E-mails still call for professionalism

In this day and age of social media, all too often everyone is very casual. You see it in tweets, texts and Facebook posts. LOL! OMG! And all other sorts of shorthand. (And don’t even get me started on the pictures with improperly spelled words or incorrect grammar.)

Email_button1But one of the most common forms of written business communication is e-mail. And all authors should learn how to write a professional e-mail. This is not an e-mail message to your mom or brother or your honey. This is a message to another business or professional.

This topic came about through a discussion with my husband. He hired a young 19-year-old woman to be his receptionist/legal secretary. She readily admitted that she doesn’t know how to send a professionally written e-mail. I blame a lot of that on people no longer writing letters. Many of the elements of a business letter should still be in an e-mail.

I receive quite a few e-mails from other authors wanting to be on my blog to publicize their novels. Many times those e-mails leave a lot to be desired. So I am writing this for all the authors who correspond with other professionals – cover designers, editors, agents, and other authors.

Opening

Start with a salutation. “Hello Susan,” or “Greetings Ms. Noble,” or perhaps even go for the more formal “Dear Mr. Miller.”  For some professionals, a simple “Hi” is too informal. Knowing your audience is the key.

Body

The body of the e-mail will depend on why you are writing. If it is the continuation of a series of e-mails it could be something like, “Please find attached the documents you requested.” Or if you are sending out a query email, “I am fantasy author and am looking for a cover artist. I received your name from Sally Jenkins after you designed her latest book cover.”

Get to the point of your e-mail as quickly as possible. Your main point should be in the first few sentences or if possible the very first sentence.

Closing

Before you sign off, be sure to include a sentence that encourages them to reply with questions or comments. Just because you know what you are trying to convey doesn’t mean it will always come across that way to others.

“Please let me know if you have any questions.” Or “Please let me know if you need any changes to the attached document.”

Also, it is polite to thank your reader for their time. You can add, “Thank you for considering me for your blog.” Or “I look forward to hearing from you.”

End with your name, position, and a way to contact you. I am fine with a thank you before the name but you can end with “Best,” “Sincerely,” or any number of closing lines.

E-mail Writing Tips

  • Double check your spelling and punctuation.
  • Don’t type in all CAPS as this is considered shouting. And don’t write in all lower-case letters either.
  • Don’t use the text/social media abbreviations and acronyms.
  • Be brief.
  • Reply promptly to serious messages. If you need more time before sending a detailed reply at least send a message that their e-mail was received and read.
  • Don’t write when you are annoyed or angry.

Sample

Email-Messages

Tips for dealing with criticism about your novel

criticism2It never fails. Whenever my husband reads a draft of my novel, he has comments and questions. And somehow in our discussion (either while he is explaining what he doesn’t understand, or I am questioning him to better understand his point of view) our communication breaks down. One of us gets defensive…and I will admit that often that is me.

After thinking about it…I have decided that part of the reason is that I take his comments as criticism of my writing. He doesn’t understand a plot point or can’t see the scene that I can see so clearly in my mind. And often he is correct that I need to make a change because if he doesn’t get it, I can’t expect every other reader to either.

So while the process does improve my novel, it is a bit stressful for both of us. That gave me the idea of writing a blog about accepting criticism, whether it is from a beta reader or a book reviewer.

TIPS for handling critiques

Stay Calm – It is natural to feel defensive but that won’t help the situation. Keep in mind that we can always improve. Take deep breaths and just listen.

Don’t take it personally – Take more deep breaths and remember it isn’t necessarily an attack on you. (Though I know there are some reviews out there that will come across as a direct attack on you. Remember you can’t please everyone.) Someone can criticize your novel without saying you are not a great writer. They may simply see flaws in what you wrote, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect on you overall.

Give yourself time to cool off – I much prefer reading my husband’s comments and then later discussing with him. It gives me time to process what he is saying and reflect on it before we discuss them. But when that doesn’t happen, sometimes I react poorly. I assume he is attacking my skill as a writer. So instead of asking questions or responding, I need to take time to step back and reflect (or cool off). Hopefully, this will allow me a different perspective.

