Friday, October 13, 2017

Becoming an Expert (at Being an Expert)

Are any of us "experts" in the field of writing? I'm not referring to being a leading authority in a field you're writing a non-fiction book about, but rather an expert in the act of writing itself. I've given this question a lot of thought in the past few days because I've been feeling unusually inadequate lately. That could be attributed to the grandpappy of all head colds and my not being able to accomplish anything more daunting than brushing my teeth some time during ten-minute periods I was upright during the past ten days or so. Or it could be that I'm just feeling the stress of marketing a new book, editing a children's series for publication early next year, and working on two other manuscripts simultaneously.

In any event, it's a valid question.

Do any of us who write for a living (or for fun or as a mission) qualify as experts? Certainly there are those authors among us who are better than I am at many things in a writer's life--perhaps all things. It guess it comes down to how we define "expert" and what parameters we use to distinguish an unusually skilled writer from one who isn't.

While it might be a moot point because we can never really nail it down to bullet points, educational degrees, bestsellers under our belts (or number of pages written, for that matter, in which case I'd be the head poobah), it warrants our attention because one of the worst things we writers can do to is compare ourselves unfavorably to those we look up to. Yes, we should aspire to be better at what we do each time we do it. Every book, article, short story, poem, newspaper article, or whatever form in which we write will ideally be better than the last. Hopefully we learn something, whether consciously or not, from each foray into the printed word. But just as our target audiences, skills, experience, genre, voice, and everything else that goes into our work will always differ in some, or perhaps, many ways from other writers, so too will our personal takeaway from those works.

It would be easier if there were a reliable rating scale to which we could aspire. For instance, someone who has written twenty books might be considered an expert in the field of writing, yes? But what about those who have written one hundred? Does that make the 100-guy/gal more expert than the 20-guy/gal? What if 20-guy sold ten times the books that 100-gal sold? Does it even matter? We can't calculate the pleasure or information imparted to the readers, so figuring out if either one of them is more expert than the other is an exercise in futility.

Of course, there are many, many writers who excel at what they do, and oftentimes they stand head and shoulders above the rest of us. They have paid their dues, earned their keep, and produced time and time again. But even a gifted wordsmith might lack organizational skills or need a little help with dialogue or backstory or any one or more of a thousand different aspects that add up to a great writer.

What it boils down to, in my opinion, is how we feel about ourselves and whether or not we apply every single iota of skill, talent, perseverance, and wisdom into our work. No, I will never be the world's leading Christian humorist, but I'll make good and sure I'm the best I can be (with apologies to the United States Army for stealing their tagline), and get better each time I let one of my works out into the world. And while I will always feel there is someone (more than likely millions of someones) who are more expert at writing than I am, I will have the satisfaction of knowing I'm the most expert writer I can be. Some things are just out of our control.

What about you? What would it take to make you feel as though you're an expert at whatever it is you write, and how do you go about accomplishing that? You can, you know. You really, really can.
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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Creating Worthy Side Characters


Sub Characters Need a Purpose

by Lisa Lickel

I was recently asked about what makes a good, solid side character. I happened to be reading this debut novel with excellent examples. As a writing mentor, I find it helpful to pick apart worthy published works as examples, and this book, Picking Daisy, by Kimberly Miller, fits the bill nicely. You can read my review here.

In general, your side characters need a purpose and a personality without being able to disappear or take over a story. 

It's not a bad idea to set up a general background for these characters like you do for main characters, but it certainly doesn't have to be as involved. At least figure out why you're making up this character at all. "Comic relief" and "expendable" aren't sole worthy reasons.

The importance to the plot line and main character development must be obvious--as obvious as any other aspect of story. If your main character's pants will fall down without the sidekick to hold them up, the sidekick is necessary. If your main character wears a belt and the sidekick is merely an ankle-biter, ditch 'em. They're not necessary. 

Side characters must be memorable and unique without disappearing at any time without notice, or taking over the story. Even one interesting thing, such as fashion sense, accent, tattoo, does the job.

How many are too many? Well, if Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was a standalone, there would be too many characters. Sometimes one is enough; sometimes a larger cast, as long as they're necessary and unique enough to keep separated, is fine. In Picking Daisy, each main character basically had two sidekicks (though I put together an engaged couple as one sidekick, since they acted as a unit). One other sidekick character was essential to both of them.

I recommend getting out a book you like a lot that has a fairly large cast and pick it apart. Think Wonderful Wizard of Oz, or A Man Called Ove, or Gone With the Wind. These are the questions to ask for a good Side Character study. The questions may seem obvious, but think about it carefully and seriously. We authors tend to love our people, and the thought of them not be important to someone else is heart-breaking. I've been there. I understand. But I have learned to wield an ax.

ASK THESE QUESTIONS OF EACH CHARACTER

Why is (this person) in the book?
What role do they play?
Will the story still make sense if this person/setting/object/quest is not in the story? (What would happen if they/it weren’t in the book?

Alert readers noticed that a side character does not have to be a person. It can be a setting (think Tara or Oz), an object (think sorting hat in the Harry Potter books or A in Scarlet Letter), or a quest (think revenge in Moby Dick).

So, to show you an example of how to analyze characters and think about them in your own work in progress, I give you the following study from Picking Daisy. First, here's the blurb about the book. You'll note there is absolutely no information at all about side characters in this teaser. You'll note in my analysis I considered this book might birth other stories with these characters, though along with being expendable and humorous, potential serial fodder is not reason enough for a character's presence. You don't need to read the book to get something out of my analysis, though the book is a pretty sweet read.

From the publisher about Picking Daisy:
Daisy Parker isn’t the woman that rock star Robby Grant would have imagined himself falling for. She’s soft-spoken, sweet, and lives by a strange code the struggling musician is recognizing as Biblical. And he’s helpless against it. Even if Daisy is hard-pressed to believe that a man like Robby would see her—a woman long forgotten by the rest of the world—as anything more than a step back to his career. But Robby challenges Daisy in ways she’d long avoided. With their mutual love of music, it seems nothing can separate them—not Daisy’s wheelchair or Robby’s ego. As Robby grows into the man he’s long dreamed of being, Daisy dares to trust again. But will this sweet melody last?

