How to be a Great Speaker

At the March meeting of Mystery Writers of America Florida Chapter, bestselling author Joanna Campbell Slan spoke for an hour on how to be a great speaker. Her talk was riveting and the perfect example of what she was saying. She should know. Joanna has been named by Sharing Ideas magazine as “one of the top 25 motivational speakers in the world.” Her personal essays have appeared in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, and one was made into a television program on the Pax Network. So here are her tips:

JoannaSlan2Tailor your introduction to meet the needs of the audience. What connection do you have with this group? Praise them for their work. What have they done that makes your life better? Practice out loud. It gives you muscle memory.

Before you speak, listen to group dynamics to learn what’s going on. This will also predispose people to like you. When addressing the group, “Charm their socks off.” When you reference people you’ve met who are in the group, you close the gap with the crowd. “It was great to sit with Mary today.” Listeners want a connection.

The group wants to learn about you as a person. What can they gain from hearing about your experiences?

Mention the importance of a signed book, how it might inspire a younger person to read or to write stories someday. If your readers aren’t in the audience, instill good will so the listeners want to take home a piece of you or give your book to someone who loves to read. A physical book can be kept as a souvenir or passed on.

Anything you can do wrong has already happened to someone more important. The audience is rooting for you to succeed. Nobody expects perfection, but they don’t want you to waste their time either. What can you do that benefits them? Regarding handouts, people often keep them for years.

Prepare your introduction. Prepare a testimonial that relates to your expertise. Find someone in the audience who can back up your claims. Prepare something fun, like putting sticky notes under a chair so someone wins a prize.

Catalog your personal anecdotes and practice them. You shouldn’t be the hero of your own story all the time, i.e. “I did this and everyone loved me.”

Get the audience engaged by asking them a question. Perform an activity, like asking them to speak to a neighbor or write something down on an index card. End your talk with a call to action, i.e. sign up for your newsletter. Hand around a slip of paper and offer a freebie for people who sign up. Or do a special offer: If you buy 5 books, I’ll donate one to your library.”

Now to go practice what Joanna taught us….

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Joanna’s first mystery novel—Paper, Scissors, Death—was an Agatha Award finalist. It features Kiki Lowenstein, a spunky single mom who lives in St. Louis. Joanna’s next series—The Jane Eyre Chronicles—began with Death of a Schoolgirl and continues with the release of Death of a Dowager. Her newest series—the Cara Mia Delgatto Mysteries—is all about second chances. Tear Down and Die and Kicked to the Curb are just the beginning. The college textbook Joanna wrote—Using Stories and Humor: Grab Your Audience—has been praised as an invaluable resource by Benjamin Netanyahu’s speechwriter and has been endorsed by Toastmasters, International. http://www.joanna-campbell-slan.com/

Secret Woods

On Saturday, we heard bestselling author Joanna Campbell Slan give a talk at the monthly meeting of Florida MWA. Joanna gave pointers on how to be a good speaker but the best example was her own talk that kept us fascinated for an entire hour. I hope I can utilize her tips during my forthcoming speaking engagements.

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Sunday found my husband and I at Secret Woods Nature Center for our afternoon walk. We’d been here years ago, and it hasn’t much changed. We walked down various trails, enjoying the natural vegetation, the mangrove swamp, and the view of the New River. From here, we went for ice cream. After all, it was ninety degrees out and we were pretty steamed after that walk.

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Today I finished Facials Can Be Fatal and sent it off to my agent. Yay! Another book in the bag. This one will be Bad Hair Day Mystery #13. It’s always such a relief to send a book on its way. I still have to work on things like back cover copy, promo blurbs, blog topics, and more, but the creative work is done. Those will come under the auspices of marketing.

Here’s a reminder to sign up for my newsletter to hear all my book news, contests, and more: https://nancyjcohen.com/contact-nancy/newsletter/

And speaking of marketing, tomorrow I’m launching the reissue of Murder by Manicure. So reserve the date for my online launch party: March 24, from 2-4pm EDT https://www.facebook.com/NewReleaseParty Guest Authors & Giveaways!

So what’s your favorite nature park to visit?

