Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Breaking the Romanticized Bubble

Yes, I'm sure you're confused. You're probably thinking "But we all love romance"! 

That is not the kind I'm talking about. I'm speaking of the romanticized ideas Hollywood and everyone else seems to have given us poor writers.

Ah, yes. A flower and some rustic string. Candlelight in a charming country bedroom.

We all know that this is how it works.

Don't all us sit in front of a spotlessly clean window (polished by servants, of course), penning our thoughts with black ink and a new quill pen? Our gaze drifts dreamily over the snow-covered lawn. Little white snowflakes drift downwards, dusting the picturesque snowman our charming newsboy-cap attired little brother has just completed.

A poodle lies curled up at our feet on a plaid blanket. The blazing fire in the hearth is a trifle too warm, and we allow our delicate lace shawl to slip from our shoulders. One touch of the little bell at our side, and the butler arrives with steaming hot coffee on a silver platter. We look up at him with a demure word of thanks and a request for some gingerbread.

Our final word is penned, the manuscript tied up with some brown paper and string, sealed, and shipped off to the publisher. There, it is applauded as a work of the masters, hailed by the ever-receiving public, and a check for $2,000 dollars (in British pounds) lands neatly in our hands by way of a telegram (delivered by a six foot, blonde telegraph boy whose looks could show down even Logan Bartholomew).  

This is how it works, correct?

Cue glass smashing in the kitchen as you sink to your chair wondering what you're doing wrong.

Anybody interested in learning how my last big word count came to be? You ready?

Sitting on the hard floor in a dark, cold church foyer. The icy wind was howling outside; my sister's violin students were squeaking out their rhythms just a few yards away. My fingers were frigid and I could barely type. My ear buds kept falling out and getting tangled in my hair, so I was caught between snatches of The Bible soundtrack I was trying to listen to and the sounds of A scale on the a very new beginner's violin. And I had no WIFI, so was unable to do the research I needed for my WIP....

And....I was there only after a very busy morning's work of cooking dinner, schooling the kiddos, trying to keep up with the 50+ business emails I get a day, cleaning the house, and giving piano lessons (because writers don't exactly get a $2,000 dollar advance).

Which of these two accounts sounds more familiar?

Ok, maybe our adventures in writing aren't always so dramatic. But still! I think we all agree that the Hollywood version is very much romanticized. Not all of us have the luxury of sitting around, sipping apple cider by the hearth, and writing without interruption.

But we can still do it! We can overcome the odds (some of them very tall) and manage to write. Maybe it's after all the kiddos are tucked in for naptime or for the night. Maybe it's while dinner cooks (what I'm doing now!). Maybe it's sitting in the dentist waiting room.

The point is, when we get over our false ideas of how a writer's life should be, we'll manage to squeeze the time in for writing. We'll learn how keep our train of thought during interruptions. And we'll learn to multi-task and prioritize effectively. Some people have the idea that we as writers only complete books because that is all we do, but no - we do lead regular lives. And we can be successful anyway. :)

(Hold that thought - my dinner is burning!)

OK! So what romanticized ideas have you overcome as a writer? What are some of the ideas the general public has for us writers that stand out as crazy to you?
Alicia A. Willis is a home-school graduate, published author, and avid historian. She is a firm believer in the principle that one can accomplish anything by substantial amounts of prayer and coffee. Visit her at her blog to view her historical-fiction novels and all the goings-on between writing!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

As it happens, Christmas falls on my Wednesday to post! I highly doubt you will be writing today and I don't want to take you away from your families. So allow me to merely express my warmest wishes for your health, happiness, and safety today!

Emmanuel: God With Us! 

It is my hope that He is shining within you this holiday season and that the upcoming year will hold special blessings for you. 

And, as my present to one lucky person, don't forget to leave a comment HERE. You will be entered to win a copy of my novella God of Her Fathers - complete with a brand new cover!

