Category Archives: General

The Writing Life: Half and Half

By Terry C. Misfeldt

Writers will confess that they love writing but are less than enthusiastic about marketing. The writing life is half and half. Half of the process is getting words together in sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and novels or whatever they are writing. The other half of the process is publicizing what they’ve written to their adoring fans; also known as marketing.

Must equal time be given to both halves? Not necessarily. If all you want to do is write and self-publish so you can showcase your work with a spot on your bookcase shelf, congratulations! You are a published author. If, however, you want to make a wee bit of money selling some of those copies you ordered or to get people to purchase copies online, some marketing is essential.

Simple steps include creating an author’s profile with a link people can click on. This gives potential buyers an opportunity to check you out and, perchance, buy a copy through Amazon or another outlet. Use that author’s profile link in your E-mail signature, too. It is a simple marketing tool. Create a listing for your work on Good Reads and other book-related websites. It takes a few minutes to get it set up.

Encourage readers to write reviews (and be prepared for ones that may be less than flattering). Send media releases to your college alumni association, fraternity or sorority if you were a brother or sister, any other organizations you have or may belong to, your hometown newspaper, and any other place that may publish the information about you and your work. The same release can work for a variety of publications with slight modification.

Look for speaking engagements: Book clubs, service organizations, and other groups are often looking for programs. Book clubs mean people buy your book, read it, and then invite you in to discuss it.

None of these tools on your marketing belt cost a lot of money, other than a First Class stamp. Just carve out the time to do it and see what happens.

Keeping A Journal

By Terry C. Misfeldt

Some people think of a journal as a diary and that is one version. Keeping a journal is different.

Diaries are meant to be personal and contents shared with few, if any, people. Keeping a journal is documenting life and significant events that likely impart lessons to whomever reads the journal. Do journals contain diary-like comments? They can, and often do.

Keeping a journal is important if you travel considerably, especially if you want to share those travels with others who may wish to follow in your shoes. Journal about good places to eat and the quality of the food, but do not forget to accentuate how you were treated by the waitstaff and everyone else. Write about the modes of transportation you use, how efficient they are, and the friendliness of the flight attendants, conductor, Uber driver, or others providing that transportation.

How did you feel when you stood on the beaches of Hawaii for the first time? What was it like to drive a car through busy Los Angeles traffic? Where did you see the sun rise that was an unusual location?

Family life is also worth keeping a journal. Share when your child first rolls over or cuts their first tooth. Remember to share your frustration with weird hours feeding or changing dirty diapers. Temper tantrums and how you dealt with them could also prove valuable when your children have children.

There is so much you can journal about, including your work and co-workers. Describe their work habits and personality traits but be careful about sharing these pages of your journal if you get too personal.

The point is to write, and keeping a journal is an easy method of remembering things that motivate you…and that can be used as motivation. A good time to start is now.

Cover Art

By Terry C. Misfeldt

In this day and age when naysayers believe print books are going the way of dinosaurs, it is ever more important that the cover art of your book grabs a potential reader’s attention.

Print on demand (POD) publishing today demands even more that your artwork is appealing since your book will most likely have a soft cover. That means paper instead of a stiffer, non-printable binding.

Now, if you are getting published in hard cover, there will be a wrap-around cover which will still require cover art. Even E-books have a need for cover art.

How do you create cover art that sells? I have long held the belief that copy sells while art enhances, but selling books with cover art requires both.

Romance writers know their cover art needs to show couples in a passionate embrace. Poets have more latitude in what graces their covers. Science fiction writers need “out of this world” artwork to entice potential readers.

Elements of strong cover art include: 1) Attractive color schemes; 2) Text (like your book title) that stands out from the background and uses an appropriate font; 3) Images that convey the essence of your book and entice people; 4) Catchy blurbs to garner attention; and, 5) a Professional image of you, the author.

