Friday, April 7, 2017

Join a Group of Writers - Even if You Aren't Published

I've heard some writers say that when they walk into a library, they think 'why do I bother?' True, there are hundreds of thousands of books published each year. My perspective is that readers always want more, so your book can join the shelves.

What keeps me enthusiastic, even during slow writing periods, is spending time with
other writers.

I’ve been fortunate to live in three states – Maryland, Iowa, and Indiana – that had active local and regional writers’ organizations. They host conferences, workshops, and less formal events. Even when I had a busy day job, I took many courses and had a group of peers without looking far.

In Illinois, not so much, but I keep looking. If you can't find groups of writers, join a book club. Every library has at least one. It can be fiction or nonfiction. At least you will be with people who like to talk about good writing.

You don’t need to join any groups – you don’t even need to tell friends you are working on a book or trying to place articles in magazines. If your schedule is chock full of work and family responsibilities, a local or regional writing organization could seem like a chore. As in all aspects of creativity, there are no 'shoulds.'

If a Google search for local groups and queries at the library don't turn up local writing groups, think about Twitter.
Twitter lets you make lists of other users – I have them for mystery writers, cozy mystery writers, Iowa writers, and many more.

Wherever I move (three times in ten years), I go through the Twitter lists I've created to see which people noted where they lived. It takes a while, but I find nearby writers (even if not in my town) and establish email relationships. I eventually meet them.

We aren't talking about stalking here, just friendly self-introductions. If you get no response, you haven't lost anything but a few minutes of your time.


Professional writing organizations exist for every genre. Dues are usually $100 or less. Most have newsletters, some sponsor magazines. You learn a lot and get a better sense of who writes in your genre and which publishers are best for your kind of writing.

A lot of groups, such as Sisters in Crime, lead you to members who live in your area.
(Assuming they have agreed to be listed in the members-only section of SINC's web page.) Even if a national organization does not publish a member list, a call or email to the national office may garner local names.
I generally go to conferences within a couple hundred miles, so I don’t incur big travel expenses. Or I find one near my extended family, so no hotel bills. (Thank goodness for family and friends.)

When you go to a conference, there’s usually a list of attendees that shows where they live. Voila – you’ve found local people. In fact, I was invited into my wonderful critique group in Illinois because I’d met some of the members at the Midwest Writers Workshop in Muncie, Indiana.

Finding other writers isn’t as hard as finding a new job, but if you don’t live in a town with an existing organization, the hunt does take concerted effort. If you have limited time to write, perhaps that has to be your only focus. Spending time with other writers can come later.

Whatever feels right for you works for you. If you do reach out, you’ll probably find other writers willing to share their experiences.


Writer’s Digest Annual Best Websites for Writers
Some are websites only, some are affiliated with organizations. This is a link to one year’s list. (Because it's a PDF file, you probably need to cut and paste the link.)

Romance Writers of America (RWA) is the largest writers’ membership organization. It also has chapters throughout the country.

Sisters in Crime (open to sisters and misters, with active local chapters).
The email monthly SINC Links is worth the reasonable membership fee.

Writers, Agents and Editors Network. Website founded by Jeff Hermann. Hard to categorize this website, but it brings a lot of people together online.
                                                             *     *     *     *     *
Check out Elaine Orr's web page, or her online classes, or sign up for her newsletter

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Reviewing a Book Draft on Your KIndle

When I'm writing, I do a lot of things to imagine the words as a reader will perceive them. Sure, you can read them aloud or change the font size on your computer. Anything that lets an author take a step back from the original manuscript is a good thing.

A couple of years ago I began sending finished drafts (yes, an oxymoron) to my Kindle. The point was to spot typos -- boy did I. I also spotted some inconsistencies -- referring to a day as sunny and in the next chapter having a character grab an umbrella or avoid puddles.

Before a knee replacement a couple of years ago, I was bemoaning not having finished a first draft before going in the hospital. My plan had been to 'let it sit' while I pushed recovery. No way could I take a computer (or even a 200-page draft) to the hospital.

Light bulb time. I could send the draft to my Kindle, which I did plan to take. The draft would appear on my phone, too, because I had the Kindle app. How to do this, you ask?

Some basic info -- you may know it, or may not. At, scroll to the bottom of the page, and look for Manage Content and Devices. Click on it.
You will usually see the content screen -- a list of every item downloaded from Amazon. You can sort it by most recent, by title, or author. (Sorry for the small image, but at least it gives a sense of what the screen will look like.)

Near the left it says 'Show' and in a drop-down menu it will say 'Books,' which is the image you see here. Click on that drop-down and change it to 'Documents.' Since you probably haven't sent any, there may not be a list.

