Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Writer's Alley Weekend Round-Up

Photo by geralt @ pixabay.com
Ahhh...the blessed week of Christmas. It's the week of balancing the rush of last minute Christmas shopping and baking, with the beauty of spending time with family and celebrating the birth of Jesus into the world. It's not always an easy juggle, but in the end, the holiday is a special one and can't be denied.

This week the Alley Cats are sharing  Scenes of Christmas. Whether it is a scene from their current work in progress, a favorite book, or from their own lives, our ladies will be sharing their heart with you in the season of gifting.

May you have a Merry Christmas and remember the love of God in giving you the most precious gift of His son. 

The Awesome Link Round-Up

Library Journal Announces Christian Fiction Awards (Christian Retailing)

Laying Motifs in Your Novel For Powerful Effect (Live Write Thrive)

Surviving Criticism Without Losing Confidence in Your Writing (Positive Writer)

Favorite Digital Media Products in 2014 (Jane Friedman)

10 Essential Quotes on Becoming a Writer (The Write Practice)

How to Schedule Your Holiday Writing Time (Writer UnBoxed)

7 Questions That Will Transform Your Writing in the New Year (The Write Practice)



Friday, December 19, 2014

Am I Attractive?


Okay, so the title here is deliberately provoking, though not entirely misleading.

I’m not referencing appearance, not really, though I suppose that might hold some weight. No, what I’m talking about here is how you come off, what impression do you give? Who are you attracting and why?

Confused? Where to begin… oh yes. The point. We live in a social media age which means our lives, and so many details that years ago would have been private, now simply aren’t. And we have only ourselves (and perhaps Mark Zuckerberg creator of Facebook) to blame.
 
hellogiggles.com
We share anecdotes from our day. We post selfies of our new haircut. We detail what we are preparing for dinner. Shoot, some people even go so far as to pinpoint exactly which restaurant they are eating at, which gym on what street corner they frequent each morning, and even where they are dropping their kids off for school. Some of these things are innocent. Some are not. And we really do need to be careful about not just knowing our audience, but also being conscious of how we present ourselves. I’ve read posts about how to make the most of your social media presence. How to boost your platform. Even social media etiquette which might have some crossover here.


But the bottom line is… your social media pages are like your very own ad space.  

So what are you advertising?

I conducted a little experiment, trying to as objective as possible. I decided to look back over my posts for the past few years and see what kind of impression I could glean from my social media presence. These snippets and snapshots of my life showed an interesting spread of information.

adweek.com
 
On the positive side one would probably observe that I am crazy about my kids. I may have crossed over the line into that annoying proud mama but people seem to respond well to the funny quips from my tots and the sweet lil daily pics of my miracle baby. One might also see from my advertisement that I seem to occasionally read the Bible and post something inspirational in nature. In fact, you could probably timeline it and determine which times in my life I am clinging to scripture and walking through a trial, and which times I am being a lazy Christian riding through my daily routine. And Facebook is actually quite the statistical resource. How many likes, how many comments? I was connecting with people in a mostly positive way and the results were right there in the numbers. Neato!

On the negative, the reason I started Facebooking (I’m sure that has got to be a word now, right?) was for writing. And sadly, the amount of time that I dedicate to that particular subject seems to have dwindled significantly since the arrival of my third child.

So if my purpose is to build a platform, and possibly publish a book someday, what will a publisher think of my page? What will they think of yours? Do you spend your time griping about deadlines? Moaning about all the ways you procrastinated today? How you just don’t have the time? How unmotivated you are?

Or maybe you shared a review, helped promote a friend’s new book, and posted an enthusiastically high word count for the day? Perhaps you were totally stressed but something simple made you stop and smile. Maybe you just found a way to deal with all the world threw at you that day. None of those things are right or wrong.
 
All this rambling is meant to encourage you take a step back and evaluate something that has spun out of control, and not necessarily in a bad way. We can CONNECT with so many people previously beyond our reach! It’s an amazing networking tool. Especially for a writer!!!
BUT remember that every time you post, you are advertising yourself. How do you look? Are you attractive? Do you come across self-involved or vain? Grateful? Excited or grudging? Overwhelmed? And who are you hoping to attract?

Now, I’m not suggesting you misrepresent yourself. Your personality whether sarcastic or timid should be something that shines through. But while I’m preparing for the celebration of Jesus’s birth, pulling back to focus on all the ways God has blessed me this year and all the ways I’ve stumbled through my wonderfully messy life, I turned a critical eye back on myself and took a good long look.