We learn that Daisy is in a wheel chair, and Robby is a rock star, that Daisy has trust issues and Robby a giant ego They both love music. What we learn provides ample excuse for side characters.

Uncle Nick – he was the catalyst to getting Robby and Daisy together. He's an older man in his seventies, widower, romantically inclined toward Daisy mostly to give her security though he also wants her to meet up with Robby because of their mutual love of music. His accident brings Robby into the setting. If he wasn’t in the book, there would have to be some other set-up to bring the main characters together.
My reaction: I knew him, could picture him, he had a personality with a manner of speech and character that showed stubborn and big-hearted, quirky humor. He would marry Daisy just to help her out; slightly creeped out that Robby accused them of being intimate and then kissed her.

Sadie – Daisy’s single friend, café owner; was in the book to provide aid to Daisy and provide a place for her to perform; also to provide some toughness and dose of reality. She also served as the love interest for Jazz and later brought Robby and Daisy back together. If she wasn’t in the book, Jennifer, Daisy's other friend, could act alone, or even Nick could take on the role of caregiver or hire someone; they could find a place for Daisy to perform.
My reaction: I probably read too fast and missed knowing she was the café owner who brought Daisy coffee regularly – by the end I knew she was the owner. She had a feisty personality who wanted to challenge Daisy more, but was softened by the quieter Jen. I loved that she and Jazz were working on a relationship and were role models for Robby.

Jennifer and Steve – Daisy’s engaged friends. Jennifer was a longtime friend who stuck by Daisy through the ups and downs, and Steve helped look after Daisy and Nick. They were good sounding boards, and Steve challenged Robby, the famous rock star, to be good to Daisy. Their wedding helped Sadie and Jazz grown closer. Jennifer seemed more quiet. I didn’t know her as well as Sadie, though they were good role models for Robby to watch and learn about relationships. Jen provided activities for Daisy to help her and keep her busy. She also loaned Daisy money. If they weren’t in the book, Daisy, to be realistic, would need some kind of aide on a regular basis due to her health status. She could talk more to Nick, but there should be someone to challenge her and listen to her woes.
My reaction: I thought they were necessary to show both Daisy and Robby hope for a good, solid, serious faith-based relationship. Steve was a mature contemporary for Robby to look up to, since the other men in his life (Nick, Warren) were relatives or hired men (Jazz).

Warren - the perfect big brother for Robby, stable, mature, yet needing to grow. The nicknames they used and actions toward each other were great natural examples of how they came to be the way they were, and needed each other. His role was to shame Robby into going to check in on Uncle Nick after his accident. If he wasn’t in the book, a lot of good example for background would be lost. He provided some hard-nosed touches in not letting Robby continue to be such a jerk, and was also a role model for Robby. He was unique in personality—tough military—and used clever nicknames that kept Robby grounded. Robby admired his physique and relied on his brother to get him out of messes. He was a man of faith. Was he necessary? If he wasn’t in the book, Nick could have called Robby to come, and they might have shared some of the background, but it would have been forced.
My reaction: I liked him; he had good personality and was one of those people who helped me see that Robby was redeemable. He and Jazz were somewhat alike in build and temperament; whereas Jazz was a hired employee and a friend who took a lot of guff from Robby, Warren didn’t have to take anything and kept challenging Robby.

Jazz (Jason) – Robby’s best friend and hired body guard. He was in the book to provide a little bit of “realism” in the life of an international celebrity, and to serve as a reality check. He also became a love interest for Sadie. It’s possible more “companion” books will come out with the stories of Jazz and Sadie, and perhaps Warren (who got engaged to an unseen woman, Daphne, who has a child), and Uncle Nick, who developed an interest in his nurse, an unseen woman, by the end of the book. In that case, these people perform necessary plants for future books while still being necessary in this book naturally. He had a definite personality by letting Robby know of his concern; he escaped being cliché by challenging his boss and talking to Daisy, and by falling for Sadie.

My reaction: If he wasn’t in the book, I would need some healthy realism from another source. The author already made too light of the female protagonist’s wheelchair-bound life in not sharing any intimate details of life as a paraplegic, so making some of the problems Robby faces as an international celeb are more focused. I wouldn’t believe in Robby as much without Jazz.
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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Sweepstakes Marketing Results

Testing Marketing Methods part two

by Lisa Lickel

Two weeks ago I announced a trial of Amazon's Sweepstakes giveaway "offer." You can read about it here. My novel, Requiem for the Innocents, was languishing due to self-inflicted ennui, and I happened across an ad from Amazon for a marketing ploy--yeah, I'm an occasional sucker for the easy way--that seemed relatively painless for both me and my audience.

Authors need to find answers to:
How to make your work known?
Where does your audience lurk?

My book isn't only offered on Amazon--it's available on many online store sites as well as for order in bricks and mortar stores. But how to help readers find it when you're painfully shy, too poor and invisible to professional marketers, and frankly tired of stalking people, is a burning issue.

The following information and pondering are the results for my Sweepstakes, which was an offer of 10 ecopies of my book, which I paid for in advance, to randomly chosen (by Amazon) winners.

When the sweepstakes started at the end of August, the book's stats went from about 2 M to 1.1 M on Amazon's tracked sales "bestseller" list, so I know I had a couple of sales, which was nice. When the Sweepstakes ended on September 21, I had a total of 217 entrants (I suspect that might be quite miserable, but I have no way of knowing for sure), so at least there was a pool of more than 10 people to choose to receive a copy. The entrants had to "follow" me on Amazon, so supposedly I got a bunch of new followers, though I can't find the number on my author page. It used to be pretty visible, but I must be looking in the wrong place. I checked on a couple of other author sites and couldn't see any numbers either. I know on Facebook I lost at least five "fans" from my author page, but I can't prove it was due to the advertising of the contest. 

Image result for marketing

On the morning of September 22, 2 of the 10 prizes had been claimed after the verification process; on Saturday, 8 of the prizes had been claimed; as of Monday afternoon, 9 prizes were claimed. I don't honestly know how the entrants have to claim the prizes, whether there's some sort of ordeal involved which would make it difficult, but I don't have to be the one to verify or choose. Oddly enough, names are displayed, but I think it would be too creepy to try to follow up with them, although it might be worth it if they are easy enough to find. I assume they have to have an Amazon profile. The bestseller rankings are rising again, so sales never organically took off. In my "thank you" note to the recipients I asked for a review if the reader would be so inclined. 

