New writers are always seeking feedback for their novels. Who can they get to read their book and give an honest criticism? They could hire a freelance editor who works with authors or enter a contest that offers judges’ comments. Or they can join a critique circle. It takes hard work and dedication to have a successful critique group for writers.
I met my critique partners through Florida Romance Writers. We’ve been meeting for years. We are friends as well as critique partners, and often we’ll celebrate life’s milestone events together.
The six of us meet every other week and rotate houses. While eating a sumptuous brunch, we discuss publishing news, share personal issues, and encourage each other to keep pushing forward. I could not have achieved my current status without my writing friends. In addition, I have to thank them for being taste testers for many of the recipes in A Bad Hair Day Cookbook due out in November.
After exchanging news, we get down to work. We read each other’s manuscripts silently for fifteen to twenty minutes at a time, passing the pages around the table, until we’ve read everybody. Then we share our comments aloud, focusing on one person at a time. We discuss character development, emotional reactions, dialogue, plotting problems, consistency, and pacing. We may catch typos, point out clichés, and suggest ways to restructure for more impact.
How can you get started with a critique group? Here are ten tips on what to do:
1. Join a professional writers group and put a notice in their newsletter that you’re looking for critique partners in your geographical area.
2. Limit your group to six members or less.
3. Seek people with compatible personalities and similar, or more advanced, writing levels.
4. Determine what you will be looking for in your critiques. You’ll be examining content, not line editing. Consider holding a separate meeting on occasion for brainstorming plot ideas.
5. Decide on a procedure for your group that is agreeable to everyone. Some groups read aloud. Others, like mine, pass pages around the table and read silently. Still others may email chapters ahead of time. It’s up to you how you want to run your show.
6. Offer constructive criticism. If you see the need for change, make suggestions for improvements in a positive manner. Give praise where it’s due. We all like to hear what works as well as what doesn’t work in our stories.
7. Be sociable. Relax, chat about the industry, and enjoy refreshments. This personal time will draw you closer together and enable you to accept advice more readily.
8. Support each other on social media by retweeting and posting whenever a member has an announcement about their success. Learn from each other’s experiences. Recommend your published critique partners whenever a publicity opportunity arises.
9. Be committed. Try to schedule doctor appointments and other engagements on days other than critique group. Arrive on time and take your turn at hosting on a regular rotation basis. Critique will soon become the highlight of your week.
10. Even if you haven’t written anything new, show up at the meeting. Your other partners need your feedback on their work. Making critique a priority means you are serious about being a professional writer.
If you’re lucky enough to join a great critique group, it’s like discovering gold. Treasure your partnerships and make a commitment to attend each meeting. You’ll find the incentive to produce increases as your biweekly meeting approaches. Many thanks to my partners in writing—Alyssa Maxwell, Zelda Benjamin, Karen Kendall, Ellen Marsden, and Tara L. Ames. And to our former members who’ve moved away, Cynthia Thomason and Sharon Hartley.
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I have finished the first draft of EASTER HAIR HUNT, #16 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries!
Yay, the work is done! Or is it? Yes, the creative part is over, the agony and anticipation of facing a blank page every day and wondering if the words will come. It’s a great relief to type THE END, knowing you’ve reached your word count and have completed the story. But your labor is far from finished.
The first thing I suggest doing next is to revise the synopsis. Inevitably the story has gone in a new direction since you wrote the first version. Now you’ll need to bring this tool up to date. Patch in the new information and polish it so the story reads seamlessly from start to finish.
Why is this important? You may need a synopsis as a sales tool. Your publisher may require one. You might need a synopsis, short or long, to enter your book in a writing contest. Or your marketing department may need it for their purposes.
At the same time, you can start working on your story blurb. If you’re with a small publisher, they may ask you to come up with the cover copy. If you are an indie author, you’ll have to create the book descriptions on your own. Even if you hire one of the services available for this purpose, they most likely will require a synopsis as well. If you’ve gotten a head-start on the blurb, these folks can use it as a jumping off point. You’ll want a one-liner tag line, a few sentences for a log line, then a short one-paragraph description and a longer one of two to three paragraphs. Remember to maintain the tone of your story in the blurb.
