent – I don’t have one yet. But I pitched Trail of Fears to an agent at the writer’s conference and he wants more information from me (yay!). I am still researching why I would need an agent since I am already “in” with a publisher who likes my writing and, so far, I have a good working relationship with. Agents know the ins and outs of contracts in a way authors just don’t. They can also open more doors than I as a writer can. So, I’m still thinking on it.

Marketing Team – In today’s world, more of the marketing is on the author’s shoulders. The Publisher will do some of the marketing, but some of it is left up to me. For me, I’ll be going on a Virtual Book Tour (Blog Tour) this summer!!! I am using a Blog Tour service, for example, to assist me with setting up the blogs and tour package stuff. More on this service and the blog tour to come!!

And I know I’m forgetting someone…or some people. There are Mentors and those who run Writer’s Conferences and those who share their nuggets of wisdom at said conferences to name a few. It really does take a village to raise an author. Not to even mention all of you who inspire characters and add to the life experiences of writers that make them who they are and contribute to their works. So, keep being funny, dramatic, melancholy, inspiring….you.

My First Writer’s Conference

Speaker on the podium. People at conference hall, rear view

This past week, I attended my first ever Writer’s Conference here in my hometown. It was small, but it was a great! Here are some of my take-aways…

Finding out what a Writer’s Conference is all about. I went to learn, more than anything, what a conference is all about. What does it look like? How does one flow through the conference? What are the sessions like? Will I meet with the agent? What will that be like? I’m not good at networking…will I be able to meet people? So, I’m learning as much about myself as I am about the conference.

Meeting other writers. How wonderful to be surrounded by other writers! People who are deeply interested in the craft of writing, just as I am. We share a common passion. We understand each other in a way that non-writers just don’t. We develop Meeting writerspeople (characters) out of thin air! And then they talk to each other. That’s just this side of crazy in my book. I did meet some interesting people and made some good connections. Not necessarily with people who will further my career in a tangible way, but that’s not what it’s about. I met a couple of ladies who were extremely encouraging and supportive. I met a man who was writing a novel that intrigued me and inspired me. And so on and so forth.

Learning my craft. I attended some great seminars/workshops over the two days of the conference and maybe one I could have done without. But even in that one, I learned because I listened. I tuned in to what was being said and availed myself to the information being disseminated. There were talks about Characterology, Author Platforms, Plot Development, The Three Drafts, to name a few.

Pitching to an Agent. There was an agent at the conference and I grabbed the last open slot for his time (whew!). Now what? I have written 5 books, remember? Which one to pitch? How do I pitch it? Well, lucky for me, in one of the workshops the first day, the speaker touched on pitching your book. It gave me a place to start. So, that night I worked and worked (with faithful hubs) on my query, synopsis, and pitch for the Trail of Fears, deciding it represented my strongest work and that I was most familiar with the story and character arcs as I was most recently in the meat of that book. Nervously, I sat down with the agent at my appointed time. I pitched my book and he was very intrigued. He asked me questions I had not expected, but found myself able to answer. Then, surprise of all surprises, he asks for me to e-mail him my information and the first four chapters of my book!!!

So, all in all, the conference was a smashing success. I couldn’t be happier. Now, get out there and register for a conference near you and find out what all the fuss is about!

Writer’s Block…oh how I hate thee!

writer's blockI have just been through my first real bout of writer’s block. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, it simply refers to a writer’s inability to come up with new ideas or to continue writing. Some authors may have a minor setback (such as myself in this instance) or it can range to years of being blocked (which I cannot imagine).

I have said before and I will say again that a huge part of any success I have as an author (the fact that I have completed four, almost five, novels I count as success much less that one of them is about to be published) has been due to determination. It’s true that I don’t always feel like writing in my rather limited “free time” that I have to write. So, I must sometimes make myself write and the creative juices will eventually start flowing. This was not something that could be worked through with determination however.

There are different kinds of blocks that a writer can experience…not being able to come up with an idea to get started, having too many ideas and not being able to narrow it down, having written yourself into a corner, having taken a bad writing turn many pages ago and being stuck…to name a few. My problem was that I was just stuck. Not that my characters had become boring or I had written myself into a corner. I just couldn’t come up with the next sentence. It was awful. I would sit and stare at my computer screen for minutes on end (I don’t have the kind of time to spend hours staring at a computer screen).

What did I do to break the block? Nothing special. Just kept going back to that awful screen with the cursor set at the place where new words needed to go. And one day, the words just came. So, I guess you could say that once again, my determination to continue returning to my computer, preparing to write, paid off.