Was it worth it?
Time will tell. It cost me little pain, although I should have done more promoting (I did some). I got one confirmed fan buy, though I lost Facebook followers which is moot as far as I'm concerned. If I get a couple more reviews that are positive I'll be content. Would I do it again? Maybe...but with a plan in mind of better and more consistent promotion. I need to spend some marketing dollars as part of my business plan, and this helped.
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Friday, September 22, 2017

Why Addiction Is Good for Authors


I have a confession to make. I'm an addict. Yes, I'm addicted to geodes. You know... geodes? Those little rocks that look downright ugly on the inside, but hide beautiful surprises within? They're formed in cavities in the earth or in bubbles in volcanic material. 
Over time minerals form inside the outer layer, which is stronger than the material around it, and survive after the surrounding rock erodes. We're left with an intriguing spherical-shaped (or close to it) rock which, when cracked open reveals beautiful mineral deposits. My daughter, granddaughter, and I love to crack them open with a hammer (be sure to wear eye protection or at least wrap the geode in a towel while hitting it) to reveal what this little gem (no pun intended) has hidden for who-knows-how-many-millions of years. 
Here's just one of the geodes we have on display in our home.
No, it doesn't contain valuable gems, but it gives us such
pleasure to know we're the first to see what's been so
lovingly created within its humble covering over the millennia. 
And that's exactly how I view my work as a writer. I want to surprise my readers with what I've created within the covers of my books. Mind you, I'm not calling my covers ugly--they're beautifully rendered by a very talented publisher--but who knows what a book holds until you crack it open and take a peek inside?

If we can give readers a surprise every time they read our work--whether poetry, journalism, literature, non-fiction, novels, short stories, or any other kind of writing--we'll have done our job. And by surprise, I'm not talking necessarily about "scaring them out of their socks" surprised, although that's always fun, but any one of a number of great things with which we can use our talents to give our readers a thrill, a laugh, shock, inspiration, or even fear. 
If we can do that we'll have people addicted to our work in no time. After all, isn't that what we're trying to do? Give readers a thrill every time they read one of your works of art and they'll be hooked for life! 

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wednesday Grammar Tip Capitalizing family names

Image result for capital letters

When to capitalize those family nicknames - you know, when Dad says, "Son, you've gone too far this time!" or daughter says, "Aw, Aunt Lulu would have let me..."

There is a trick to it. And it's easy!

Ask yourself:


  • Am I describing someone or using his or her proper name? Not substituting for a proper name, but actually using the name or title?
  • Am I using the relationship word (brother, bro, sis, uncle, grandma) as a NOUN?


Here are some examples.

My brother Dillon likes to give me knuckle rubs, but I hate it. Oh no, here he comes.
"Yo, bro," Dillon says to me and tries to grab my head.
At least Grandma comes to my rescue this time.
"Dillon, that's not nice," Grandma says to him. I just love my grandma.
Uncle Joe walks into the kitchen. My uncle is the nicest guy I know, not counting my dad.
"Son, take it easy on your little brother," Joe says.
Mom and Dad went on vacation, so Grandma, my aunt Babs, and uncle Joe are staying with me and Dillon.
It's just us boys, we don't have any sisters, though Aunt Babs has a sister who's a sister, like, a nun. Sister Joan.
"Your mother called," Grandma says. "She and your dad want to know how you're doing."

In the examples above, when Dillon is described as the brother, the usage is lower case. When Dillon talks to his younger brother, he uses the description, "bro," or "brother," so the usage is lower case.
When Grandma is first introduced, she's called by her proper title without a relationship identifier ("my") so the usage is uppercase. When "my" is in front of the description later, grandma is lower case. When Uncle Joe calls Dillon "Son," the only reason the word is capitalized is because it's at the beginning of the sentence; otherwise it would not be capitalized.

Questions? Comments?
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Monday, September 18, 2017

Guest Post with Lisa Hannon

I’ve been a member of more than one writing group, including groups who read their work out loud for critique, and groups who submit in writing and then discuss, either face-to-face or online.  A good group can be of enormous help in inspiration–in fact, a throw-away sentence from another writer actually inspired my first book. I asked him what inspired him, and he said that it allowed him to kill his boss–not in reality, but in the third chapter. It sparked “This Little Pig,” and I’ve been addicted ever since. Anyone who’s ever been part of a read-and-critique writing group has witnessed the differences in how writers address each others’ efforst.  Some seem harsh, some don’t, some seem focused on how the writing can improve, some seem focused on how to improve the writer, rather than what’s been read.  Few groups actually help writers learn how to critique another person’s work verbally or in writing, and fewer still help writers learn how to deal with the critiques of their own work.
In my experience, the biggest issue with not having instruction is that group members tend to confuse critique and criticism, and end up leveling the latter.
In the environment of a writer’s group:

The primary definition of criticism is: “the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.”
The primary definition of critique is: “a detailed analysis and assessment of something, especially a literary, philosophical, or political theory.”
Differences:
Criticism, in a writer’s group, is largely destructive:
  • Example: This story is scary and dark and I really didn’t like it. I just don’t understand people who write really dark stuff like this.
Critique is acknowledging your filters, followed by pulling out the positives and mentioning them first. Then you can follow with constructive suggestions for change:
  • Example: I may not be your first audience for this story–I don’t often read horror. However, I thought your story arc was good overall, and your characters were well-drawn. You might want to take a look at your beginning. You’ve put a lot of details about the setting there, but I think if you start your story right in the middle of the action that begins on page two, second paragraph, it will draw the reader in immediately. Then you can weave the setting in as you go, to give us the sense of place.
This is just one example–the second in the series will discuss details in what you’re looking for to build a critique that can actually help your fellow writer’s improve, and the third will discuss how to accept critique from other writers and build on it.