Several rounds of editing and revisions will follow. I need some distance from a story before I can begin line editing, so I may work on something else until I’m ready. If you’re writing a series, this is a good time to do research or jot notes for the next story. Or work on a marketing plan for your book. Then it’s time for line edits, read-throughs for consistency and to catch repetitions, editorial revisions, and beta readers. A final polish will always find more to fix. So there’s a lot more work before your baby is ready to face the world.
In the meantime, celebrate your achievement. You’ve finished a book. Savor the satisfaction and give your creative mind a break. Enjoy your well-earned glass of champagne, specialty coffee, or raspberry lemonade. You deserve a treat. Indulge yourself and relax with some fun activities. When you’re ready to return to the story, your muse will let you know.
Writers, what do you do after finishing the first draft of your novel?You’ve finished the first draft of your novel. What’s next? #amwriting #writetip Click To Tweet
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Self-Publishing Made Simple – Getting Started
Have you been wanting to indie publish your work, but you don’t know where to begin? Or does the prospective task seem so daunting that it paralyzes you into inaction? Is this even something you can do for yourself, or will you need a “village” to help you along the path to publication?
Let’s think a moment about the difference between a self-published and an independently published author. Anyone can self-publish his work. But an indie author is more likely to be a professional career writer who understands what makes a polished book and what the marketing requirements are to go along with it. He’s not a one-book wonder but is looking to make a profit. With this goal in mind, he treats his career as a small business. But whichever term you use, these same steps apply. I will use them interchangeably in this multi-post series.
We’ll discuss setting up your own imprint, buying and assigning ISBNs, preparing your manuscript, creating front and back material, and options for ebook and print formats.
Getting Started as an Indie Publisher
First let’s look at why you’d like to indie publish your novel. Do you want to become a hybrid author by reissuing your backlist titles or by publishing new works in between your traditionally-contracted books? Perhaps you have a novel that doesn’t fit genre guidelines or a personal project you would prefer to self-publish. Or maybe you have an idea for a nonfiction book that lends itself to indie publishing.
Why should you self-publish your work?
- You have a backlist and the rights reverted
- You want to publish work in between your traditionally-published novels
- You have a book that doesn’t fit into a particular genre category
- You have a nonfiction project that you want to publish on your own
- You want to direct the publishing process, in terms of:
- Quality control
- Pricing and discounts
- Input on cover and interior design
- Higher royalties
- Rights ownership
- Publication schedule
- Learning curve
- Time-consuming tasks
- Production costs
- Back cover copy, book descriptions, metatags are your responsibility
- Author/Series Branding is essential
- Loss of prestige
- Difficulty getting reviews
- Limited booksigning and speaker opportunities
- Tougher standards to join professional writers organizations
- Bookstores and Libraries may not stock your work
- Pressure to Produce
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What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of independent publishing?
When editing your fiction manuscript, one thing you must watch out for are word repetitions. This might be a favorite word you overuse, or it might be a specific word or phrase that you use twice in one paragraph. You want to clean these up so they don’t pull your reader out of the story.
Here are a couple of examples:
Perish by Pedicure
The sergeant smirked, as though he knew all her secrets. “And then?”
“Then she called to tell me about the job opening. I offered to put her up at my house, so we could visit while she was here.”
“So she arrived on…?”
“Friday. I drove directly to the convention hotel so we could check in. That’s when I met Christine Parks for the first time. She brought down the rest of the staff for a preliminary meeting so we could go over the schedule.”
“How was her demeanor on this occasion?”
“Very much in charge.” Chris wore flashy clothes to attract attention, Marla wanted to add, but she bit her lower lip instead.
“Did her behavior seem off-kilter in any manner?”
“Not really, and she appeared to be perfectly healthy,” Marla said, anticipating his next question.