And I had to ask myself…. Am I attractive? Do my words and opinions unite or divide? Am I being a light? Would my spouse like what I’m sharing? Would a potential employer? My friends and family? Is God pleased with who I am showing the world? Is it who I really am?

What about you? Are you brave enough to take an honest look? Try it… In one short sitting, review your social media sites. What does your Facebook page say about you? Can you name one flattering and one un-flattering thing you’ve discovered about your ad space? This might seem like a pointless exercise but it’s actually quite enlightening. Now that’s a selfie you should probably take just for you. :)

 
**************************************************************************************************************
Amy Leigh Simpson is a writer, singer, runner, foodie, coffee-lovin’-chocoholic. When she’s not dreaming up saucy love stories sprinkled with suspense and mystery, she’s chasing around her two adorable tow-headed toddler miscreants (Ahem)—boys, playing dress up with her miracle princess baby, and being the very blessed wife to the coolest, most hunky hero on the planet (sorry, ladies—taken). Though Amy doesn’t use her Sports Medicine degree for anything but patching up daily boo boo’s, she enjoys weaving medical aspects into her writing. Represented by the oh-so-wise and dashing Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary Inc.
 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Facing Guilt


One thing that seems to keep coming up this holiday season in social media circles, conversations--hey, even at the store-- is guilt. Have you ever noticed that the higher the expectations or excitement, the more the feelings of insufficiency seem to grow? One of my new-mother friends posted on Facebook that she is forcing herself to stop looking at Pinterest until after Christmas, because every time she sees pictures of beautiful mantles and perfectly-wrapped gifts under the tree, she finds herself playing the comparison game and realizing she doesn't measure up.

Photo by By Feelart at FreeDitigalPhotos.net
See, the problem with comparisons is we're always comparing our reality to someone else's fantasy. Our brokenness, our imperfections--to someone else's Sunday-best-smiles.

The only person we know intimately enough to truly be honest about strengths and faults is our own selves. So comparing ourselves to others is only robbing us of seeing the beauty of who we are in God.

The thing is, guilt that leads to feelings of worthlessness is not from God. Genuine, helpful guilt grows us-- it leads us to repentance and makes us stronger as we are prompted to better see who we are in Christ. False guilt does the opposite. It keeps us from seeing who we are in Christ, because it weighs us down.

It's amazing how in holiday seasons in particular, the guilt can rush in fast. Maybe you haven't finished your shopping, or you're not feeling crafty enough with your desserts, or your holiday lights are subpar. Stop. Worrying. Over It. Seriously. Instead of beating yourself up all day and all night, remember that God created you with a beauty and a purpose all your own, and He wants to spend time with you this holiday season.

It's difficult to see ourselves as a people who are sought-after, prized by God, when we're so worried over our burnt Christmas cookies that we've convinced ourselves we are failures at life.

And it is oh-so-easy to allow this tendency to slip into our perception of our writing. Maybe you're reading a good book right now and feeling like you'll never write like that. Well, guess what. You won't. Because that author is following God's plan for her writing, and you have an equally unique, equally powerful calling for your own. By worrying about being as good as someone else, we strip ourselves of the ability to see the gifts God has put within us.

I think sometimes we consider ourselves "humble" when we look at ourselves with these guilty eyes. It's a "good job, me-- I'm living in humility" kind of moment. But we've got it all wrong. Why stumble and hobble through the writing life, convincing ourselves of our many faults, when God has called us to leap and dance and run? Confidence has never been the same thing as pride. And false guilt has never led to productivity-- in writing or in our spiritual lives.

So here's to taking a break, slipping on some fuzzy socks, grabbing your Bible, and enjoying a nice cup of hot chocolate today. Who cares if you haven't wrapped all your gifts, finished your word count for the day, or even put your tree up yet? You are loved, precious, and sought after because you are God's. Take a few moments to reframe your perspective today, and I think you'll find your list of perceived failures much shorter than you once thought.

Since I won't get another chance before then, I'd love to wish you all a Merry Christmas! All the Alley Cats appreciate each one of you readers and the time you spend with us on the blog. Enjoy this holiday season!



###


Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How to Grow your Blog Platform: Supercharge your Stats



I still remember the first time I saw the numbers. It was an article entitled "How Big Should a Writer's Platform Be?" by agent and social media expert Amanda Luedeke. She wrote:

"The cold, hard truth is that solid author platforms come in the tens or hundreds of thousands.
If you have a website or blog, your monthly unique visitor count should be at least 30,000.
If you have a Twitter account, your followers should be pushing 5,000.
If you have a Facebook page, your followers should be pushing 5,000."