About Lisa
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Friday, September 15, 2017

Two for Tea by Carrie Turansky

Tea for Two is the first in a novella duet by Carrie Turansky. Allison Bennett and her older sister Tessa Malone run the Sweet Something Tea Shop in Princeton, New Jersey. The shop is struggling financially and hurting for customers during the worst winter in 30 years. Nevertheless, Allison is content to help her sister. She finally seems to be getting her act together after the love of her life, Tyler Lawrence walked out on her 6 years before. She enjoys the attention of  Peter Hillinger, a wealthy, handsome business owner.

Just when Allison feels her feet are on solid ground, Tyler moves back to Princeton, and what's more, he offers her free advertising for Sweet Something. Although she's not sure if she can trust him again, his presence makes her realize she only thinks of Peter as a friend. This frees her to see if she and Tyler can make their way back to each other. He has definitely changed.

This is a super sweet read, undoubtedly Christian in its worldview, and a quick, enjoyable read. I look forward to reading the second offering in this pairing.

Author info from Amazon.com: Bestselling Inspirational Romance Author Carrie Turansky writes heartwarming historical and contemporary novels and novellas. She has won the ACFW Carol Award, the Crystal Globe Award, and the International Digital Award. Readers say her stories are: Heartwarming and inspiring! I couldn't put it down! . . . Touching love story. It captured me from the first page! Rich characters, beautifully written.
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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Testing Amazon Sweepstakes GIveaways

Trying out Paid Marketing Promotions
by Lisa Lickel

We're all about fresh and new marketing tips when we're in business--how to move product into the hands of those who need it. Trends change so fast it's so hard to keep up. Authors need to let Readers know What they have to offer. Amazon, love it or hate it, is one of the largest book sellers in the world, so it makes sense to try a few of their friendly, helpful tips to move product. One of the latest marketing tools is giveaways and sweepstakes. I've also worked with my publishers on Net Galley and I'll report on that tool in the future.

A couple of weeks ago I signed up for a three-week Amazon Giveaway Sweepstakes. Since the e-book I'm promoting was priced at 99 cents, and sales had pretty much slowed to zilch (mostly because I'm not actively promoting), this seemed like a fairly painless and simple way to light a flame under the book. Amazon does the heavy lifting, I'm supposed to shout about it. I decided on a three-week time period around my birthday (just because I felt like an excuse would help, and my birthday was coming on). I decided to give away 10 copies, which I was charged for in advance. If for some reason all of the copies weren't given away, I'd get vouchers to those books to give away on my own. Amazon then collects names and chooses the winners, and notifies them. Seemed like a good deal.

After the first week I had over 150 sign-ups; after two weeks, today, I had 183. My only requirement was asking folks to follow me on my Amazon profile. Although I have a collector for a possible future newsletter/e-mail list and know its supposed to be a good thing, I'm having a hard time convincing myself to do it. Knowing that an open rate for mass mailing lists of any kind is a small percentage makes me tired, and I've lost two fans from my Facebook author page since the sweepstakes started. Though I can't prove any correlation, it still hurts to lose anyone for any reason other than death. My Amazon profile has the potential to showcase my books, and isn't personal, so I figured it was a fairly low-cal thing to ask folks in exchange for a chance to win a book. I tweeted a few times, posted the link on my website landing page and asked for help tweeting from my marketing group. The book came out September 2016. When the sweepstakes started, the book hovered closer to the 2 M mark on the "best seller" list; now it's around 1.1 M. I had few reviews, the last one 8 mo. ago. I asked only readers I know to review; a couple of folks I had approached the year before to endorse backed out. I had another book release November 11 last year, so I purposefully saved some momentum for that release.

Below is what the Sweepstakes message looked like. They also offered promotional language for posting, and sample Tweets and Facebook links. I had to write a brief welcome and a brief thank you for after the sweepstakes was done. I'll report back after the Sweepstakes is over to let you know what I thought and how it worked. I received one sale that I know of that's directly related to the promotion.


Your giveaway is live.
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Reminder, eligible persons with this link can participate in your giveaway and anyone can share it with others. Only share it when you are ready. If you or your participants share the link on Twitter or any other public forum, anyone can discover your giveaway and participate. We suggest using email or other non-public means if you want to limit entry by strangers.
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Or here is some suggested copy:
See this #AmazonGiveaway for a chance to win: Requiem for the Innocents: a novel (Stories from Paradise House) (Kindle Edition). https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/7b3a0e0e519a3de2 NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Ends the earlier of Sep 21, 2017 11:59 PM PDT, or when all prizes are claimed. See Official Rules http://amzn.to/GArules.
Giveaway Summary:
Title:
Entry Message:
It's my birthday and I'm celebrating by giving away 10 e-copies of my novel Requiem for the Innocents. Enter the Sweepstakes, and I hope you win!
Duration:
Aug 31, 2017 12:22 PM PDT - Sep 21, 2017 11:59 PM PDT
Prize:
Requiem for the Innocents: a novel (Stories from Paradise House) (Kindle Edition)
Number of Prizes:
10
Reminder, Kindle giveaway prizes are not eligible for refunds. Reference our FAQs to learn more about our policy.

This giveaway adheres to the Giveaway Services Agreement


@2017 Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. All rights reserved. Amazon, Amazon.com, the Amazon.com logo and 1-Click are registered trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. Amazon.com, 410 Terry Ave N., Seattle, WA 98109-5210.
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Friday, September 8, 2017

Promoting Good Mental Health by Writing

There's little that takes on more importance during times like these than togetherness--as families, communities, states, a nation, and even the world. As the country waits with bated breath to find out just where in Florida Hurricane Irma will make landfall, it seems wrong to post on anything other than the potential danger so many Americans are facing, and how resilient American citizens are facing such tragedy.

But maybe that's all the more reason to do just that. No, a post about writing won't change the course of Irma, won't diminish the damage, whether emotional, physical, or material, and certainly won't rate up there with weather news. It won't lessen the losses of those in Texas impacted by Hurricane Harvey. But it will give us a brief respite from the woes of the nation, in particular, and the world in general. Before these massive storms, politics took center stage in the news, and battles between Trump supporters vs. his detractors reigned supreme on social media. The news is seldom good, and I don't suppose that will change once Harvey and Irma have passed and we're left with cleaning up what they've left behind.