In this passage, note how many times I use the word SO. It is a favorite word of mine in conversation, too. Currently, I’m revising my backlist titles. This book had already been through several rounds of edits at my former publishing house and through my own multiple read-throughs at the time. How come I picked up on this now? Maybe because I’m more aware of this word’s overuse. Whatever the reason, it popped out at me this time.
Easter Hair Hunt (Work in Progress)
“This Fabergé egg belongs in that spot.” Lacey pointed a shaky finger at the case. “Someone must have stolen it and substituted a plastic pink Easter egg in its place.”
Marla saw what she meant. Her stomach sank as she realized the significance.
Somebody had taken the valuable Fabergé egg and substituted a fake one in its place.
A software program that will help you pick up on word repetitions is Smart-Edit. Otherwise, you can do a search and find if you’re aware of your foibles in this regard. If not, a close edit of your manuscript may turn them up.
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Setting goals is critical if you want to get things done. For a writer, making a list of what you want to accomplish each year will put you on the right path. In an earlier blog post, I reviewed my goals for 2018. We discussed what got done and what didn’t. Authors can break down their goals into creative and business oriented tasks.
So now let’s take a look at 2019. This might seem less ambitious than last year, but revising and reissuing my backlist titles is my main goal. That project could take the entire year, because I go through each book to tighten the writing and then do a full read-through once for any further changes and again to check for conversion errors after formatting. It takes time, because I want each book to be the best possible version. So I am not going to set myself too many tasks beyond this one.
Reissue remaining backlist titles (6 romances + 4 mysteries)
Write and publish Easter Hair Hunt, #16 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries
Write and publish a Bad Hair Day recipe book
Enter latest releases in writing contests
Carry on with newsletter, blogs and social media
Update website in terms of hosting and other behind-the-scenes decisions
Bundle books into box sets
Consider wider distribution for audiobooks
Learn how to use various book production tools as new opportunities arise
Learn how to plan and promote book sales after all my backlist titles are under my control
Five years ago, I wrote a list of long-term, five-year goals. I am pleased to say that I am on target with most of these items. Once this year’s goals are met, it will be time for a career reassessment. Only by resetting our overall goals periodically can we gain clarity on the best path to take next.
What is the main item you want to get done this year?
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What should you buy for the writer on your gift list? You can be imaginative or be simple. Whatever you give will be appreciated. I’ve come across some fun ideas below to share with you if you’re in a quandary about what to get the writer in your life. Put these in your holiday gift bags and make someone happy.
Gift cards are always an option, but which ones in particular may appeal to an author? Let’s take a look and start going down the list.
1. A gift card to Amazon or Barnes and Noble or your local independent bookstore.
2. A gift card to Starbucks if they like coffee or tea.
3. A gift card to a favorite restaurant so your writer can save time in meal preparation.
4. A gift certificate to a day spa to reward a long day spent at the keyboard.
5. Office Supplies are always useful, such as sticky notes, highlighters, paper clips, notepads, mailing envelopes. You name it, we can use it. Here are some ideas to jumpstart the imagination:
6. Journals are handy for notes at conferences or for scribbling down our ideas for plot or characters. Go old-fashioned or modern with these choices:
7. Desktop or wall clocks help tell us when we need to get out of the chair and take a break.
8. USB flash drive to store important files, or a portable charging device like this Mophie that’s handy in a power blackout. Or how about a pen/flash drive combo?
9. Coffee, tea, chocolate, and other food items are always welcome. Find out what your writer pal favors for snacks and beverages and make sure there’s a handy supply available.
10. Body lotions, hand cream, and scented soaps are always helpful to induce relaxation.
11. Stylish pens are a well-appreciated gift as are pens for booksignings. We can never have enough.
12. A decorative case for a pen collection may come in handy.
13. Mugs come with cute remarks for writers.
14. Decorative coasters are needed to protect our desk from mugs holding our favorite beverage.
15. Jewelry can make a statement about who we are to the reading public.
16. Inspirational Gifts such as this Storymatic activity box and Writer’s Toolbox.
17. Tee shirts, pillows, or other clothing items for writers.
18. Movies. Look for films about writers or favorite genre films/TV shows.
Lastly, these intangible gifts might be appreciated more than any material goods.