 

How to Write Short Fiction

How to Write Short Fiction—and Why Your Readers Think You Should!
Joanna Campbell Slan

JSlanAuthorMore and more authors are discovering the power of short fiction to market and promote their work. I’m certainly one of them. Several years ago, I promised my readers that I would write a short story a month in the run-up of the release of my next Kiki Lowenstein mystery book. Folks loved the pieces, my sales benefited, and I learned a lot in the process.

Guidelines for Writing Short Fiction

1. Concentrate on “one.” In my short stories, I typically write about one main character, one big problem, one setting, and one span of time.

2. Set it up fast. When they’re reading a short story, readers want to settle in quickly. Therefore, I try to work the “who, what, when, where and why” into my first paragraph. That gets my readers engaged as we explore the remaining question, “Whodunit?”

3. Craft your opening images so that they both paint a picture and set a mood for the reader. Promise your reader action and conflict from the get-go. Here’s an example: “The snow was busy blanketing our spirea bushes with a gentle white coverlet, while my mother slammed around a pot on the stove. At thirteen, I’m too old for hot chocolate, but my younger sisters, Eve and Edith, love it. Mom’s usually even-tempered when she cooks, but on this particular day, Mitt Romney had decided he wouldn’t make his third run for President. That made Mom mad. Hopping mad.”

4. Grab the reader fast. Your opening sentence should be a real show-stopper. Think of it as a baited hook that you’ll toss out into the ocean. Here’s an example, “If Mitt Romney had done his patriotic duty to our country, my mother wouldn’t be in jail today.”

5. Tell your reader the story, AFTER you tell it to yourself. It’s easy to get locked into a chronological narrative when we’re telling ourselves a story as we write it. As a result, we don’t always tell the most entertaining tale we could. Before you start writing, make a list of the things that must happen in the story and put them in chronological order. Order your information so that it makes the most impact.

6. Use this formula to help you get started: “First (inciting incident) happened to (character) and then that’s how (action started), and so (fill in the blank/more action) until (a conclusion is reached).” Example: “First Mom heard on the news that Romney wasn’t running, and that’s how she discovered that Dad wasn’t really volunteering down at Romney headquarters like he said he was, and so she followed him, and discovered he was having an affair with…a registered Democrat!” Once you encapsulate your entire short story in a sentence, you can charge ahead with confidence.

7. End with a bang! Whenever possible, I like to end my short fiction with a pithy observation or an ironic comment. The reader should feel a sense of (twisted) satisfaction. For example, “If she hadn’t dropped her ‘Mitt Romney for President’ button at the scene of the crime, Mom would have gotten away with murder. As they slapped the handcuffs on her and walked her toward the waiting police car, she yelled back at us, “See? None of this would have happened if we’d elected a good Republican into the White House!”

Do I break these rules? All the time. But I’ve developed my list as a useful template for pointing me in the right direction, even if I do wander off the suggested path.

Is it worth the time and effort? My short stories have proven to be extremely useful for keeping readers engaged between my books. I like to use the short format to expand on my characters, or to write about a situation that doesn’t warrant being explored in a full length book. You can see how this works in my Kiki Lowenstein Short Story Anthology #2. It’s only 99 cents. In particular, you might want look at the reader reviews about that particular anthology. Their comments have encouraged me to keep offering fiction in this short format.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned about writing short fiction or any questions you might have.
Joanna

P.S. In case the link doesn’t work, here’s the link to the anthology: http://www.amazon.com/Lowenstein-Anthology-Volume-Scrap-N-Craft-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00BQ2ITVI/ref=pd_sim_kstore_3?ie=UTF8&refRID=1MT1PG8YM2VPBP7MHCEA

About the Author
Joanna Campbell Slan is a national-bestselling and award-winning author of twenty-eight books, including three mystery series. Her newest book—Shotgun, Wedding, Bells—is now available for pre-order on Amazon. When you buy Shotgun, Wedding, Bells (Release date Feb. 14, 2015), you automatically get Tear Down and Die (Book #1 in the Cara Mia Delgatto Mystery Series/86 five-star reviews) absolutely FREE. Here’s that link: http://www.amazon.com/Shotgun-Wedding-Lowenstein-Scrap-N-Craft-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00SURBH7A/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1423518318&sr=1-1&keywords=Kiki+Lowenstein