First Steps in Adding Documents

1) You will email a document (Word, pdf, rtf, jpg, for example) to the Kindle, but it has to be sent from an email address you have designated. Otherwise, you could get spam email later. The email associated with your Kindle account is already designated. If you want to get files from friends or another email of your own, do the following:

  a) At Manage Content and Devices, click on Settings (top right).
  b) Scroll down to Personal Document Settings. The third item under it is Approved Personal Email List. This shows the emails you've said can send you documents.
  c) To add an email, click on Add a New Approved Email Address.
  d) After you add the address, the "Add Address" button will be highlighted. Click it and you're done.

2 ) Everyone has a 'free Kindle' address. In fact, you have one for any device you have registered to receive Kindle books -- Kindles, Nooks, personal computers, phones. Nook you say? You can put the Kindle App on any device that lets you add Apps.

  a) Back at 'Manage Content and Devices,' in the middle of the page is the word 'devices.' Click on it. (The same list is also at Settings/Personal Document Settings.)

You should see a list in the order in which you added devices - Kindles, phones, PCs, etc. My list starts with Elaine's 2nd Kindle, since I broke my first one within a week. Amazon has named these (at least in my case), and the titles are pretty basic. Elaine's Android Device, Elaine's Kindle Fire.

  b) Click in the drop down box next to a device name, and a larger box appears. It has your device serial number and an email address associated with the device -- ending with Amazon also designated these email addresses.

Voila -- you have the address to send files (PDF, some word processing formats, jpeg) to your Kindle or phone. If you want to see your draft book and its cover, send the cover's jpeg file separately. If you have multiple devices, make sure you use the correct email address.

If you have not added the Kindle App to phone (or whatever), Google "download Kindle App" and you'll find a link.

Add Documents to a Kindle or Phone

1) Save your book (or course outline or speech) as a Word or PDF file. I strongly suggest Word, so you can make notes in the document as you read it.

2) Open your email program, and in the 'send' line put the Kindle address.

3) Attach the document to the email. Don't bother writing yourself a note. The content of the email does not come through, only the attachment.

4) Send the email. It generally gets to the Kindle pretty fast.

5) Make sure you have a Wi Fi or other Internet connection. (The documents usually download automatically. If they aren't there, wait a couple of minutes when you are in the Kindle App and it should appear. If it does not, go back to Manage Content and Devices and make sure you sent it to the device you are using.)

**** You need a connection. If you are going camping, download before you leave, or at a WiFi hot spot.

6) Go to your Kindle. (Other devices in step 6a.) Across the top of your screen is a ribbon that says things like books, web, and documents. Click on documents. The list usually has most recent items first. Documents will appear as a white item with text only

6a) On the device to which you emailed the document (your phone, for example), open the Kindle App. On my Android phone, a list of books and documents appears. Your new file should be one of the first things you see. It will appear as a white item with text only -- no book cover. (Note: Not all non-Kindle devices may operate the same way. If you don't see your file, make sure books and documents are not in separate places on the App.)

Can You Edit the Document? 

You can add highlights and make notes. When I read a draft, I sometimes just highlight a typo. It will be obvious when I see it again.

How do you add a highlight or note? Put your finger or stylus over the word (or words) that interest you.

A box appears. It has different highlight colors, or you can add a note. Click on note and rewrite the text. I don't usually write the new sentence. I tell myself "fix verb," or "overused word." Whatever.

You can of course buy word processing apps. I would never do that because I do my own formatting for Kindles, Nooks, etc. Changing devices can add heartache when you try to create a clean copy to upload later.

If you don't want to add notes in the document, you can make notes on a pad. When I have an early draft I often do that. Just add a couple of words from the text so that when you go back to the Word file you can search for those words and find the spot you want to change.

The Biggest Advantage

You always have a draft to read if you end up in a long line at the grocery store or stuck in traffic. I've also sent to-do lists, lists of kids' sizes if I'm buying holiday or birthday presents, recipes (if I'm traveling and don't want to carry paper), and more.

Items can be removed. If you send information you need temporarily or don't want to share with anyone who opens your Kindle (like a list of medicines) you can delete it. Go back to Manage Content and Devices, click on the box next to the document name, and click delete.

Important to me, I don't have to carry a heavy laptop or 200-page paper draft. Think of the trees saved, to say nothing of your back.
                                                  *     *     *     *     *
Check out Elaine Orr's web page, or her online classes, or sign up for her newsletter

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Managing Time to Write

I have a confession to make. I would get a lot more written if I were more methodical in the time of day that I write. I do work on fiction most days. If I'm not writing, I'm thinking about it. That counts as work.