19. Write a review of their latest book and post it online.
20. Give the gift of Time. Take over some chores so your writer can have more time to write.
What else would you add to this list?
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Consider these tasks when you feel brain dead or are too tired to think straight. Here’s a list of jobs for writers when you want to be productive without much mental effort.
• Organize your Internet Bookmarks/Favorites and verify that the links are still active.
• Verify that the links you recommend on your websites are still valid.
• Update mailing lists and remove bounces and unsubscribes.
• Back up your files. Email a copy of your WIP to yourself.
• Go through your online folders and erase old files.
• Delete photographs stored on your computer that you no longer need.
• Convert old file formats to current ones.
• Delete unnecessary messages from your email Inbox and Sent folders.
• Delete old contacts from your address book.
• Unfollow people from Twitter who are no longer following you.
• Sort your Twitter friends into Lists.
• Post reviews of books you’ve read to Goodreads and Amazon.
• Get caught up on listing tax deductible items for your writing expenses.
• Index your blog posts by date and subject so you have a quick reference.
• Read back issues of trade magazines and get caught up reading newsletters.
• Organize your physical book collection.
• Donate books you’ll never read again and don’t want to keep.
• Pare down your digital TBR pile. Are you really going to read all those free downloads?
• Sort through the piles of papers on your desk. Act on them, file them, or throw them out.
• Work on blogs like this one.
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I have several upcoming author events. If you’re in the area, I hope to see you in person at one of these sites.
Saturday, Sept. 23, 4:00 pm, Nancy J. Cohen and Alyssa Maxwell will discuss “Character Growth Throughout a Series.” They’ll sign their new releases, Hair Brained by Nancy J. Cohen and Murder at Chateau sur Mer by Alyssa Maxwell. Refreshments will be served. Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore, 273 NE 2nd Avenue, Delray Beach, FL 33444. Phone: 561-279-7790.
Saturday, Oct. 7, 2:00 pm, “The Indie Experience” panel with Angela Page, Ruth Berge, Elaine Bossik, Joan Cochran, and Nancy J. Cohen as moderator at Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore, 273 NE 2nd Avenue, Delray Beach, FL 33444. Phone: 561-279-7790.
Monday, Oct. 9, 9:30 am, Guest Speaker Nancy J. Cohen, Friends of the Library, Helen B. Hoffman Plantation Library, 501 North Fig Tree Lane, Plantation, FL 33317. Phone: 954-797-2140.
Oct. 19 – 22, Florida Writers Association Conference, Altamonte Springs, Hilton Orlando Altamonte Spring, 350 Northlake Blvd., Altamonte Springs, FL 32701. Phone: 407-830-1985.
Friday, Oct. 20, 9:10 – 10:10 am, Writing the Cozy Mystery with Nancy J. Cohen (Crystal A–B)
Friday, Oct. 20, 2:00 – 3:00 pm, Dredging Up Your Dark Side (Panel – Royal Palm Ballroom)
Saturday, Oct. 21, 9:15 – 10:15 am, Book Promotion on a Budget with Nancy J. Cohen (Crystal D)
Monday, Oct. 30, 6:00 – 8:00 pm, Day-Before Halloween Party and Booksigning. Costumes optional. Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore, 273 NE 2nd Avenue, Delray Beach, FL 33444, Phone: 561-279-7790.
Saturday, Nov. 4, 2:00 pm, “Plotting Made Perfect” with Nancy J. Cohen, Nova Southeastern University, Conference Room 4009 Alvin Sherman Library, 3100 Ray Ferrero Jr. Blvd., Davie, Florida 33314, 954-262-5466 ext. 25466. Advance reservations recommended. http://sherman.library.nova.edu/sites/spotlight/event/plotting-made-perfect-with-nancy-j-cohen/
Please follow along on my Blog Tour for guest posts, author interviews, character guest posts, and giveaways. Comments welcome!