In his post, "7 ways agents measure social media", Thomas Umstattd ups the ante even further with the statement, "Agents and editors really want to see Facebook pages with 10,000+ fans." 

Wow. I remember looking up from my computer screen, equally intimidated and stirred with an odd kind of excitement. I had no social media following whatsoever at the time, but having those numbers in front of me felt strangely motivating.

Up until then, social media had been a mystery to me, something I had little interest in. But suddenly I felt a new clarity. Those numbers looked near impossible from my vantage point, but they were a goal. Something to shoot for. No more stumbling around blindly, frittering away time on social media and wondering in an abstract sort of way if an editor would give my paltry efforts the nod of approval.

Now I knew. I knew the actual stats that an editor or agent would find impressive in a proposal.

I also knew it must be possible, because those figures came from real people.

Today I'll be giving you a list of actionable tips you can use to supercharge your stats.


1. Incent people to follow you

One of the quickest ways I saw growth in my stats is by using Rafflecopter giveaways - you know the ones where you can get extra entries by following your host on Twitter, Facebook, etcetera? Well, they work. Supercharge your growth by partnering with other bloggers to run a giveaway. Not only are you able to offer a more enticing prize when you pool your resources, but the giveaway gets promoted across a series of other blogs, thus multiplying the total number of entrants and followers. Which leads me to my next point...

2. Partner up
Partnerships are the quickest way to grow. Partner with other bloggers to run link parties and blog hops. If you host a link party with a small group of other bloggers, whoever links up at the party is required to follow each of the hosts. It's a great way of cross-sharing your followers and gaining new ones. You could also agree to feature each other on your blogs, with links to follow on social media - it helps each of you to grow your numbers together.

3. Grow your Twitter following
The most organic way to grow your following is to consistently share great tweets that people retweet. This, however, can take a long time before you get anywhere. If you want to give yourself a starting boost, here's the method I used: follow a set number of people each week (I went for 100) and then use the app JustUnfollow to unfollow those who don't follow you back.

Why should you unfollow? Your ratio of how many people you follow to how many are following you says something to anyone checking out your profile. Like it or not, it gives them an impression of whether you're worth following. If you're following 600 people but only 180 follow you back, most people will assume there's a reason for that, and they'll pass you over too. Of course, there'll be some people you want to follow regardless of whether they return the favour, such as "big-name" authors, celebrities or anyone whose content you take a particular interest in. The app allows you to "whitelist" those people so they don't constantly show up on your non-followers list.

A great place to start is to find a blogger in your niche and then follow their followers. You can just work your way through their list. Although a percentage will never follow you back, many will, and if you're consistent you'll begin to see your numbers rise steadily over time.

3. Pinterest Power
Using Pinterest effectively is a whole blog series in itself. 90% of my blog traffic comes via Pinterest - it's power as a traffic driver can't be overestimated. For today, I'll share my top tip: get yourself on some group boards, and start sharing your content on them. I have 3,000+ followers on Pinterest, which is respectable but nothing earth-shattering, but the combined following on all my group boards exceeds 500,000. That means even with my modest personal following, I can get my content in front of potentially half a million people each time I write a new post. Powerful, huh?

Try looking up the Pinterest profiles of some bloggers in your niche, and if they are on any group boards (distinguished by the little people icon in the top corner), click on the board and take a look at the header blurb. If they're accepting new contributors, they will usually have guidelines here on how you can apply to join - often it's as simple as leaving a comment on a pin or sending the board owner an email.

I hope these tips give you some practical ideas for increasing your follower numbers. I feel like I'm just skimming the surface of many of these, so any questions, feel free to ask in the comments.






Karen Schravemade lives in Australia, where she mothers by day and transforms into a fearless blogger by night. Her popular creative home-making blog, A house full of sunshine, reaches over 150,000 readers a month. She's a Genesis finalist for women's fiction and is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such. Find her on TwitterGoogle+Facebook and Pinterest.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Web Relations the WRITE Way for the New Year!


Publication? Does it elude you? 

Perhaps you've been waiting for months...more likely years.

I'm sure you've noticed our Pepper has an exciting publication story after a wait! 

Even award-winning authors can have challenges breaking back into the market at a time when title acquisition seems to be at an all-time low. 

So what can you do in the meantime? How do you keep on the virtual radar as you wait to hear a "yes" from the quiet agent who has been passing around your story? 

Be intentional about your web presence now. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

-What about blogging?

Karen has a strong presence as a home blogger sharing brilliant ideas for your decor and how to make it cozy.