What I don't do is get up, make a cup of coffee, and write. No distractions, just get that 2,000 words in before 9 AM.

I have excuses. We don't have expanded cable, so the only time I can watch the news is 7 AM or 5:30 PM (in the Midwest). So what? Will the world change if I don't watch? It was so easy when I had a small TV with a VCR in it. I have no idea how to use recording capability within the cable system. Probably means I don't have the capability.

I budgeted my time better when I had a day job. In a leadership course long ago, the teacher said, "If you think you manage time better when you have a deadline to meet, it simply means you don't manage your work well the rest of the time."

Bottom line, I need to carve more regular writing time. I can create blocks of time. Others have to write in chunks, which is a bigger challenge. Authors do it. This is from John Grisham’s bio: 

Getting up at 5 AM every day to get in several hours of writing time before heading off to work, Grisham spent three years on A Time to Kill and finished it in 1987. Initially rejected by many publishers, it was eventually bought by Wynwood Press, who gave it a modest 5,000 copy printing and published it in June 1988. 

That might have put an end to Grisham’s hobby. However, he had already begun his next book [The Firm], and it would quickly turn that hobby into a new full-time career—and spark one of publishing’s greatest success stories.

Hmm. 5 AM.  Lately I've started waking up about then. I consider it a curse. I wonder if it would do any good to put the coffee maker next to my bed, and have it primed to drip?

Psychologists say a person is more likely to keep a resolution if they tell people about it. Here goes: I am going to begin writing within one hour of getting up each morning.

If anyone else is considering changing their writing time (or working it into an already-busy schedule), here are a couple of good blog posts I found.

How to Find Time to Write, by Melissa Tydell 

Finding the Time to Write, Linda Rafferty for Writer’s Digest blog
                                                   *     *     *     *     *
Check out Elaine Orr's web page, or her online classes, or sign up for her newsletter

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Can Special Software Help You Write?

Only your determination can get plots and characters on paper. However, software geared to writers may help you organize a book and keep track of who did what to whom.

I use Microsoft Word for all my writing. I don’t usually outline a book, but I will have pages of notes. Generally I make notes by hand and type them. As I type, key points seem to take clearer shape. Even so, there are always ideas that seep out before I write them. Writing software won't help with that, but it could make you more organized, in general.

Several writers I know use Scrivener and like it, especially some of the visual presentations of their work. You can also have the software read your book back to you. Some use it to format their books for online publication. I'm happy with Word for that.

    Amazon has a book on creating an ebook with Scrivener. Another book says it is the ultimate guide for the software. A website called Literature and Latte has a straightforward presentation of the software’s capabilities and (as I write this) a link to a 30-dayfree trial.
    Since I don’t use it, I can’t recommend Scrivener, but the books mentioned give you a way to explore. I bought one of them and found it very helpful in understanding the software.  

To provide more information as I prepared a class, I looked for sites that compare writing software. I found such a comparison on a Writer's Digest page. So many choices! While Scrivener is not on the list, it’s mentioned elsewhere on the site.

As one who wrote reports for years, I liked the organizing components almost better for nonfiction than fiction.

I may try one of these products, but first I need to finish a book. My sense is that introducing new software in the middle of the project probably would just frustrate me.

If you decide to use Scrivener (or any other program), please let me know what you think.
                                                                *  *  *  *  * 
Check out Elaine's web page, or her online classes, or sign up for her newsletter

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Why Write Mystery Series?

I ask myself this question periodically. Mostly, I feel a responsibility to continue the characters, as if they cease to exist if I stop writing them. (Maybe an inflated opinion of my powers?)

The first series (Jolie Gentil) I wrote because I wanted to write about the Jersey shore and thought I could not do it in one book. Of course, the books are about the characters more than the place, but the setting was important to me. I never thought there would be ten books (more coming).

I'm not from Jersey, but I LOVE those towns along the ocean. Most had their size established before the ocean condo craze, so they feel more homey than the Maryland and Delaware towns I've visited much of my life. Several of those exploded in concrete.

At Bonaparte, Iowa 2008 floods
Because I love my adopted home of Iowa, a series there was almost inevitable (River's Edge). It grew from experiences working in several towns along the Des Moines River. The combination of rural life and water living is compelling.

Sadly, what made river towns so captivating were the floods of 2008. People sandbagged for days and still lost so much. And then they shouldered on -- which meant cleaning a lot of mud from basements and tackling mold, among other things. I met so many fantastic people during those summer weeks.

Now, here's the funny part. I wrote "Tip a Hat to Murder" in 2016, intending it to be a stand-alone book set in an Illinois town. I now live in that state, and thought writing about it would make it feel more like home.