Book Blurb for Shotgun, Wedding, Bells   Shotgun Wedding Bells cover
A very pregnant Kiki Lowenstein and her fiancé Detective Chad Detweiler are trying to race the stork to the altar. But their vows are interrupted by a shoot-out. With the help of her nanny, Bronwyn Macavity, Kiki vows to track down the man who ruined her wedding and put her family at risk. Even a big belly bump won’t stop this intrepid amateur sleuth! http://www.amazon.com/Shotgun-Wedding-Lowenstein-Scrap-N-Craft-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00SURBH7A/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1423518318&sr=1-1&keywords=Kiki+Lowenstein

Where to find Joanna
Joanna shares excerpts, tips and craft tutorials on her Blog: http://www.joannaslan.blogspot.com
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/joannaslan
Facebook: http://www.Facebook.com/JoannaSlan
Website: http://www.joannaslan.com

Get a FREE e-book from Joanna
For a free sample of Joanna’s work, send an email to her assistant, Sally Lippert at SALFL27@att.net and request your copy of Ink, Red, Dead (Book #3 in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series).

 

What is the Best Publishing Path?

“What is the Best Publishing Path?” with Marty Ambrose, Doug Giacobbe, Julie Compton and moderator Joanna Campbell Slan at SleuthFest 2014.

We continue with my recap of panels and workshops at SleuthFest. These are my interpretations and notes, and any misstatement is my error. Photos are viewable from my Facebook Page. Like my page, then click on Photos, Albums, and SleuthFest 2014.

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Julie said, “What you think you want before you get published is different from what you realize you want after you get published.” What she really wants now is for readers to read her book whichever way she can get it out there.

Regarding self-publishing, Doug said that you have to get involved. “Get out there and push it. It takes a commitment to make things work. You’ve got to take the time to work it.”

Marty suggested you get an agent at the conference if you want to go the traditional route.

Regarding agents, Julie said to find someone who is forward-thinking and who will support you if you decide to self-publish.

“The whole game has changed in regard to agents,” Joanna advised. “This is your career and your book, and you need to be in the driver’s seat. Be wary of giving away your rights to gain a publisher, or it might come back and hit you in the face.”

Ask yourself why you want to publish your own work. Is it because your manuscript has been rejected? If so, you need to hire an editor.

Joanna mentioned that you might need three types of editors. First there is the concept or story editor, followed by a copy editor, and then a galley proofreader.

Doug cautioned that if you have a book, don’t just slap it up on Amazon. If you’re going to do it right, it takes time and commitment, and it will cost you.

Marty suggested you examine what it is about writing that you absolutely love. You can get caught up in the marketing, so go back to basics and rediscover what you love about storytelling. Regarding marketing, she takes the grassroots approach into colleges, the community, and women’s clubs where she collects names for her mailing list. She also does online marketing.

“It’s a business,” Julie said. “You are not just writing now. You need to take the time to learn the craft and business of writing. One of the advantages of self-publishing is that your book is available quicker.”

No matter which route you go, you’re going to have to learn marketing because you’ll do it either way.

Suggested blogs to follow: The Passive Guy, Jane Friedman, Hugh Howey, and Joe Konrath.

“Why Write a Series?” at SleuthFest

We continue with my recap of panels and workshops at SleuthFest. These are my interpretations and notes, and any misstatement is my error. Photos are viewable from my Facebook Page. Go there, Like my page, then click on Photos. Next click on Albums and then SleuthFest 2014.

“Seriously Series” with Joanna Campbell Slan at SleuthFest 2014

In choosing what to read, knowing a book is part of a series might convince you to buy it since there’s a certain degree of success involved. If you really love a book, you’re also happy to know there are more to come in a series. So readers gravitate to series for many reasons. “The richer the world you create, the richer the experience for your readers.”

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What returns readers to a series? It feels like you’re revisiting an old friend. This offers a sense of comfort. Plus you know what you’re getting. Familiarity is at the heart of a series. Characters, setting, and occupation may be recurrent.

“You create a universe and populate it.” Do a street chart and a floor plan. Sensory details make the story rich for readers. Have a timeline for your characters. Determine the timing between stories, character ages, grades, and birthdays. “The best part of being an author is when readers believe your characters are real.”