For unto us a child is born. Unto us a son is given. And his name shall be called Wonderful! The Almighty God. The Everlasting Father. The Prince of Peace.

Merry Christmas from Word Painters and Alicia Willis.

Images found via Pinterest.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Start at the End

Good afternoon from drizzly, 11°C England! (No snow in sight.)

In my first post, I promised to mention some interesting tips from the world of screenwriting that could be used to improve novels. While there are many helpful principles used in screenwriting, for this post I'll focus on something that really caught my attention.

Note: My study of screenwriting came after completing my fourth novel (The Treacherous Trail). Thus, the points I'm going to share are ones you might not find in my writing up to this point.

Start at the End

Whether we find them in books or in films, in fiction or in fact, good stories are about change. The bad guy is caught, or the good guy dies, or the powerful tyrant is overthrown. William Bradford leaves his home to brave the dangers of a New World, Johanna-Ruth Dobschiner survives WWII and is converted, empires fall, or Scotland wins its independence. Sometimes change is subtler than that, but it needs to be there. Why?

1) Well-constructed change means suspense (because the reader doesn't know what will happen next).

2) Suspense means the reader is dying to find out what happens, and will continue until he gets the answer.

And that is exactly what you want.

One way to help yourself map the path of change in your story is to start at the end. How do you want the story to end? By definition, this is the final part of the tale, and the part the reader will (probably) reach last and remember. Instead of the hero only learning a lesson or feeling a certain way, can he do something to show the change more strongly? (e.g. The prodigal son didn't stay with the pigs; he took action, returning humbly to his father. This was powerful, outward proof of his learning and feeling---his inner change.)

Once you have some idea of your ending, you could think of ways to make the beginning as different as possible to facilitate the most change. If Percy Blakeney is revealed as a brilliant mastermind at the end, you could make him seem a thoughtless fool at the beginning. If Valjean becomes a righteous man, you could make his redemption seem impossible at the start. If the Titanic sinks . . . okay, well, maybe that's just a little too far-fetched. The Titanic could never sink! :)

With these ideas of the ending and the beginning in hand, you could write them down somewhere to remind yourself as you continue planning the route between those two points. They will probably change as you go along, but that's okay. They're there to help you and give a reference for your starting point and desired destination. Hope this helps!

C.R. Hedgcock
Time to celebrate the Saviour's birth,
Goodwill to men, peace be on earth.
Wishing you every joy of the season
Because Christ came; yes, He is the reason.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

How Many Pages Is My Book? Word Count vs. Page Count

Greetings all, this is John J. Horn.

When I first began writing I spent I lot of time trying to figure out how many book pages the words I was writing would fill. I wanted to know the ratio between “computer pages” and book pages. It turns out that there isn’t one.

This is a pretty basic post, but I hope it will clear up some confusion for anyone who spent time like I did searching for “how many pages will my book be.”

Word count is the statistic you need for determining your book length.

Even with word count I can’t tell you how many pages your book will be, because that depends on a dozen factors. It depends on your publisher’s margins, font, font size, spacing, indenting rules, how they handle widows and orphans (yep, those are typography terms), and more.

But if you know your word count, you've got what you need.

You’ll need to include your word count when you send a proposal to a publisher. It’s also helpful to know so that you can compare your novels with others in the same genre. Want to know industry standards? Opinions vary, but here are links to two good sources which can give you a rough idea of genre word counts: word counts and novel length and word count genre guidelines.

How to find word count?

You could warm up your fingers and toes and start ticking your words off one by one. But if this works well for you, you should probably spend less time worrying about your word count and more time writing words.

Thankfully, modern technology does the work for us and lets us access the results very quickly.

How to Find Word Count in Microsoft Word

Versions differ, but in my version Microsoft has a handy word counter at the bottom left. It will continuously update as you type. If you click on it, a dialog box will appear that will also show your word count in addition to page count and other info.