Remember the goal is to improve – Remember that many of these comments can be an opportunity to step back, evaluate your writing and find ways to improve. When you look at criticism this way, you may have an easier time receiving it. Never give up on trying to be a better writer.

Evaluate what is being said – And of course, there are cases where the criticism is unjust or just mean. In this case, any “advice” is not helpful and is best ignored. To help you pose these questions when you receive hurtful criticism.

Were the comments something you can control?

Does the critical person’s opinion really matter to you?

In the case of receiving feedback in the form of a review, it is often tempting to respond, justify or correct the person. DON’T DO IT! No matter what a reviewer says that is negative, do not respond.

criticismWhen dealing with a beta reader, it often is best not to respond to their comments either. Simply evaluate whether their suggestion will improve your book. If it will, then make your changes. If not, ignore their comments and move on.  Don’t give into your temptation to argue. Keep your knee-jerk reaction to yourself and be professional. “That’s a good point. I’ll take it into consideration.”

Remember your goal with beta readers is to improve your novel. (Book reviewers can help you improve your writing on future work.) You cannot improve without constructive criticism. Having something to fix doesn’t mean you are a bad writer or that your book isn’t worth publishing. You don’t have to accept every piece of advice you get but do take the time to evaluate if the suggestion will improve your book or writing.

And last of all, when dealing with criticism. Remember: it isn’t about you; it is about your book. They are not the same.

Tips for writing a prologue (if you even need one)

Where to begin your novel is always a daunting decision. You want to begin with an interesting scene to draw in your reader and set the stage for your story. But sometimes your reader might benefit from more information before they are introduced into the world you have created or so that they may understand the importance of what is happening. This is where a prologue can come into play. But do you really need one? And if you do, how do you decide what to include in the prologue?

Before we begin, lets us start with the basics. What is a prologue?

A prologue is an opening to a story that establishes the setting and gives background details.

Various purposes of the prologue

  • Give background information. For example, in a sci-fi book, it may be useful to introduce the alien world in a prologue so that the reader is not confused when they enter a completely foreign world in the first chapter.
  • Grabs the reader’s attention with a scene from the story. I can think of numerous movies that do this. They start with an exciting scene and then pause to go back and fill in everything that led up to that scene.
  • Describe a scene from the past that is important to the story, such as the death of the main character’s mother, which is motivation for the action in the novel.
  • Give information from a different point of view. If the story is written in first person and the prologue in third, the prologue could give information that the main character would have no way of knowing.
  • It expresses a different point in time. The prologue could be the main character when he or she is older and reflecting back on another event, which begins in Chapter 1. (Think of the opening scenes in the movie Titanic.)

So with all these good reasons for writing a prologue, what is the downside? Well, often prologues are boring. If too much history is put into the prologue, it can turn off readers. And many readers say they skip the prologues so if you include an essential part of the story here, your reader may not get it. But the main reason not to include a prologue is that they are often unnecessary. Many of the purposes of the prologue can be accomplished in the actual novel.

So before writing a prologue, ask yourself, will this fit in Chapter 1? Is this essential to the plot? If the answer is no, skip it.

Now, I wrote prologues for each book in my trilogy. The prologue in Summoned is used to introduce the dragons which don’t appear again until the very end of that book. It also hints to the prophecy (essential to the story) that the dragons know about but the humans don’t. (You can read the prologue and first chapter, here.)

In Quietus, the prologue is part of the journal of the last Elemental (a race of people who controlled the elements) and expands on the prophecy. And since I had done prologues for both Book 1 and 2, I did one for Book 3. The prologue in Destiny doesn’t focus on Lina, the Elemental mentioned in the prophecy, but on how those who control magic set the prophecy in motion.