Consider hiring a professional graphic artist to create your cover. Many publishing companies have cover artists on staff to assist you in that process…often at a steep cost. An option I employed with my first novel was contacting the local university’s graphic arts department to see if any students wanted to attack my cover. After several drafts and a few hundred dollars, I got an excellent (IMO) cover, thanks to Angela Collier. Can you guess what the novel is about?

Determining Your Audience

By Terry C. Misfeldt

Determining your audience is an often overlooked aspect of writing. If you fail to consider who you want to read what you write, and write for that audience, you are only writing for one person: You!

How do you determine your audience?

First, think about what you want to write. Have you come up with a story about young adults and their interaction? Are you creating a fantasy world set in ancient times or projected into the distant future? Or are you writing about business management techniques?

This first step is essential. It identifies your potential audience members. People who may want to read what you write. Operative word there is “may” be a reader.

Second, consider reading habits of your target audience. If the story about teenage interaction is designed for readers 18 or younger, what is their reading comprehension level? What language should you avoid? What scenarios are acceptable to this segment of the reading population? In the case of a fantasy work, is your audience narrowly defined or rather broad in scope? Will the reader understand the terminology you intend to use, or does it even matter?

With management techniques, consider if you want this read by production level workers or upper level supervisors. What are their personality styles, and can you write using strong control language?

Third, write for your target audience. Keep in mind that even if you have written a Pulitzer Prize winning piece, getting people to read it is another aspect of the writing craft called marketing. However, if you hit the nail on the head by identifying your target market (readers) your odds of getting your words to the right people are increased.

Tip: If you know someone who likes to read and falls in the category of your target audience, ask them to review or edit your work for you. This helps clarify that you are on the mark with that audience or need to shift tactics a bit. For instance, if you write for young adults you should find someone in that age group to read what you’ve written and see if it resonates with them.

Keeping a Journal

By Terry C. Misfeldt

When we were younger it was thought of as keeping a diary. As we have gotten older, that diary is now considered a journal. With age, keeping a journal is one of the best ways to keep track of the special occasions and life moments you experience.

Like my grandmother who started her journal when she was 10 years old and kept it up until 10 days before her passing, i have consciously kept a journal for most of my life. The exception was 2019 when I chose to intentionally skip keeping track of minutiae and just live my life!

The Corona virus pandemic of 2020 has proven to be an excellent reason for keeping a journal. The panic of being close to someone who might be infected. The anxiety of being quarantined. Waiting for test results. Listening to information and wondering whether it is accurate or manufactured. Doubt. Emotions provide insight to what you have gone through it you have shared them in a journal.

You are not obligated to share your journal with anyone. It is your personal property. It can also be a legacy to your loved ones when you leave this existence for the other side. I am fortunate to have some of my grandmother’s journals and the secrets they have divulged about growing up in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Being able to decode her symbols, I was able to determine when my father was conceived.

My fifth grandchild recently joined our family and, in my journal, I have shared my emotions and feelings about my third grandson. Being able to go back and review dates and events enables me to reminisce about his birth when I am older and grayer with a mind less likely to remember details that are fresh now.

If you travel, journal about it. A friend of mine who has been a professional photographer during his entire career has traveled extensively. When he shared images with me about his trips, i encouraged him to create journal entries and share them with his followers. It created a permanent memory of his exploits for himself, his family, and those of us who have always admired his work.

If you consider yourself a writer and wonder what to write, journal. Keeping a journal provides inspiration for that great American novel.

The End in Mind

By Terry C. Misfeldt

It is often said to writers they should begin their story with the end in mind. There is a reason this makes sense: If you have the end in mind, you know when you have gotten to where you want your story to be when it is finished.

That seems a simple explanation, but the concept has value. Does your heroine save the prince and live happily ever after? Does the detective solve the crime or discover another clue leading to doubt about the outcome of the investigation?

In my novel, Shevivor, the protagonist survives a grizzly bear attack and being pursued by a pack of wolves. Janet Murphy’s mere survival could have ended the story, but the end in my mind was to leave the reading wondering about the wolves.