Word Count in Microsoft Word

If you want to know a partial word count (for example, how much you’ve written today), highlight the text you want counted with your cursor. The word counter will tell you how many words are in the selected section.

How to Find Word Count in OpenOffice

In the top bar select Tools > Word Count.

Word Count in OpenOffice

A dialog box will appear showing you the number of words in your document.

Word Count in Open Office

If you want to know a partial word count (for example, how much you’ve written today), highlight the text you want counted with your cursor and then open the dialog box. It will tell you how many words are in the selected section.

How to Find Word Count in Apple Pages

I don't have a Mac, so I can't give you screenshots, but here is a link to a post explaining how to find word count in Apple Pages.

I hope that's helpful!

John J. Horn is a Christian writer from San Antonio, Texas. You can learn more about him and his Men of Grit Christian Fiction series at johnjhornbooks.com.

Friday, December 13, 2013

All the Beautiful People

Photo credit: mensatic|morguefile.com
I was just musing about something—a tendency I have. (You'll have to let me know if I'm the only one.)

When I was younger, every protagonist I wrote was me. In some (okay, most) ways, it was a version of me or how I wished I was. The girls were always short with dark hair and eyes. They had all the qualities I hoped and wished I had, they had the same tastes and ideas, not to mention the same speech patterns, I'm sure.

These days, I try not to write a polished-up clone of myself into every story. First, it's cheesy; second, it gets boring; and third... I have a new vice. (Cue villain laugh.)

I've never written a character with a chocolate habit...
Or who never gets around to brushing her hair until some time after breakfast...
Or who talks too much...
Or whose face always looks a bit oily no matter what she does with it...
Or who's just intensely ordinary-looking.

(Sheesh! That makes it sound like I've never written a realistic character.)

I definitely have a tendency to mainly write beautiful people. Do you? Do you find yourself writing people who could be models or actors—never a hair out of place? Tweet: Do you find yourself writing people who could be models or actors—never a hair out of place? http://ctt.ec/eP4Ib+
Or do you let your characters have chocolate-eating, oily-faced moments? (Everyone has those, you know. Even the never-a-hair-out-of-place types. I'm pretty certain of it...)

Oh, sure, we're comfortable writing an ugly villain (so I challenge you to write a terrifyingly beautiful one—ha!) or a realistically flawed comic character. But our protagonists? The ones we take seriously? Nope. Not gonna happen.

Unless we make it happen.

So, let's write some amazingly ordinary people. Let's write some characters who don't have it all together—and in ways that matter and can't just be laughed at. Let's create protagonists who are weak in ways we are strong and vice versa.

Let's let our characters be real enough to be un-beautiful at least part of the time. Don't you think they might like a break? Tweet: Let's let our characters be... un-beautiful at least part of the time. Don't you think they might like a break? http://ctt.ec/y02dU+

(P.S.- Wondering what the little birds are all about? Click them to quote the preceding sentence in a Tweet!)

Perry is a Christian homeschool graduate who has written and published three books-- "The Heavens Declare: Five Children, Eight Planets, One God," "Light of the World," and "Pearl's Practice." She lives in beautiful Oregon with her best-friend-turned-husband and their sweet baby boy. Find her books and other writings and connect with her at her blog: http://perryelisabeth.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Guest Post With Jordan Smith

We have a special treat today, folks! Remember my post on writing book reviews last week? You can click HERE to refresh yourself.

At any rate, here is the follow-up. Author Jordan Smith has graciously consented to give us some tips on getting reviews. Enjoy!

(Links to Jordan's book are mentioned in this post. Take a moment to check out Finding the Core of Your Story.)

How to Get Your Book Reviewed

One of the absolute best ways to get the word out about your book is to get it reviewed. But at first glance, reviews seem unattainable because of either high costs or lack of interest. ($425 for a Kirkus review? Seriously?!)