Keep track of places as you write. If you have a fake town, get a map of a real town and change the names. Use it as a model for your town. In your story bible, put a snippet of background on each character, locations, stores in the town, along with stylistic notes such as the chapter heading. Include a style sheet for grammar and special items, such as how to put in craft instructions or recipes. This story bible may also include social issues, time of year, and more.

“Novels are about people. You don’t have a novel about scrapbooking. You have a novel about a character who does scrapbooking.”

If you have a scene that doesn’t go anywhere in a long novel, consider writing a short story. Short stories are also good for side issues, like pre-wedding details or for exploring secondary characters.

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Poll your readers and ask what character they would like to see more prominent in your next story.

“Every strength overused is a weakness” in your character. Try to give each person a personal problem to overcome. What are they trying to work out? What are they worrying about? Make the characters different ages because then they’ll have different issues. Everybody has angst. Every now and then, your character’s mask should slip so the reader gets a glimpse of what’s there.

End every book with a cliffhanger. Solve the mystery in this story but start a new one. Ask yourself, what seed can I plant now that will bear fruit in a future book?

“The first line sells that particular title; the last line sells the next book.”

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Joanna is the author of the Kiki Lowenstein mystery series and the Jane Eyre Chronicles.

Creating Vibrant Characters

This past weekend, guest speaker Joanna Campbell Slan told us how to create vibrant characters. First she mentioned four personality styles. Dialogue should reflect if the person is a tell versus an ask kind of guy. This sounds like me and my husband. He is ALWAYS asking questions. He’ll say, “Why is that man cutting his grass so early?” I’ll say, “I wonder why he’s cutting his grass so early.” See the difference?   Joanna Slan

Which comes first, character or plot? Start by developing your characters. Give them conflicts, differing viewpoints and reactions. Problems between them will create tension. Remember that if any strength is overused, it becomes a weakness. An example is the character who will get the job done, but at any cost. Or it can be the person who follows rules no matter what happens.

Give each person a habit and a telling detail that helps identify him. Also, pair a physical description with an emotional one for each character.

Have your characters work toward a goal. The four personality types will react differently. One group may ask numerous questions and want to know the rules. Another group may spend time getting organized and elect someone to take notes. Group three might just play around and have fun. And group four will be the ones who take charge and accomplish the task.

Joanna offered a lot more tips in this valuable workshop. This only touches the tip of the iceberg on what she covered. But keeping just these few bits of advice in mind is helpful.

Outside the Box Marketing

How can you raise your readership and increase your book sales? Today at the MWA-FL Chapter meeting, Joanna Campbell Slan spoke on Promoting Outside of the Box. Joanna is the author of three mystery series, including the Kiki Lowenstein books and her newest Jane Eyre mystery, Death of a Schoolgirl. Joanna offered tips on increasing visibility online as she explained what works for her. Here are some ideas I gleaned from her excellent presentation:

End each book with a hook. You’ll want your story to have a satisfactory ending, but include an element that will make the reader anxious for the sequel.

In between your regular releases, offer short stories or novellas in digital formats and for a low price. Relate the titles clearly to your series.

Include a list of titles in series order in your works whenever possible. Also add links to all your social networking sites, plus consider links to other sites relating to your story.

If you are self-publishing, ask for Beta readers on your Facebook page. Request that these people do not share the file and that they consider putting a review on Amazon when the book is available online.

Give readers suggestions on how to help when you answer their fan mail, i.e. “Please share with your friends” or “This book would make a great gift.”

Five star reviews on Amazon help readers who search for these ratings to find your books. Encourage your fans to spread the word and contribute to positive customer reviews.

Create an account on Pinterest and put up your book covers there.

When you do posts on Facebook, start the update with a headliner type line or an intriguing sentence that will catch attention.

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These are all great suggestions. Now if only I had a clone to implement them! Thanks, Joanna, for a great session.

Pardon Me, But I Misspoke (Or Miswrote)

Pardon Me, But I Misspoke (Or Miswrote…Whatever!)

By Joanna Campbell Slan

“In cases of legitimate rape…”      JSlanBook

By now, you’re probably sick of hearing that phrase by Todd Akin, the State Representative from Missouri who’s running for Senator. As many commentators observed, “Exactly what constitutes ‘legitimate’ rape? How does that differ from any other kind of rape?”