Mary has a spot on the web where she shares ministry ideas for kids. As a children's writer this site is not only a ministry but also a great springboard.

Casey is passionate about purity and books, those are the things you'll find on her blog. And these are just a few of the writers who call the alley home on the web.

I've chosen not to have a personal blog, but instead have a web presence on several blogs. 

My question to you is what is the best use of your time in terms of blogging? What type of time commitment can you make to blogging? Think about WHERE you are on the WEB and WHY? 

Which pursuits are fruitful to your purpose? Is there anything you should prune back or maybe something you should add?

-What is your writing purpose?

Simply put: Why do you write? And what writing ministry does God want you to pursue? 

I long to write stories that will feed hurting women's souls and be used to help them realize their father's love for them. My heart's cry is for women who are hurting because of life's trials and circumstances to find peace. 

Yes, maybe if I write fiction that sees the light of day that will happen. But right now I can still be used in this way. Through the web we can minister to women AT THIS VERY MOMENT. Don't forget what a gift that is by getting caught up in the future of your story.

So who is it God has put on your heart? What does your heart ache for? That's part of why God gave you a writing gift. A BIG PART.

Do you hurt for unwed and teenage mothers? What about writing for Compass Care newsletter or another similar ministry? 

-What story do you have that needs to be told NOW?

There is an answer today. Perhaps its the email to another mom who is hurting. You know what its like to have a prodigal child. 

Maybe its a handwritten letter this holiday season to a friend who needs to know they are forgiven, not just by you...but by God.

God doesn't ask you to share your stories when you get published, he asks you to share them with the world now. That's why He gave you THIS gift.

Be obedient and tell it!

-Make sure your social media use isn't "me centered."

What's on your facebook page? Are you always looking to self-promote your posts, your ebooks, or perhaps strategically "sharing" with those you view as influential? 

There are a few things I've noticed about other's facebook posts that I appreciate:

1) They contain words from others. 

Not just other authors from their "tribe" but old dead theologians and more importantly God's word which can speak truth that nobody else's ever can.

2) I like posters who don't have "brag" book pages, but have a bit more humility.

The truth is I'm not Martha and I don't really want to read about her either. If you can make a wreath out of your children's toenails or make a fruitcake that isn't best used for a doorstop, OK. Just make sure all your posts aren't designed to put forth an image of yourself for others.

3) That being said, I do love ideas.

If you want to share a recipe and better yet it fits into the colonial setting for your books that seems like a great use for your page. I love Karen's website because she shares these beautiful ideas for the home. I know I don't have the artistic talent in my pinkie that she does, but she mixes these posts with everyday life posts on being an Aussie mum. I think she has the balance just right.

4) Have a sense of humor.

Alley Cat Krista's facebook page is full of her trademark sense of humor. As I read, she never has to tell me to buy her books I want to because I LOVE her voice!

5) Ask questions.

People love to share their opinion. I sure don't know it all and I love when those on the web can tell me what I can make with all the parsnips my neighbor gave me or what's the best destination for a hot dinner date with the hubster. Make your website a bit of a community page where everyone has fun and all opinions matter.

Whether on facebook or the blogosphere, a strategic presence will help you not only navigate the writing road but enjoy it along the way. 



Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also enjoys writing for Library Journal magazine and the blog Wonderfully Woven. 





Monday, December 15, 2014

Make BELIEVE in Once Upon A Time (and your story!)



Who would ever believe that Rumplestiltskin's son and Snow White's daughter have an illegitimate child after Pinochio slacks on his duty to care for said daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, and later on the daughter meets up with other well-known characters like Peter Pan, Jack and the Beanstalk's Giant, the Wicked Witch of the West, Little Red Riding Hood, Robin Hood..and even Elsa from Frozen--all just a car trip away from her loft apartment in Boston??

Eh?




You'd never believe it. And I'd never thought it could be done, until my kids and I started watching the hit T.V. series, Once Upon A Time.

Wowsers, the twists and turns of the series take a fan's breath away and spin them into new levels of believability in almost-ridiculously impossible situations.

Even tonight, during a commercial break an ad came up about the Paddington bear movie, and my twelve year old says, "Oh geez, another movie about talking animals. How un-real." UM...Child-o-Mine was on the edge of his seat waiting for the next twist in Once Upon A Time!!

It is when a writer (novelist and T.V. writer alike) takes their audience like a dog on a leash following every twist and turn without question and wanting more, that the writer has truly accomplished a very grand and successful feat: making the Impossible seem Possible...enough to MAKE the audience BELIEVE the fiction! YIKES!!