Is there a sequel you plan to write? Then make sure the end of the first installment sets up the story occurring in the second. Everything you write should direct the reader toward the end without allowing them to predetermine the outcome.

If you have favorite television shows, you most likely can guess what will happen in the next scene. The unexpected car crash ends the episode and leaves you hanging to make sure you tune in for next week’s show. Did the protagonist survive? Or die?

That is acceptable in writing scripts but the end must still be kept in mind. It is especially true in writing a novel of almost any genre. Even with a memoir, you should know how you want it to end. Is there a lesson your life’s memories can impart to the reader?

What I will leave you with is this: If you do not write with the end in mind, your work is going to meander all over the place with no clear path to the climax or conclusion. You may lose and disorient your audience as a result. The end.

COVID Motivation

By Terry C. Misfeldt

Writers I converse with regularly seem to lack motivation to write as a result of COVID-19. They are isolated from other writers, family members, and friends, so it is hard to write about anything without human interaction. So here are my thoughts for writers who lack COVID motivation.

  1. Dedicate time each day to writing. Just write! It matters not what you type into your document or scribble on a note pad. Write about your day’s experiences if nothing else. What is essential is that you are writing, whether it’s at 7:00 in the morning or 11:00 at night. Write!
  2. Find something to write about. Your favorite food and why you relish that delicacy. Your best friend and how you get along with that person, even if your best friend is yourself. Write about your favorite time of year or the season that inspires you, such as the colors of autumn.
  3. Correspond with someone you care about. Find a blank note card and send a friend who lives far away a message about why you miss them or what you treasure most about your relationship and your hopes of rekindling it when you can get back together again. Open your heart to them.
  4. Find a writing contest and enter it. There are many magazines and writing groups solicting entries in their writing contests. If you find one you feel qualified to enter, study the rules and write that winning entry. It may cost you a few bucks to enter, but the satisfaction of competing…and winning…can be motivating. And last…
  5. Set a daily goal and write your novel. If you want to write a 90,000 word novel, you can do it in 90 days if you set a goal of writing 1,000 words every day. Perhaps you write 500 words in the morning and another 500 after dinner or all of them at once. The key is to set a goal and keep working at it. It can be your motivation.

Writing Tools

By Terry C. Misfeldt

The most important tool available to you as a writer is your brain! Chief among writing tools: You ability to think and create. Think about what you are trying to say. When you know what message you want to convey, there are many writing tools at your disposal.

Research can be a valuable writing tool. Where do you find out about personalities so you can determine what your characters’ flaws and attributes are? Psychology textbooks are one source. Personality profile programs are another. Maps, the Internet, and countless other sources of information can assist your research quest. Chambers of commerce in many communities can provide you with demographic information.

Reading is often overlooked as a writing tool, but one that can prove powerful. Read the works of other writers in the genre you are working on. How do they create scenes? Write down the ideas that relate to your story. How do they create conflict between characters? Again, make some notes. How do they create dialogue? Emulate them if you believe it is appropriate for your work.

Outlining & Plotting are writing tools that are somewhat synonymous. When you outline your story from beginning to conclusion, you have a tool that enables you to look at the story impartially. If you believe a chapter should be moved forward or back, the outline suggests where it may fit better. Plotting, likewise, enables you to plot the course of your story and inject conflict where you may not thought of adding it.

Another writing tool we take for granted: Your computer. Most computer programs help edit what you write and find alternative words if you need a substitute. Things I have found most valuable about my laptop are the keyboard I have attached that enables me to type more efficiently, the storage capacity, the ease of editing, and the speed it enables me to write with. My brain works much faster than my fingers can type, but the more I practice, the closer those two speeds come together.

Inspiration

By Rhonda Strehlow

Inspiration

Someone once asked me where I get ideas for my books. Some have been in my head for years. Take the premise for my first book, Second Act. All 70,000 plus words are based on a sixty-minute encounter that took place more than twenty years ago.