Well, I have some good news for you. With a little bit of research and a good pitch, you can find plenty of reviewers for your book. There are plenty of bloggers out there who love to do book reviews. Its just a matter of finding them and approaching them in a compelling way. Heres how to make it work for you.

Hone Your Pitch

If you cant pitch it, nobody will want to read it, so make sure you know what to say. Dont worry, though, because you get to e-mail your pitch to reviewers. None of this scary in-person stuff!

Ive covered pitching a story in depth in my book Finding the Core of Your Story, so Ill direct your attention to its pages for the nuts and bolts of writing a solid pitch. I highly recommend that you click the link for the free sample, which will give you a crash course in what I think is the most essential skill for someone whos looking to market a book.

For our purposes here, were going to look specifically at how to make your pitch look good in an e-mail. Its important to remember that this is a process of constant improvement. I have a document of every single pitch e-mail Ive written, and every time I send one, I think of some way to improve it. Youll probably find the same is true for you. With that said, heres my current template:


Im the author of [your book title] and Im looking for bloggers who would like a free review copy. Heres a little bit about the book:

[Your pitchKeep it simple and short. Two or three sentences is plenty.]

The book has already received positive reviews, such as this one:

[Review quote. If you dont have a review yet, leave this part out, but as soon as you have a good quote, use it.]

You can find out more about the book here: [Your website]

Id love to send you a free review copy. Just let me know where to send it and Ill mail one right away.

Thanks for your consideration. Im looking forward to hearing from you.

[Your signature]

The goal here is to be brief, polite, and professional. Youre trying to get people interested, so dont be annoying. Tell them about your book, but dont gush. Check your spelling. Exude the feeling of a professional author.

Where to Find Reviewers

Okay, we have a pitch e-mail ready! Now we start prospecting for reviewers. Luckily, this is a simple process, thanks to a wealth of internet directories.

For starters, check out Step-By-Step Self-Publishings book reviewer list. This list can be overwhelming at first, but its well worth the effort to scroll through. But to effectively use this list and others, youre going to need to know your genre. And by that I mean your genre in its most basic form. I know a lot of us like to say we write things like epic fantasy or dark science fiction but none of those really work here. Boil it down to fantasy, science fiction, western, romance, etc.

Hopefully, you have a web browser with a search function, because the best way to tame this list is to do a search on the page for your genre. Pretty much every reviewer on the list has given their preferred genres, so just look for the ones that want what youve got. When you find one, click the link (I like to open a bunch in tabs), then get ready to explore.

There are three things youre looking for on a bloggers site:

First, you want to scroll through their reviews and see what theyre reading. Do you write similar books? This might be a good fit.

Next, look around for some indicator of the bloggers following. On a Blogger site, many people have a widget in the sidebar showing this stat. Or if you see a link to a Twitter or Facebook page, check that out. Youre going to send a lot of requests to a lot of bloggers, so you might want to prioritize and contact the bigger ones first.

And then finally, find the review policy and follow it carefully. Most serious reviewers have this listed in the top navigation. Youll see things here like how they want to be contacted, whether or not theyre open for review copies right now, if they accept independent books, and if they prefer e-books.

Found a winner? Great! Save it and find another. My process is to make a list of potential contacts, then do all the e-mails at once. When Im ready to do a batch of review copies, I decide how many I can afford to send, then contact that many bloggers, starting with the ones highest in priority. If I hear back negatively from someone, I contact the next one on my list, and so on until all my review copies are spoken for.

Need more reviewers? Try the lists at The Indie View, Book Blogger Directory, and Indie Book Reviewer. There are many, many more out there, but those should be enough to get you started.

And thats pretty much it! Youll find that as you contact reviewers, you will start to establish a rhythm. Make contacting reviewers a routine in promoting your book. Even if you can only afford to send out one review copy per week, its worth it. Word of mouth is powerful. Take advantage of it.

Thank you, Jordan, for this awesome post! 