That's one reason I feel authors do such a great thing for humanity. We provide entertainment and knowledge, two things that fuel good emotional health. If we're armed with truth, facts, and information (provided by non-fiction books) and excitement, romance, mystery, thrills, inspiration, and humor (through fiction), our lives take on more balance. Yes, bad news will most likely win the battle in mainstream news sources because so much of it exists, but good news is out there. We may not hear about it often enough, but in times of national tragedy, we see the inherent good in others. In the meantime, writers need to remember what an important role we play in the lives of our readers.

Have you ever retreated to your favorite spot to read and bury yourself in the plot of a good book to get away from your daily strife? Do you find yourself aching to get back to that novel that has you spellbound? Do you look forward to getting back to that non-fiction title on your favorite subject? These are all examples of readers needing what we writers produce. We may not change the course of hurricanes, stop the stream of bad news coming at us daily, or make life wonderful. But we can alleviate stress, bring smiles, entertain, inform, and inspire.

And don't we need that more than ever right now?
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Friday, September 1, 2017

Book Review Uncharted Series Keely Brooke Keith

Uncharted Hope by Keely Brooke Keith

Uncharted Hope
Keely Brooke Keith

Book five in the Uncharted series
Sept 2017

$3.99 Ebook
$12.99 Print
Buy on Amazon

About the book
Sophia Ashton’s new medical assistant job comes with the perks of living on the Colburn property, which include being surrounded by a loving family—something she’s never known. During the job’s trial period, a patient puts Sophia in a questionable position. Now she must prove her competence or lose her job and home.

Nicholas Vestal is working on a sheep farm to earn a starter flock, but before his contract is up, he inherits a house in the village. While fixing up the old house he pursues Sophia Ashton, believing she is the woman God wants him to marry. But when her difficult past blocks his plan, he must find a way to her heart.

Meanwhile, outside the Land...
When plant biologist Bailey Colburn is offered a research job, she knows Justin Mercer is playing her somehow. Working for the former naval flight officer sounds better than her other options in post-war Norfolk, even though Justin says he once met her long lost relatives. But when Justin introduces Bailey to the mysterious gray leaf tree, his unbelievable claims change her world.

My review
In this book, readers finally get a look at the state of the current state of the world outside of the Land. We’d had peeks and glimpses and hints before, but now we learn not what happened, but some of the results as the author takes us back and forth to Justin Mercer’s experiments with the gray leaf tree seeds.

Keith introduces the reader to a planet earth future ravaged by disease and war, not a too-fictional plot point the way things are going. The Uncharted series are not exactly stand-alone serial stories, so I can’t recommend picking one up and starting anywhere, though I think a reader would quickly pick up the threads. In the first book the Land is introduced and we meet a castaway from the outside world who fits himself into this curious lifestyle. The castaway’s friend, Justin, however, can’t forget that he saw his partner disappear and manages to fight his way to the Land. They’re not a good fit and Justin returns to the outside world, rife with disease and despair, to experiment with a potential life-saving and highly lucrative cure-all. It’s this point Uncharted Hope picks up. Each story is built around a founding family of the Land and characters from previous books, so although a reader can step into any story, the context has be built. In this story, a young lady works with the community physician to research the mysterious gray leaf’s curative properties, and also uncovers a potential understanding of why their Land has remained hidden to the outside world.

Meanwhile, Mercer connects with a descendant of one of the founding families who stayed behind, who curiously is a biologist and reluctantly agrees to participate in Mercer’s experiments. Once she realizes the potential, philosophies clash and meld in beautiful ways in their ugly world.

Keith’s stories are inspirational and very gently romantic. Sophia, our heroine in this story, takes her time—a long time—to accept a suitor. Nicholas has a bit to learn about society and social graces as well, as their relationship takes time to root, with a lot of help from their friends and family. The Uncharted series is ultimately about grace and a simple life lived with appreciation for all God’s great gifts, especially salvation.

Told from multiple viewpoints, Keith’s story-telling skills continue to grow. In this novel of weaving between the Land and the Outside, she creates mystery and intrigue and shows glimpses of hope in dark places. Reminder, this novel is part of an on-going series.

About the Author
8475319Keely Brooke Keith writes inspirational frontier-style fiction with a slight Sci-Fi twist, including The Land Uncharted (Shelf Unbound Notable Romance 2015) and Aboard Providence (2017 INSPY Awards Longlist). Keely also creates resources for writers such as The Writer’s Book Launch Guide and The Writer’s Character Journal.

Born in St. Joseph, Missouri, Keely grew up in a family that frequently relocated. By graduation, she lived in 8 states and attended 14 schools. When she isn’t writing, Keely enjoys playing bass guitar, preparing homeschool lessons, and collecting antique textbooks. Keely, her husband, and their daughter live on a hilltop south of Nashville, Tennessee.
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Friday, August 25, 2017

When Angels Cry: A Book Review


Product Details

Mary Lu Tyndall's When Angels Cry follows the life of Angelica Smoke, a young, single mom who works at a mediocre bar for a sleazy boss. Our world has been ravaged by sin. The government has banned the true Bible, and had it rewritten until it's nothing more than a watered down version of the original, allowing sin of all kinds for the sake of "inclusiveness." Wars, atrocities, plagues, and famine all rage across the world, and Angelica, who's been given the gift of seer by God, knows it won't be long before Christ raptures His church. She's desperate to save the souls of as many people as she can before that happens, but nobody--the government included--is making that easy for her.

The Lord gives Angelica a directive to warn Daniel Cain, a prominent head pastor of a popular megachurch in town, but she stalls to the point of denying God because she and Daniel were once a loving couple. In those days, Daniel was on fire for the Lord, while she laughed at his passion. Now the roles are reversed. Daniel has become lukewarm, at best, in his faith, and is leading his congregation astray as a result. Eventually she obeys God, warns Daniel, and they renew their acquaintanceship. Daniel hurt her terribly when they parted, and she's determined not to repeat her mistake, although her young son is thrilled with having a man in his life, even temporarily. Daniel, on the other hand, can't seem to dismiss Angelica from his mind, and vows to  rescue her from the clutches of a dangerous cult.  