Just one little misbegotten adjective and kaboom! A career goes up in smoke. It can hardly seem fair. But it happens. At the very least, a misplaced word or phrase can both misleading and occasionally hilarious. For example, there’s the classic: “The girl jumped into the swimming pool with the red hair.”

I’ve never seen a swimming pool with red hair. Have you?

Or the sign on the bus in Decatur, Illinois. The letter “L” had fallen off the sign and wasn’t replaced. Riders in that city availed themselves of the “Decatur Pubic Transit System.”

Those of us who write for a living are not impervious to silly mistakes. In fact, the sheer number of words we plop down practically guarantees we’ll create more than our share of guffaws.

One author friend complained about her new editor. “That woman is driving me nuts! She keeps circling what she calls ‘redundancies.’ When I wrote, ‘She clapped her hands,’ that stupid editor said, ‘What else would she clap?’”

Frankly, I think the editor had a point. Unless you’re penning a book about Flipper, the trained porpoise, your protagonist can only clap her hands, so why mention her appendages at all?

On occasion, dear Brutus, the fault actually starts with our fingers. The fourth and pink fingers are notoriously weaker than their counterparts. The position of frequently used letters on the keyboard can confound even the most seasoned writer. Here’s a list of words often misspelled as a result of ergonomic challenges: http://www.mit.edu/~jcb/Dvorak/demons.html All I can say is, thank goodness for the self-correcting function. Otherwise, I would be stuck with “t-e-h” rather than “t-h-e.”

Sometimes we commit mental slip ups. I recently inserted the word “intact” while referencing an “intake” form. I also confess to writing “meddle” instead of “mettle,” as in “testing one’s mettle.” (Boy, is my face red as I admit that!)

Since I’m from the South, I also fall victim to “Southernisms,” phrases I’ve misheard or misunderstood since childhood. Thus, “widder woman” is a mispronunciation of the redundancy “widow woman.” And “conniption fit” is another doubly unnecessary phrase, because anyone who has a “conniption” has by definition had a “fit.” Whereas the oft lamented “a hard row to tow” was actually not what it seemed at all! What people intended to say was, “A hard row to hoe.” Who knew?

Beyond all these goofs, there lurks another type of problem: woeful ignorance. No matter how hard you work to perfect your writing, mistakes will happen. Especially when there’s research involved. Let’s face it, you can’t know what you don’t know! That explains why I erred by putting a “mockingbird” in England while writing my new book, Death of a Schoolgirl. You see, I lived in England for a year and I could have sworn on a stack of Bibles that while I was there I had heard the song of a mockingbird. Turns out, I must have been wrong.

After a sharp-eyed reader spotted my mistake, I confessed my error to a friend. She winked at me and said, “Oh, no, Joanna. I’m sure you were right. It must have been one of those rare imported American birds, don’t you think?”

Hmm. I bet it was. In fact, I’m sure of it!

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DEATH OF A SCHOOLGIRL  (The Jane Eyre Chronicles)

Jane can’t help but fret when a letter arrives from Adèle Varens—Rochester’s ward, currently at boarding school—warning that the girl’s life is in jeopardy. Although it means leaving her young son and invalid husband, and despite never having been to a city of any size, Jane feels strongly compelled to go to London to ensure Adèle’s safety. But almost from the beginning, Jane’s travels don’t go as planned—she is knocked about and robbed, and no one believes that the plain, unassuming Jane could indeed be the wife of a gentleman; even the school superintendent takes her for an errant new teacher. But most shocking to Jane is the discovery that Adèle’s schoolmate has recently passed away under very suspicious circumstances, yet no one appears overly concerned. Taking advantage of the situation, Jane decides to pose as the missing instructor—and soon uncovers several unsavory secrets, which may very well make her the killer’s next target…

BUY at Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/ckgs2cn or Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/death-of-a-schoolgirl-joanna-campbell-slan/1104878528?ean=9780425247747

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Joanna Campbell SlanJoanna Campbell Slan is the author of more than twenty books. (Maybe. She’s worse at counting than she is at identifying birds.) Her most recent work—Death of a Schoolgirl—features Jane Eyre as an amateur detective. Visit Joanna at http://www.JoannaSlan.com or on Facebook http://tinyurl.com/JCSlan