Also, will the winner (Katie) of the giveaway for Sarah Holman's book The Destiny of One please email me at writerforhisglory@yahoo.com? If we don't hear from you in the next week, I will need to choose another winner. Please contact me soon!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Gifts for the Writer

Finding gifts for the holidays can be really tough- especially for those writers in your life. Why is it so tough, anyway? I mean, what do you get them? Oh sure, pens and a journal are nice, but more than likely, your writer has a billion of those already. :-)

So, being a writer myself, here are a few ideas for that writing genius of yours.

~Chocolate, Cocoa, Coffee gift basket.
   This is a great gift for anybody, really, but writers love it! You know, we do need a little mental boost for our writing time and the above items fit perfectly in that category. Not to mention that it is absolutely perfect for the season. Fill a nice basket with a winter-y cloth napkin or other fun fabric, use some paper confetti to fill in the space, and then go crazy! The fun thing about this gift is that you can buy several small items and not go over your budget. The fillings in the basket can usually cost less than $20. Chocolate, cocoa packs, gift cards to coffee houses, or some ground coffee. Now just arrange it nicely in a basket, and voila! Done! Another fun way to dress this up is to wrap chocolate bars in newspaper (anything with words on it, really). It just adds a bit of charm. :-)

  It almost seems ironic, but books are a great gift for the writer. You really can't be a good writer unless you read lots, so give your writer the opportunity to read! Just make sure its the 'good literature', as in Dickens, Elliot, Gaskell, Austen, etc. Most modern day 'fluff' books are not going to improve writing skills in the least, though they may be a fun read. Books on improving your writing skills are great, too. There are quite a few on the market. Again, wrap in some newspaper or old-looking paper, tie with a cute ribbon and little name card, and bada-bing!

~"Writer Remedies"
   This is one of my favorites, though it takes a little more work. This is a basket filled with items that are just perfect for a writer. First, you'll need chocolate (that is pretty much a given on any sort of basket!). Now, you'll need to wrap it in some plain paper and decorate it with descriptive words for that person (ex: joyful, energetic, sweet, thoughtful, etc). Next, find a cute jar and, if you have some extra creative skills, paint it just a bit to dress it up. Now, to fill the jar, take small blocks and glue other descriptive words on each side (Thesaurus comes in handy at this point!). This is great because when your writer needs a word to describe something, they can easily pull out a few of those blocks and get some ideas. It is truly amazing how that helps get the creative 'juices' flowing... :-) Now, the reason I label this as 'writing remedies' is for this next item. Take another small jar (this one needs to have a good, sealing lid.), and fill it with either their favorite cocoa or tea or coffee. Another cute thing to add is one of those small, hand-held neck massager. Those would really come in handy for anyone who sits at a desk for long periods of time!  Now just be sure to leave plenty of room for any other item you might find that just screams to be added. :-)

~"It's the Small Things"
   There are SO many creative people out in the world who have made some pretty neat little gifts. You can usually find them on Etsy.com. There are a bunch of cute little writing things that are just plain adorable. You can find necklaces, bracelets, cute notebooks, pictures, etc. The photos of typewriters or cool shots of open books are actually a super fun gift. They make a great desk decoration and add a bit of vintage charm. :-)

~The DIY Gift
   Since writers tend to be creative folks anyway, here is one other fun gift idea. Get them a could notebooks (carious sizes, but very plain on the front), some scrap-book paper, little 'bobbies' (those cute add-on things), and stamps. Then, give it to your creative writer to decorate a notebook just as they'd like. Or, if you've also got some creativity, go ahead and decorate it for them. I know I mentioned above that they probably have a billion notebooks already, but the reason they do is because "there is always room for one more". :-) I've seen the decorated notebooks around and think they are just adorable! You could also get a pent cup and do the same. Look at some different office supplies and see how you can dress them up.

So there ya go! A few ideas on what to get for that writer of yours. :-) Wishing you all a Merry Christmas!!!