Tyndall's book is an interesting look at the end days, taking us into the lives of a few people rather than the entire world, and shows us what happens when just one person does what is right and just. I had just one niggling thought of theology at the end of the book, but won't spoil anything by discussing it. This book was entertaining, thought-provoking, and filled with the love of our Heavenly Father for His children. I can heartily recommend it to both Christian and secular readers.



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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Christian Regency Fiction with guest Susan Karsten

~Christian Regency~

Susan KarstenSusan Karsten, author of the recently-released Christian Regency novel, A Match for Melissa, answers some questions about the Christian Regency genre

What can you tell us about the Christian Regency genre?

Regency fiction books are predominantly romances, and since they take place in the early 1800s England, they are all historicals. Adding the descriptor Christian indicates the book includes a faith element in the character(s), and how their Christian faith affects the plot through their faith-based motivations, actions, or decisions.

The Regency historical romance genre became very popular starting in the mid-1900s, with the publishing success of Georgette Heyer. Heyer’s books were meticulously researched and she is highly esteemed as a founding author of the genre. Other authors came along and the genre grew in popularity. When explicitly Christian fiction began to be published, eventually, a few authors created the Christian Regency genre by adding faith to the Regency fun.

How does one do research for an accurate Christian Regency?

Although Regency fiction is always historical to some degree, there is wide variation in how much historical detail is included. Some authors structure their entire story around real historical events or characters, while others merely use the historical setting. Therefore, how much research is needed varies as well. If one wants to write a Regency romance, reading dozens of books in the genre is a great starting point. One becomes familiar with the culture, fashion, language, and conventions of the times. One can also easily find material on the aristocracy, politics, military, agriculture, and religious life of the times. For example, if an author needs to know what kind of horse-drawn conveyance would have been used for a certain purpose, that information can be located fairly easily with the use of the internet. Writers can research whether or not a certain word was even in use by a certain date. I, personally, have dug for these answers, as well as what books, periodicals, and music would have been present in the homes of Regency people.

A Match for Melissa (Honor's Point #1)

Why did you choose this genre?

It was an easy choice for me, because I am a big fan of and voracious reader of traditional Regency romances. When I sat down to write my first Christian Regency novel, the words flowed well, and it was a pleasant task for me to create within a medium that has given me such enjoyment over the years.

How did you come up with the story?

When I decided to try my hand at writing a full-length novel, I did a fair amount of story daydreaming. I remember posing to myself the question, “If I write a book, what will my story be?” Soon, I needed to answer, “How will my hero and heroine meet?” And then, “How will I wrap things up?” Tying up all the plot lines was intellectually stimulating, and I hope it was done to my readers’ satisfaction.

~It was to mine J
Lisa

Read my review here.

eBook $4.99
Print $15.99
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Monday, August 21, 2017

Guest Post: How to Find Time For Creativity

You know how it goes. Keys in the door, shoes flung haphazardly into the entry way, and tired body plopped on the couch. You’ve got some writing to do, but one glance at your computer has you sighing in defeat. You have piles of homework, or work had to come home with you yet again, or your little ones gather around you, begging to be played with. Sometimes it’s even the business of writing that makes us put down the pen day after day—keeping up with social media pages, marketing, and responding to comments.

No matter what the particulars, it’s hard to be an author AND have a full-time life alongside it. But when it comes to the real heart of our writing, the thing that keeps us coming back to the grind day after day, how do we make time for that aspect? Today, I’m going to lay open three of the biggest time constraints busy authors face, and explore some ways that we can make time (during the time we do have to write) for that magical creativity of writing that all authors crave.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Social media is one of my biggest time constraints. I’ve found that the more I try to take on, the more sucked in I become. Before I know it, I’m spending hours of my writing time just checking my myriads of Facebook groups, or queuing up my Tumblr blog, or browsing my Twitter feed for the latest indie Kindle reads.

For me, I’m still trying to figure this out. I’m going to start eliminating social media sites that take up the most time and/or are not bringing any meaningful results or interactions. With what I’m left with, I’ll start culling the better sites and doubling down on those to try and reach out to my potential audience.

While social media is necessary for visibility and engagement, not all sites are created equal. Find where your particular genre audience likes to be the most, and focus the majority of your efforts there. By eliminating some of those self-imposed obligations, we enable ourselves to target our goals with a laser-like focus. And in doing so, we make more time for the actual creative work of writing.

REAL LIFE

Balancing real life and our growing businesses is a never-ending struggle. There are chores to be done, work to go to, social obligations to keep, children to be taken care of, classes to study for…and on top of that, we push ourselves to be at the top of our game in the authorial arena. I’d wager a guess that most of us don’t have a glorious amount of time to set aside for writing, if any. Some have to snatch 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there.

These minutes are precious, and it’s important to be disciplined with whatever time we do have. This is where being organized and knowing what needs doing comes into play. Try to make a daily or weekly list of the tasks you know need doing in regards to your writing. Then, when you find yourself with time, check that list and pick the most important thing to do.

If you have a set block of time, this gives you even more opportunities for streamlining your time. And if you are privileged enough to work from home, it pays to schedule certain tasks or certain projects on individual days when you know you’ll have the time for them. In being intentional and organized with our writing time, we can get more done in less time—and also have more time for real life, which leads to less stress and more enjoyment of the good things. (Note: This also contributes to garnering more ideas from our real-life experiences. When we’re running ourselves ragged, it’s hard to appreciate the beauty of the daily things.)

CONTENT CREATION

Creating quality content—for social media, blogs, and marketing campaigns— is a must for authors. But it can quickly become overwhelming when we look at our to-do list. Write a blog post that sparkles? Check. Make stunning graphics for Pinterest? Check. Come up with a genius poll for Facebook author page…and the list goes on and on.

If your brain isn’t spinning yet, maybe you’ve got this thing down pat already. But if it is (I know mine is!), there is a way to help minimize the time you spend coming up with great content that brings those valuable readers to your website or Amazon page. I call it “recycling content.” I’ve seen it used to great effect, especially with authors who have been creating content for a long time and have a stash of evergreen material that they can re-use.