It started like this: my sisters and I took a long weekend break in Chicago. We had just seen a play and had an hour or so before we were expected at a nice restaurant. The evening was gorgeous. We talked and laughed as we wandered down the street. I was carrying a tiny evening bag. Feeling free and silly, I was swinging the purse in circles when a blond gentleman grabbed my arm.

This is downtown Chicago. We’re from a town with a population of 499 in northern Wisconsin. My sisters and I freeze.

He says, “It’s not safe to swing your purse in this city.”

En masse my sisters and I back away from him and his large bald friend we hadn’t noticed earlier.

He smiles and starts telling us about Chicago, its history, and famous residents. Within minutes we were captivated by his insights and barely noticed when we reached the restaurant.  We invited them to join us. They pointed to their shorts and sandals and declined.

“Thank you…” I hesitated. “We don’t know your names.”

The blond man smiled enigmatically, hugged me, and walked away.

I gave the bald man a quizzical look.

He leaned in and whispered, “If I told you his name, you would recognize it.”

In minutes they disappeared into the crowd.

If you want to know what could have been the rest of the story, you’ll have to read the book.

A Shot

By Benjamin Hock

A shot. It’s all we as writers ask for. We believe if the right agent read our manuscript, got to know our characters, their story, their life, that agent would fall in love with them as much as we did. Then we’d be off to the races. In pursuit of that book deal that might change our lives forever. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

If you haven’t heard of #PitMad. That’s what it is. ​A​ shot. One of a handful of ways to get your work in front of agents without the initial hassle of drafting a semi-custom form letter that can feel halfway between an E-Harmony and a Linked-In profile.

So when it came to pass the next pitmad contest was just around the corner I decided to take my shot at this once every three month opportunity and throw my hat in the ring as they say. Like any contest there are a few rules, which I won’t go over here. If you want to try your hand at PitMad you can find the rules and times at ​www.pitchwars.org​. But in true PitMad fashion I’ll describe the entire contest in 280 characters or less.

PitMad is like going to buy a scratch-off ticket. Most of them are losers. There’s some luck involved. The more you play the better your odds, and everyone wants to win the jackpot, however most of us go home a dollar poorer but can say it was a good time. That said the hardest part of PitMad is not the rules but the idea of taking the entirety of three plus years of work, 62,000 words, and summing it up into what amounts to a fortune cookie fortune.

How is this even possible? I agonized for days, writing over and over and over again this tiny billboard advertisement for my book that hopefully would stop an agent, if only fora moment, in their infinite scroll through Twitter. And if I did my job right, that agent would hit that ‘like’ button to tell me they are willing to take a look at my work. That’s right. All this for a chance to stand in line to get into the door. When the day of the contest arrived and the clock struck 7 a.m., like the morning bell of the stock market, a buzz of social media activity began to fly.

Writers littered the twitter-sphere with their own tiny billboards, including myself. My phone buzzed. A retweet. That must be good. More retweets equals more chances for agents to see it, right? A few hours pass. No likes. I post again, this time a revised version of what I essentially now consider micro-flash fiction. A few minutes go by and nothing. An hour. Nothing. Then ​ping​. The sound of a chime rings from my phone. I have a like. It’s from a small press publishing company.

Did their butt accidentally like my tweet when they sat down? No. They would like me to email them my first10,000 words. I followed up with my one and only like in less than twenty-four hours. My mind rushed with both hope and skepticism. Seventy two hours later I received a request for the full manuscript and a new excitement had risen within me, one of possibilities. I hit send and my book is on its way, zipping through fiber optic cables at the speed of light, to land on someone’s digital to-do stack.

Would I say taking part in PitMad was worth it? I can’t say for sure. This is still an experience in progress as I wait for either that next step into the door or that all too familiar email–thanks but no thanks. However, one thing is for certain, it was a good time.