I'd like to humbly dissect how they do this. (And I am certain my terminology could be replaced by more sophisticated writerly language). I will also share a bit about how this has helped me in my current novel.

1. Characters worth investing in! The good guys are truly human--with hopes, dreams, motives, flaws, mistakes...you name it, they are someone you want to befriend at times, or slap upside the head at other times. If a character seems to step out of line of their true self, you know the motive behind it and it does not seem "unbelievable" because they have truly been shaped into a person you want to route for....
And the bad guys are truly broken--they aren't all evil...they are products of their environment, situations, or tragedies...and so they, believe it or not, usually become a character worth investing in, too. From ashes comes beauty, right? Well, the complexity of these characters gives you a sense of... believability and very possibly human in the most fairytale sense of the word.

"You have literally seen my heart. You know it's not untouched. You are not all evil and I am not all good. Things are not that simple."--Mary Margaret, Once Upon A Time



What I Have Learned In My WIP: It's not all black and white. Wouldn't it be easy to say that this character is all bad and this one is all good, and the tension is clear cut between them? But that's cookie cutter fairytale world. And let's just say, Once Upon A Time has given fairytale world as we knew it, a pretty two dimensional reputation. I now look at my characters from several facets, AND, I am more willing to take the risk of throwing a wrench in their paths to make them dig deeper in their arc...even if it seems like an impossible task.

2. Intricate Backstory: Once Upon A Time is really a weaving of Historical and Contemporary. The historical mainly unfolds why the characters are the way they are in present day...and how they are connected to the characters who we really would never believe would come together (see my first paragraph). Some authors utilize flashbacks in their stories to help firm up their character's present-day motives or unveil a secret that will affect the rest of the story...but even without actually flashing back in writing, I now realize how important it is to KNOW MY CHARACTER'S PAST! If the past is fuzzy, and their is no solid reason to explain why the character does what they do, why the character knows who they know, or why the character views the world in a certain way, then an author is asking an awful lot of their reader to take the author's word for it and just believe that's who they are.

From FanPop
"Once I saw the man behind the beast. Now there's only a beast."--Belle, Once Upon A Time



How I Have Applied This In My WIP: While I have taken the liberty to weave in some flashback scenes in my novel, I have also used dialogue between my present characters to reveal their past stories. And it is when I have worked out the kinks in their past stories that my eyes as an author have been peeled back to reveal clearer motives and twists in the actual story.
Plot twists become more complex and intriguing when the characters are acting out of deeply-rooted fibers of their being.
And if an author hasn't shown the first growth of that fiber in some way or another, then the twist won't be so much of a page-turner but a book-closer.

Just like this hit T.V. series, I hope to have a "hit" some day too...and I am willing to create those characters worth investing in by developing the backstory needed to give them a present story worth reading...what about you?

********************************************************************************

Angie Dicken is a full-time mom and lives in the Midwest with her Texas Aggie sweetheart. An ACFW member since 2010, she has written five Historical Romance novels, has a Historical underway, and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. Angie also spends her time designing one-sheets, selling Jamberry Nail Wraps, and drinking good coffee with great friends. Check out her author page at www.facebook.com/dicken.angie and her personal blog at angiedicken.blogspot.com 




Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Writer's Alley Weekend Round-Up


Don't you love our Christmas present to you? Cara Putnam as an Alley Cat! What a treat, indeed! We welcome her with open arms and are excited to see what she has in store for us. In the meantime, here's what we have lined up for you this week...


The Weekly Line-Up

Monday - Angie is bringing us Mission Impossible. Come learn about creating great plot twists!

Tuesday - The lower number of book releases each year requires a new way of navigating the ways to grow your online presence. Join Julia for learn how you can strategically grow your online presence in this new market.

Wednesday - Karen is continuing her Grow Your Blog series, with a post entitled Supercharging Your Stats. Don't let this one slip by!

Thursday - Ashley is drumming up something special for you today, so mark your calendars for a powerful post.

Friday - Amy has a special spin on advertising and social media, so don't miss out!


The Awesome Link Round-Up

Why You Need To Do Something Stupid (to Succeed as an Artist)  (Positive Writer)

9 Important Tips for Sometimes Writers (Storyline Blog)

Two Kinds of Scared Writers (and How to Overcome the Fear)  (Positive Writer)

How to Become a Writer (Writer unBoxed)

Why Your Writing Success Demands T2 (squared) (The Write Practice)

How to Write Better: 3 Secrets of Transmitting Naked Emotions (Write to Done)

Even More New Year's Resolutions for Writers (Writer unBoxed)