Even if you don’t have the world’s biggest backlog of graphics, blog posts, or e-book freebies, you can still use this technique. For me, each time I sit down and write a blog post, I quickly create several different types of graphics for different social media sites. That way, I can post my graphics and a link to my post in many different places, expanding my reach without too much extra effort. This, in turn, gives me more time for creating the BIG quality content, my novels.

As much as we authors love writing, it does present its own set of challenges. Those challenges can become even more of a hurdle when we’re faced with the obligations of our business needs and day-to-day life. But with a few tweaks based on the time-management techniques and insights shared above, hopefully we can all find a better balance between life, the business of our writing, and the magic of writing—the art of putting pen to paper or fingers to keys and letting our ideas run wild.

How do you balance all these different elements in your own career? Feel free to share in the comments!

Aly Clark loves exploring deep, meaningful themes in her YA fiction books, and sharing her love for all things writing-related on her blog, alycatauthor.com. Her debut YA portal fantasy novel, Kingdom of the New Moon, is available on Amazon. When she’s not writing, you can find her singing, reading, bullet journaling, and drinking chai tea lattes.
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Friday, August 11, 2017

Shifting Genre

Author Deborah Heal, former high school teacher, has had a successful career as an author with two popular series, five books in the Rewinding Time and History trilogy (book 1, Time and Again, is .99 on Amazon Kindle), Christian time travel. The series are interconnected and garnered hundreds of reviews. Now Heal is trying her hand at retelling biblical stories in contemporary times. The stories will be part of another series, Love Blooms at Bethel, and take place in America's Heartland. The first book is based on the Old Testament book of Ruth. Ruth followed her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Bethlehem after their husbands died. In this modern-day trope, Heal recreates the beautiful story of redemption from the perspective of the lonely widow who didn't realize what she was missing until she helped her mother-in-law reclaim her life. We also experience the other side, Boaz, in the contemporary version aka Neil (read the book to learn his middle name) who really does know what he's missing after a bad experience.

How do Heal's fans like this change?

Within the first month of publication, her Amazon ratings remain high, in the top couple hundred, fluctuating for genre, and one point I saw in the 2K for sales. Out of 10 million, that's pretty good! But the reviews from paid customers says it best. More than one mention sticking with Heal after reading the time travel stories, even though romance wasn't something they'd normally pick up. One reviewer expressed some disappointment...but you know, if a reader wants to admit they don't read the cover or look at it, there's really not much an author can do.

Heal interacts with her fan base, and has a good system of pre-promotion, Her author blog is not overbearing and contains fun facts that go along with her stories. I hope she continues with the Bethel books. I have farming in my family history, but livestock and grains, not fruit farming, so I enjoyed learning something...even in a romance. I was honored to help Deborah edit and am very proud to promote her work.


A modern retelling of the Old Testament story of Ruth—a sweet romance about courage, loyalty, and second chances.

When Julia passes through the small town of Coldwater, driving her screeching pickup with her mother-in-law and everything she owns in the RV they’re towing, all she wants is to get Helen settled on what’s left of the family farm and hurry back to civilization.

Julia’s still mourning her husband, and so romance is the last thing on her mind. But whenever Neil Ashe shows up, the attraction between them flares—even though his divorce has left him leery of city women. Neil, a distantly-related farmer, thinks it’s his job to make all their problems go away. Will Julia stubbornly go it alone, holding on to both her pride and the memory of her husband, or will she ask Neil 
to come to the rescue—and into her heart?

My review:

I was a Deborah Heal fan before I learned she was working on a series of Biblical fiction set in contemporary times. This story of Ruth and Naomi is a beautiful and timeless story perfectly fit for today. I learned a lot about the setting and fully enjoyed the characters as they played out the loyalty, despair and love that go along with making a forever commitment. I adore too-good-to-be-true heroes, even though they make me sigh into tomorrow and realize they're not perfect. That only makes them sweeter. We don't get to know Boaz's inner angst in the Bible, but the author of Holding On made an excellent and determined effort to show it.

No, it's not the time traveling adventure of her earlier series, but shows Heal's versatility, and you know...in a way, we do time travel here in this story that parallels the biblical romance of Ruth and Boaz. Recommended for teens and up. Told from multiple viewpoints.

3.99 eBook
11.99 Print

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Copy Edits---the Ignored Necessity

A friend is doing a massive favor for me and the other authors of a collection we've already released. She's doing the copy edit we should've done to begin with.

Even though I had already edited the bulk of the stories included in the collection, our friend is finding a gazillion mistakes. She says she hates going in and editing after someone else has edited because she's afraid she'll offend the other editor.

Far from the truth. Actually, it shores up my contention that manuscripts need at least two edits prior to release.

I'm primarily a content editor. My friend is a copy editor. The things that I pay most attention to pertain to the craft of writing; the things she pays most attention to pertain to the mechanics of writing. The mistakes she's finding in our novellas pertain to the mechanics---things I tend to overlook as the first-round editor.

When it comes to sentence construction and punctuation, I tend to be more intuitive. I punctuate as I want the sentence read, because after all, that's basically the function of punctuation. Periods draw the reader to a full stop; commas provide a pause; semicolons offer a pause between two complete sentences---but are unnecessary, in my opinion, if the sentences are short; and dashes insert parentheticals much more casually than parentheses for the purpose of fiction. My sentence structure tends to be written as I hear it in my head, regardless of whether it follows the rules.

Does this mean the rules are not important? Nope. Whenever my friend corrects my work, I realize that, for the most part, she's right.

Although I'm not the "comma momma" that she is, I do know there are rules to punctuation, and I know how to find them. She's just better with them than I am. Considerably better, which is why she's the newest addition to my team. She catches me when I've hyphenated words that are supposed to be either two separate words or are actually one word (I'm learning to look up things more often now). She also catches sentence construction that is off and needs to be rearranged. She is exceptional at what she does.

Still, after she has edited one of my pieces, I go through and determine the revisions based on a simple concept: Does her correction coincide with the way I want my sentence to be read? The majority of the time, the answer is yes. On the rare occasions the answer is no, I have to decide whether her way reads better and/or provides more clarity. Sometimes I rewrite the sentence; sometimes I overrule her. I'm the author. I have that right. Sentence construction is part of what illustrates my voice.