I think in each case, the prologues add to the story. It contains details that would be hard to add to the story in another way (though if forced to I could have found a way to do it.) If a reader skips the prologues in my trilogy they will not be lost but it does add something to the story.

And so, if you too decide to add a prologue to your novel, here are some things to consider.

  • Keep it short. You don’t want the prologue to drag on for half the book.
  • Keep it interesting. This is the first thing the reader will read so you want to hook them with this passage.
  • Think of the prologue as a separate entity from the novel. Just because the prologue has a hook doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one in your first chapter.
  • Limit background information. I have read prologues that are dull and boring histories which I ended up skimming. You can weave background information into your novel so don’t dump it all here.

Overall the prologue, when done correctly, can enhance your story and further your plot. But when done incorrectly, it can put your readers off so consider carefully before you include a prologue.

 

4 tips to naming your characters

Selecting just the right name for your characters is a challenge for many. It is like naming a child times ten or twenty or even more. Because it isn’t just your protagonist, their sidekicks and the antagonist that needs monikers. It is all the people that populate your make-believe world.

namesOkay so you probably aren’t going to agonize for hours over the pizza deliver guy’s name. Heck, you probably won’t even give him a name (or a back story). But you do need the names of parents, siblings and friends of your main character. Most often it ends up being a long list of characters – major and minor – that need to have a name.

Here are some tips when naming character. (For more information, you can also read my original post on picking the right name for your character.)

1.) Know your character – Especially for your main characters, you need to know them before you can pick out their name. You need to know their age, history and whether they are good or evil (sorry, remember I am a fantasy writer).

Make sure the name fits the culture and time period of your novel (especially true for historical novels). And make sure the name is appropriate for the character’s ethnic background.

2.) Avoid weird or hard to pronounce names or spellings – Shy away from using the cute or unusual spellings for someone’s name unless it plays a role in your novel. Anyone with a hard to pronounce name probably will need a nickname.

And for those fantasy writers, please avoid the temptation to use a random collection of letters and symbols for a character name. Even though your reader probably won’t be reading your story aloud, they will mentally trip over unpronounceable names. You can of course get around this by using a nickname for the character to make it easier for the reader and the other characters.

3.) Avoid names with same sound or are too similar – Stay away from rhyming names (Darla and Karla) as well as a lot of names starting with the same letter (Jen, Jon and Jan). You may also want to avoid names that start with the same letter or same sound – like Phil and Fred. Your best bet is to vary the starting letters and length of names. So Michelle may have a friend named Sara instead of Monique.

4.) Don’t use the name of someone famous – And I am not talking just about popular names that many people may have heard of such as Brad Pitt but also names of people who may be famous in their own field. Just because you have not heard of Dr. Steven Killjoy doesn’t mean that others have and might assume you are writing about their friend or colleague. Your best bet is to Google the names of characters to make sure they aren’t real people.

Places to find names –

  • Baby Naming books or websites (Behind the Name is a good website to check out)
  • Yearbooks
  • Phone books
  • Genealogy records
  • Social Security website (for popular names during other time periods)
  • Film credits (look at the names of crew members for some interesting choices)
  • Try combining two common names to create a new name (Example: Donica can be created from Donna and Veronica)

Wherever you find your character names, just make sure that they fit your character and story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 tips to have a successful blog

A popular platform building method for writers is to host a blog, whether that blog is about their book or a subject related to their book, publishing or writing. But there are thousands of other blogs out there on the same topics. (Well, probably not the topic of your books but there are many blogs about other authors and their books.)

Anyone can start a blog. But building a successful blog take commitment and time. You need the commitment to regularly update your blog just as much as you need to have the time to do write the posts and upload them. And building a following of readers doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. This is why a vast majority of bloggers give up within the first year.

There are plenty of websites out there with tips on how to start a blog or how to be successful. I have taken some to the tips that I found to the most useful to come up with this list.