Sarah Elizabeth is an author (and still aspiring!), country girl, and creative enthusiast. Besides writing, gift giving is a favorite thing (especially when she can plan and make the details just perfect!). She currently has one Children's Book on the market with another in the works.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Thoughts on Writing Reviews

Lately, it seems I have more requests for book reviews than I can handle. I've only been accepting books of my own genre or if I know the author really well. Still, it has me busy. And it has been giving me some new thoughts on writing reviews.

When you know you have to write a professional review at the end, I think one tends to becomes strangely more and less critical while reading. 

In your mind, you might look at a sentence and think it looks cliche, but you are torn about actually stating as much. After all, you are doing this to assist the author who has entrusted his/her precious book to you. And, if you're like me, you want to somehow find the perfect balance between loving, gracious criticism and exuberant encouragement. After all, you need both in a good review.

Before I go on to explain how I develop my review, however, I'd like to share one thought that has really been on my heart. You ready?

Look at the heart.

And I do mean the heart of both the author and the actual book. If you are coming to a book with a critical mindset, you will be certain to find aspects you disagree with or simply cannot stand. But you have missed the most important element of reading that book. You have missed out on the joys, the fun, and the message. Basically, you have missed the whole point - even if you are right in your opinions. 

And that is sad, pure and simple. 

I'm not saying to endorse a bad book that does not fit within God's standards. I'm not saying to give someone a good review if they truly cannot write. I'm definitely not saying to give every book you read five stars.

But I do think it is good to really look at the heart and message of a book before writing a review that can damage an author's reputation. 

My Style:

Every reviewer has their own way of doing a review, but the following is the way that works for me.

 I evaluate everything, not just the story. I evaluate the writing quality, the grammatical elements, the historical accuracy, the depth of research portrayed, the style, the plot, and the similarities between the book and other books. And, last but not least, I try to interpret what the author is saying and the message he/she is trying to get across. 

This way, I am not merely basing my rating on how much I enjoyed the story, but on every single element involved. (Personal opinion here, I think reviews that are based solely on the enjoy-ability of the book are slightly immature. This is because we are not to read just for entertainment purposes.)

As I read, I take all of those elements in. I also like to weigh the importance of the elements. Maybe the style is slightly cliche, but the story-line is powerful. Therefore, which is better: to criticize or to endorse? I would say, in this particular case, endorsing is better. (Although a mention may be made of the cliched style.)

Dealing With Criticism:

We've all come across those books where the author is a weak writer. Or just can't write period. So what to do? Well, you can point out the most frustrating elements in your review, but don't rip the book to shreds. It is simply not kind or helpful. If your heart really is to help the author, contact them personally. Don't damage their reputation by an online shred-the-book review. 

Also, don't accept a book for review if you know beforehand you are going to dislike it. Just don't to it. Let someone else who will have some good things to say read and review the book.

Another thing to keep in mind is becoming a "hater". A hater is one who has never written a book, but gives everyone low, critical reviews. Make sure you have some personal experience before being too overly critical. I'm not saying not to have opinions and feelings, but challenging every author out there when you've never published more than a blog post is slightly hypocritical. And people will stop listening to you. Enough said.

Applying Christianity:

Overall, be considerate. Be the light in this world. Allow the Spirit to guide you. Hey, there is nothing wrong about praying over a book review. It's important. Asking God for the grace to deal tactfully with any criticism you feel the need to share is very advisable. The same goes for whatever positive comments you wish to make. 

Happy Reading and Reviewing! And, while we're on the subject, why don't you swing over to Goodreads and check out the reviews I just finished for Word Painters author John J. Horn? Click HERE and HERE.

Any books you are currently reviewing/reading?

Alicia A. Willis is a home-school graduate, published author, and avid historian. She is a firm believer in the principle that one can accomplish anything by substantial amounts of prayer and coffee. Visit her at her blog to view her historical-fiction novels and all the goings-on between writing!