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What is a blog? And how do you start one? This past weekend, I gave a talk to a group of aspiring writers on “The Writer’s Life.” During the Q&A session, one person referred to my section on book marketing. “I don’t understand about blogs. Can you explain more about them?”
So I thought this would be a good time for a review of the principles. I’ve been blogging for over ten years. I regard it as a live journal that includes glimpses into your life such as travels, hobbies, other fun activities or musings on life in general. Plus, as a writer, you can offer tips on writing craft and marketing and share the creative process. So here are some items to consider.
Define Your Purpose.
Are you aiming to build an author platform? Do you want to be recognized as an expert in your field? To engage with readers? Or to have other writers look to you for advice? Ask yourself why you want to start a blog.
Determine Your Goals.
Do you mean to increase book sales? Gain a substantial number of followers? Attract comments on each blog? Receive requests for guest posts? What’s your benchmark of success?
How often do you intend to post? What days of the week are best? What time during the day will more people likely read your post? How long should each post be? Check your analytics as time goes on and make adjustments accordingly.
While you are writing a book, jot down blog topics related to your theme, research, and writing process. These will be useful either to show your story in progress or to provide fodder for blog tours when your new release comes out. Meanwhile, determine how your content can add value to people’s lives. In what way can your personal anecdotes inspire others? Some authors set certain days for specific blog topics. For example, one day they might post recipes. Another day they might bring in a guest blogger. Or perhaps they do author interviews. Excerpts, book reviews, or trivia related to a particular hobby or personal interest might fill in other slots. I like to do conference workshop recaps. Or you can write posts as they come to you.
Acquire a Site.
When you’re ready to start, register at WordPress.com or Blogger for a free site. Or add a blog to your website. Become familiar with the features and start posting.
Link the Blog to Your Social Media Sites.
Not only should visitors be able to tweet and share each particular article, but your posts can be linked to your Twitter and Facebook pages. Check your Settings for how to enable these features or ask your Web designer to add the proper Plug-In.
What Pages Should Your Blog Site Contain?
Keep in mind that visitors to your blog, if separate from your website, might not visit you elsewhere. So consider what Pages you’ll want to have. Here are some suggestions: Welcome or Home Page; About (Bio); Appearances; Book Trailers; Books List (with series books in order); Contact (your email); Giveaways. In the sidebar, you can show your book covers, a Blog Roll with links to other authors’ sites, a Search box, a Subscribe button, Social Networking Icons, and an RSS feed button.
Include Photos in your Posts.
Photos will draw more hits, but be careful of copyright issues. Upload your own photos. Obtain photos at royalty-free sites or at least make sure you provide attribution.
Use tags with keywords and put keywords in your text to drive traffic to your site.
How to Gain Followers
- Post often. Some people set themes, like “Recipe Monday” or “Guest Blogger Wednesday” or “Photo Friday.” Be consistent in your approach and keep your material current.
- Have a clear and catchy headline for each post.
- End your posts with a question to stimulate discussion.
- Don’t use your blog solely to promote your books. You’re building a community of readers who want to get to know you, or else you are establishing yourself as an expert by offering useful material. Share new release info, reviews, and contests sparingly.
- Comment on other people’s blogs.
- Invite guests who have a following.
- Always respond to comments and respect other people’s opinions.
- On occasion, offer a prize drawing from commenters.
- If you get a lot of comments on certain types of posts, steer your blog in that direction. Be responsive to readers. Note what engenders interest and what does not.
- Be careful what you put out there. This is a public post. Avoid politics, religion, and any mention of personal business or issues you don’t want to share.
- Always be respectful of other industry professionals.
- Include links and images in your posts to raise visibility.
Index Your Blog
When your blog is a few years old, you might want to reissue an updated article. Keeping records of the topics, categories, and dates will help you retrieve these files. I suggest you write your blog in Word and save the posts by month and year. It’s imperative to keep your own blogs on your computer so you don’t lose them if there’s an online snafu. Then keep a separate file that’s an index so you can quickly search topics.
Goodreads Giveaway, July 6 – 20
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Booklovers Bench, July 1 – 18
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