8 tips to help you create a successful blog

  1. Make a good first impression – Your opening page – and really all of your pages – needs to be appealing and easy to use. You need to balance the text with images so it eye appealing to viewers. Be sure to include an “about you” page as well as a way to contact you. (I get very frustrated to find sites that offer something such as to host a guest blog but you cannot find the way the requirements or even a way to contact them.)
  2. Don’t advertise your blog until you have some posts under your belt – You only have one chance to make a first impression. If people come to your blog and see very little content – say 1 or 2 posts – there will be little incentive to come back. Give them a reason to become a subscriber to your blog. Because of this, I suggest you don’t start advertising your blog until you have at least 5 meaningful posts.
  3. Make it easy to subscribe to your blog – Be sure the link to your RSS feed is easy to find (think top of the page). Subscribers are the lifeblood of your blog so you want it easy for people to subscribe. And don’t forget to offer an e-mail version of your RSS feed.
  4. Leave comments on other blogs in your niche – One sure fire way to get followers is to make intelligent comments on another blogger’s post. By being a contributor to other people’s blogs, you will be building name recognition. But don’t make the mistake of dropping your blog’s name and link in every comment. Prove that you are worthwhile and others will naturally check out your blog.
  5. Put your blog URL in your signature on forums and in your e-mail signature – I know I said not to do this on other blogs, but it never hurts to list your blog’s URL in your signature lineforums (where you are making good, insightful comments) or in your e-mail signature.
  6. Make it easy to share the page – Add Facebook, Twitter and other social media buttons so that readers who like your contact can share it.
  7. Be consistent – If you are going to blog, make sure you post regularly. It doesn’t have to be daily, but I would suggest at least a few times a week. You want people coming back to your site and not having up-to-date information is a sure way to kill your site.
  8. Write quality content – Write information that is useful that people want to click, read and share. The more useful and intriguing your post, the more often it will be shared. And if you write quality information, people will want to keep coming back to your blog. And don’t focus on just the posts. Be sure to write catchy headlines as these are like advertising for your posts. Good titles mean search engines will find you and send more traffic. Useful titles also can entice readers to read your stuff.

So if you are an author and wanting to start a blog to build your platform, go ahead and do it as long as you have the time to commit. And it is easier to maintain an author blog than a blog or website on just one book or one series of books you wrote. Your fans will then only have one place to find you content rather than multiple places to check.

Dealing with childhood anxiety

Our rule-follower, Jase, is also our worrier. When we announced this summer’s vacation would be a cruise, he worried the ship would sink. When we went to a friend’s informal wedding reception, he worried about whether kids his age would be there. I knew our friend’s son would be there but that news didn’t reassure Jase, and he seemed uncomfortable with the gathering as we knew very few people there.

AnxietyIt is events like this or talking about the first day of school or the test he needs to pass to be moved up to the next grade that bring out Jase’s anxiety. He is so worried about what will or could happen or if he will get in trouble for something that his anxiety just builds up.

In the evenings, Jase often talks to my husband when he comes to tuck Jase into bed. It is at these times that Jase becomes worked up about issues almost to the point of hyperventilating.

I broached the topic with our pediatrician in July at Jase’s yearly checkup. Since his anxiety isn’t debilitating, she recommended looking online for tips for dealing with childhood anxiety versus sending him to a therapist or prescribing any type of medication. (A friend who suffers from anxiety has had her daughter on anxiety meds since kindergarten.)

Jase’s anxiety isn’t debilitating – yet. He is often worried about situations but still goes into them. For example, he was worried about meeting a friend’s new stepsisters when he went over to play. I told him that the girls wouldn’t probably be interested in him at all. That didn’t calm him down but once he was there, everything turned out fine. But I hate seeing him work himself up.

So lately, I have spent some time looking online at childhood anxiety.

The symptoms include but are not limited to sadness, feeling lonely, trouble sleeping or concentrating, constant worrying, avoiding social activities, feeling like your mind has gone blank, shortness of breath, pounding heart, stomach ache, headache and diarrhea.