I have certain peculiarities in my writing, techniques I use periodically to indicate how I want something to be read, that she's forever marking and I'm forever ignoring. It has more to do with the pace and rhythm of the work or the character's illustrated personality than it does with the correctness of the sentence construction.

But that doesn't give me carte blanche to ignore my editor. For one thing, my techniques are not to be used frequently throughout a piece or they'd lose their effectiveness and become a distraction. The second point is this: We are to write to our smartest reader, and that reader would not appreciate a piece in which the mechanics of writing are constantly ignored as if the novel were written by a first-grader.

The American population has slipped considerably from the use of proper grammar. If you don't believe me, just ask whomever is closest to you to determine the usage differences of "who" and "whom." But though we're more casual, we still have rules of writing. As is true with everything we write, we authors are blind to our own mistakes---including those a copy editor could catch. Even if we know the rules, we sometimes don't see when we've missed them.

Editing is the most expensive part of indie publishing, but it's vital. If you're a serious writer, you already know this. You plan ahead and save for it, or you suck it up and pay the bill outright. You can also make payment arrangements with your editor.

Or you can do as I did and network with professionals you can exchange favors with or at least earn discounts from. Best place to do that is in professional writers organizations. Each genre has its own group. Seek it out and spend the time and money necessary to join and participate. Gain friends and team members. It'll save tons in the long run, not to mention all the other benefits inherent in belonging to a professional organization.

Free advice: However you arrange to pay for it, don't limit yourself to one edit.
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Monday, August 7, 2017

12 Points to Consider Before Becoming a Writer

At some point in our lives, or maybe at several points, we're faced with deciding what direction we want to take with our profession or if we're ready to take on a second livelihood. We might be tied into a particular job for multiple reasons--great pay, pension, healthcare--and those are all legitimate reasons to stay. And if that job takes twenty hours of your day, each and every day of the week, perhaps you shouldn't be thinking about moving into another career, or side job, or hobby.

But if it doesn't or if you're considering a change in career, and if you feel the tug to be a writer, now or sometime in the future when the kids are grown, you're retired, or you just feel you have the time, then think about some of the following points to see if you're suited for the writer's life.

1.     If you think nothing of carrying on a conversation with the people in your head, you might be a writer. If you find yourself eavesdropping on those same people in your head, even if you're not conversing with them, you certainly could be a writer. While it might sound silly, it's a common practice for writers to rehearse scenes in our heads as we test dialogue, see how characters interact with one another, or just plot out a certain part of the book. It's as natural to us as practicing the piano is to a pianist. I imagine they sometimes rehearse in their heads; we're no different.

2.     If watching people around you, checking out their mannerisms, how they stand, sit, walk, converse with others, how they discipline their children or talk to their spouse or friends, is comfortable and natural for you, you could be a writer.

Smooth sailing toward my goal of successful author! Wait...
that's not me. That's a kite. An otter kite. And it's heading
straight for that tree branch on the right. Such an easy mistake
to make: author-otter. Yep. 
3.     If you see someone and think to yourself, "What a great so-and-so (name of character in your manuscript/short story/head) she would be!" then you could be a writer. Ditto if you run home and write down his/her description for future reference.

4.     If everyday events trigger ideas for a story, then you might consider becoming a writer. If you can't get through a day without coming up with story ideas, you could very well become a writer.

6.     If you find yourself taking notes (physically or mentally) while reading a book, you might have the stuff to be a writer. And if you find yourself correcting someone's grammar, punctuation, or other aspects of a book, you should think about being a writer (or even an editor).

7.     If you don't mind working by yourself for sizable chunks of time, you could be a writer. Yes, writing is a far less solitary endeavor than it was even twenty years ago, but for the most part the actual writing--sitting down at the computer and pounding out words--should be done while you're alone or with very quiet people... except for #8, that is.

8.    On the other hand, if you can concentrate well with chaos all around you--kids, pets, spouse, television, maybe the neighbor's kids--you could also be a writer. It depends on how much noise and distraction you can filter out while thinking clearly and actually writing something worthwhile. I spent many an evening writing my first manuscript with the ruckus of three teenagers all around me. In fact, for a while there it was difficult for me to write when it was quiet. I needed the background noise.

9.     If you don't mind starting at the bottom of the heap and working your way upward, paying your dues, working hard and taking direction, accepting constructive criticism (mean-spirited criticism should never be accepted), constantly straining forward to learn more, write more, accept rejection (because it will come), read, read, and read some more, and write every chance you have to get better and better at your craft, you might just have what it takes to be a writer.

10.     If you have a natural talent for writing, you should definitely consider becoming a writer. If you don't seem to have an innate ability, try taking some college courses to see if it can be drawn out of you or if you even enjoy it. A lot of writing, at least in my experience, seems to be intuitive. If you feel you have the ability to honestly view your writing as either good and in need of more work (and all writers, successful or not, have to keep learning and striving to become better), or hopeless and no amount of work will change that fact, it will take you a long way to making the final decision. A lot of what makes a good writer can be learned. Some of it cannot.

11.     If you can live with the fact that you probably won't be the next J.K. Rowling or John Grisham, you could be a writer. If you're bound and determined to hit the bestseller lists first time out you're either deluded, optimistic, incredibly driven, or ... right. You just might be right! Just because most of us won't reach the pinnacle of the bestseller lists on a regular basis doesn't mean you won't. Perhaps you'll be that one in a million. If you can accept those odds, go for it! (And that's not to denigrate those who won't reach the top of the heap. There's only so much room up there or else we'd all be there and there'd be nobody below us to keep those mid-lists warm.)

12.     If you think writing a book will make you rich and that's the reason you're doing it, you're fooling yourself and should probably drop the idea of being a writer. If, on the other hand, you want to write whether you make a dime or not, if you can't help yourself from writing, then you have what it takes to be a writer. A few of us get rich. Many of us write and eventually get published. Some of us, rich or not, make a mark on our fellow human beings. Frankly, as much as I'd enjoy making more money writing books than I do, I'd opt for influencing fellow human beings in a positive way any day of the week. If you can live with the idea that you might not make enough money in a year to pay for your internet access, but you have readers who love your work and tell you what a difference you've made in their lives, well, you're definitely writer material.

No two ways about it.


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