Dang, if I didn't really enjoy those characters and want to continue them. So, three series! That's a lot for me to juggle. I've noticed others are far more prolific as series writers, especially for mysteries. I will read anything written by Carolyn Haines -- if you have not read her, do so.

Sometimes I wonder if it's...lazy to want to use the same characters, but I don't think so. They just kind of grab your heart and won't leave.
                                                      *     *     *     *
Check out Elaine's web page, or her online classes, or sign up for her newsletter

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Adding Hearts to the Story Line

One of the things I wrestle with in a cozy series is whether to add a love interest and, if so, when to have the protagonist fall in love with the guy. Or should there be a different love interest every couple of books? While cozies don't feature loose women, single women in their late twenties don't generally marry every man they date.

If there is to be a long-term romance or marriage, when should it occur? If it  happens too soon, does that signal an end to the series? It's certainly killed some TV shows. 

My Jolie Gentil series has a longstanding friendship between Jolie and a former high school pal, Scoobie. The books have progressed very differently than planned. The original series outline had the third book titled "Justice for Scoobie," and Jolie was going to solve his murder! 

Things evolved differently. Partly because I liked Scoobie, and more because readers really liked him. So, I'm working on the tenth book, and Jolie and Scoobie are going to take their relationship to a new level - with a twist, of course. 

"Ground to a Halt" is the eighth book, and Jolie and Scoobie explore thinking differently about each other. Actually, Scoobie has been interested since book one, but he's a smart guy. He knows when to make his move.

The ninth book, novella length, lets family and friends in on a secret, and the one I'm writing lets the world know. I've having fun with the story. It's tentatively titled "The Best Way to Start a New Year," but I don't think the title will stick.
I look forward to letting readers in on Jolie and Scoobie's new path.   
                                                    *     *     *     *
Check out Elaine's web page, or her online classes, or sign up for her newsletter

Monday, February 6, 2017

A Broad-Brush Look at Self-Publishing

     You may dream of working with a major publisher whose editors help turn your draft novel or book of essays into lauded prose. Unless you have written something as powerful as To Kill a Mockingbird, this won’t happen. 

    Your work may be good, but publishers get thousands of manuscripts each day. In addition, most publishers will only accept manuscripts from agents,
and those are difficult to secure.

    Should you try to get an agent if you want to go that route? By all means! While it can be as daunting to find one as a publisher, if you’ve written a good book and know how to present yourself well, it’s possible.
      I don’t point out these challenges to discourage you, rather, to inspire you to take charge of getting your high-quality material to readers yourself. 
     Good writing and working with an editor are always essential, but today it’s possible to publish a book yourself, at no cost. You work with online ebook sales points (such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble) or on-demand printers (such as Create Space and Ingram Spark).   
    If your reaction is to say you don’t want to learn the how-to steps of publishing yourself, that’s okay. If there is not a fellow author or friend to assist in this fairly straightforward process, you can hire someone to help.

A quick look on Twitter or other social media platforms will reveal hundreds of people who provide these services for modest fees. It does not take special skills, just the ability to follow instructions to format books.
    Though there is no guarantee you can make money with your self-published books, it is possible. You probably want a sense of income possibilities before you spend time writing and getting a book to readers.
    Amazon pays a 70% royalty for ebooks priced from 2.99 to 9.99. For a 2.99 book, that’s $2.06 per sale. Amazon pays 35% royalty for books priced less than 2.99 and those priced more than $9.99. For a 99 cent book, you make 34 cents. Amazon charges a small delivery fee, which is why the 70/35% royalties are not exactly that.

   Barnes and Noble pays $1.94 for a book priced at $2.99, and Smashwords pays $2.46 for books sold at their site.

   Smashwords sends books to almost twenty other places, including the site from which libraries buy ebooks (Overdrive). You make less when Smashwords serves as the go-between (it’s called an aggregator), but who wants to load books to all those websites?

   Income from paperbacks can be less per unit, unless you charge a high price for your books. However, since it costs you nothing to publish a paperback, it makes sense to produce them. If you don’t, what will you show your friends? How will you do a book signing? Oh boy, book signings!
    I do my books in regular size type and large print, generally using Create Space, an Amazon company. I use Ingram Spark some, but they charge fees.

   Bottom line, if you work with a publisher you probably make $1 or $2 per book or less, so you have nothing to lose by trying it yourself.

   If you have not written your book and are thinking about publishing or marketing, push aside those thoughts. Nothing gets to readers until you write regularly (which could be an hour per week) and are willing to revise to make your writing better.

   You only get one chance to make a first impression, so make it a good one.
                                *      *     *     *     *

Check out Elaine's web page, or her online classes, or sign up for her newsletter