I remember being anxious as a kid. I dreaded the first day of school. My stomach would hurt. I wasn’t then nor am I now great in social situations. I feel shy and awkward. As I have gotten older, it has gotten better.

I see a lot of myself in Jase. I just wish I knew what to tell him to relieve his fears. I don’t often know what to do or say and had hoped the search on the Internet would provide some insight.

Most of the fearful situations they listed for kids – dogs, monsters, death, separation – do not fall in line with the things Jase is anxious about so the tips didn’t always seem to apply. And the tips listed were often logical and nothing I hadn’t already considered.

Here is a synopsis of some of the tips.

  • Recognize the fear is real. Don’t brush it off or belittle the fear.
  • Encourage your child to talk about their fears. If you talk about it, it can become less powerful. (Jase often doesn’t want to talk at all about his fears or concerns.)
  • Don’t cater to fears. Don’t avoid situations that your child is afraid of as this will just reinforce that there is something to fear. (In other words, don’t avoid dogs if your child is afraid of them. Monsters are a whole different thing. Definitely avoid those!)
  • Teach coping strategies. This is where it got tricky to find strategies that fit Jase’s anxiety. They suggest relaxation techniques such as visualization and deep breathing as well as repeating positive statements, such as “I can do this.”

I don’t really know if any of these tips will help Jase. (For additional tips, check out this website.) The other day he came in saying he didn’t want to go to school the next day. It turned out that in science they were doing an experiment that dealt with earthworms. Jase is afraid of them. So we did talk about what he could do such as stand a little farther from the group, offer to be the note taker instead of handling the worms, not staring at the worms and taking deep breaths to relax. He made it through the class so hopefully one of these techniques helped.

If anyone has other suggestions on dealing with childhood anxiety, please feel free to share them in the comment section.

How to stay motivated while writing your novel

No matter how excited you are to be writing, there will probably be a time when motivation lags. Or maybe it will hit when you are revising or editing your work. Knowing that this could happen can make it easier to combat that lack of motivation.

You need to remember that writing is a job. While it can be fun, challenging, and rewarding, it is like any other job. Sometimes it can seem like a chore. Here are some things you can do when the motivation slips.

Take a break

When motivation disappears, you may no longer feel like working on your story. Sometimes this urge to set aside your novel can be a good thing. A break from writing (or editing) can ensure that you return with “fresh eyes.” You’ve been close to the work for such a long time that a little distance can help.

Set a deadline

If you have finished the first draft of your novel, a break may be in order for the reasons stated above. But if you do so, make sure you mark on your calendar when you want to get back to it. You may want a few days off, a week’s break or maybe even a month. But just don’t make it too long, or you may find it too difficult to return to the book at all.

Re-read

When unmotivated to write, I often find it helps to go back and re-read what I have already written. Often that inspires me to keep writing. If you have already finished your first draft, then your next step (after taking a few days/weeks off) is to re-read your work. This is a good time to make a list of things you want to correct. (Don’t forget to congratulate yourself on those things that did go right.)

Woman reading book while lying down uid 1072633Read something else

Though many writers don’t like to be distracted by other books while they are writing, sometimes reading something else can spark your imagination and motivate you to keep working on your own masterpiece.

Break down what you need to do

Wooden hourglass uid 1326634Overwhelmed by revising or editing your novel? Consider breaking it down into smaller manageable steps. Or perhaps use a timer. Set it for 15 to 20 minutes and then get to work. Often you will find that once you are working, you don’t want to stop. But hey, if you do, just take a break and come back to it later.

Write something else

Maybe your creativity is at a standstill, or maybe it is that your motivation to write is just hiding. Whatever the reason, sometimes if you write something else – perhaps last night’s dream or a conversation you had with a friend – it can kick start your motivation. Try some free association or just make your own journal entry. It doesn’t matter as long as you are getting words on to paper.

Whatever method you try, just realize that all authors at one time or another feel a little less motivated to write. The main thing is to keep your goal of publishing a book in mind and work through that lack of motivation.