Friday, July 31, 2015

Let's Collaborate! *GIVEAWAY* guest Post with Amy Matayo

Last November I attended a writing retreat with a few friends—some I knew well, and some I had just met. The lake home where we stayed was sprawling and beautiful and on lots and lots of land, but the bedroom situation required roommates. I had three: one who lived near me in the great state of Arkansas (Jenny B. Jones—a good friend whom I had known long time), and two who lived in Dallas (Nicole Deese—my “writer wife” who encourages me through every book I write, and Tammy L. Gray—whom I had just had the pleasure of meeting).

            So one afternoon the four of us were all sitting on beds and working quietly when Nicole said this: “We all seem to get along well and like the same kinds of books. What if we all write one together?” We all looked up from our computers, sat there quietly for a second, collectively shrugged and grabbed notebooks, and then headed to the local Starbucks.

            Thirty minutes later we sat around a table with lattes and pens.

            Two hours after that, we had a plot.

            The next morning, we shot a bunch of author photos together by the lake.

            The next week, we talked book covers.

            And a few weeks after that, we traded finished stories, read through them, and then sent them all off to two very gifted editors.

            Six months.

The whole process took six months from the first idea to the publication date. To say it was a busy time is like saying Mt. Everest is kinda hard to climb. But it was worth it. The stressing and the writing and the crying and the wanting to jump off a building (or maybe that was just me?). It was worth all of it, because I love our stories. I love knowing it’s possible to work with other authors, navigate through different ideas and writing styles, and come out challenged and better for it in the end.

But why am I telling you this?

Because a big part of being a writer is learning how to wait. Waiting on story ideas. Waiting on writer’s block to pass. Waiting for the story to come together. Waiting on editors to tell you how good or bad your manuscript actually is. Waiting on query letters to be read and answered. Waiting on offers from agents...from publishers. And when you’re lucky enough to finally get a contract, waiting on publication dates that seem forever on the horizon.

Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. It’s what we all do because it’s what we’re all used to.

But maybe you shouldn’t always wait. Maybe you should shake things up and jump in with both feet and try something you’ve never done before. Don’t have a story idea? Write anyway and see if brilliance will strike while you’re typing. Have writer’s block? Scratch out some sentences—even if they’re awful—and push your way through it.  Not sure where to go next? Grab a friend or three and talk it out together. Who knows? If you try those things, maybe you’ll have a book ready to go in just a few short months. The only thing I know for sure is that nothing much happens if you’re just sitting there waiting for inspiration to strike. Inspiration happens at the weirdest times.

At a writer’s retreat. At a coffee shop. Who knows?

Just get to writing. It’s a pretty good way to pass the time.
-Amy Matayo
STEP 1: Share this post on Facebook to help spread the word about Nicole, Tammy, Amy, and Jenny's fabulous new collaboration! 
STEP 2:  Leave your email address in the comments section here AND if you can think of one, name one of your favorite authors you'd LOVE to collaborate with!
STEP 3: I (Amy Leigh Simpson-your AlleyCat Hostess) will draw three names out of a hat and gift the winners an e-copy of JUST ONE SUMMER! The perfect summer read! If we can get a bunch of traffic here I'll bump it up to FIVE WINNERS. Go forth, spread the word! And please, if you read, make an author's day by leaving a quick review. <3
--Four Best Friends. Four Love Stories. Just One Summer. Four college girls, best friends since childhood, have found one constant in their ever-changing lives--summer. Every June the girls choose a destination to reconnect, only this summer is different. This year, each one must face life's challenges on her own, overcome fear and failure, and learn the beauty of falling in love for the first time. --
Amy Matayo is an award winning author of The Wedding Game, Love Gone Wild, Sway, In Tune With Love, and A Painted Summer. She graduated with barely passing grades from John Brown University with a degree in Journalism. But don't feel sorry for her--she's super proud of that degree and all the ways she hasn't put it to good use.

She laughs often, cries easily, feels deeply, and loves hard. She lives in Arkansas with her husband and four kids and is working on her next novel.
                                       Twitter: @amymatayo            Facebook:
Award-winning, best-selling author Jenny B. Jones writes romance with sass and Southern charm. Woefully indecisive, she writes YA, New Adult, and women’s romance. Since she has very little free time, Jenny believes in spending her spare hours in meaningful, intellectual pursuits, such as watching bad TV, Tweeting deep thoughts to the world, and writing her name in the dust on her furniture. She can be found at
Nicole Deese is a lover of fiction. When she isn’t writing, she can be
found fantasizing about “reading escapes,” which look a lot like kid-free,
laundry-free, and cooking-free vacations. Nicole is a Kindle best-selling author of The Letting Go series and A Cliché Christmas, book one in her new Love In Lenox series. She writes clean contemporary romance with an inspirational twist, and
lives in beautiful north Idaho with her swoony husband and rambunctious sons.
Tammy L. Gray is the kindle best selling author of the Winsor Series and Mercy’s Fight. She writes modern Christian romance and clean YA/NA romance. She believes hope and healing can be found through high quality fiction that inspires and provokes change.
Her books are about flawed characters who struggle in today’s world. She loves writing stories that offer hope to the broken, with the intention of taking the readers on a journey where they both cheer for and want to shake the hero/heroine. She aims to depict culturally relevant settings while presenting an uplifting message that will stay with readers long after the book is closed.
When not chasing after her three amazing kids, Tammy L. Gray can be spotted with her head in a book. Writing has given her a platform to combine her passion with her ministry. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Reframing Your Writing Perspective

I spent the day today picking out a variety of frames at TJ Maxx, then filling them with adorable pictures of my newborn son. It's a work in progress, as I can never get everything quite where I want it... do you have that problem too? I find myself shifting pictures around and putting the frames in all different places in the house. This got me thinking--sometimes we need to take a time out to reframe our writing lives as well.
Photo from by adamr

We've all read the blogs and heard the chatter about the CBA market changing. Maybe your publishing house has recently stopped printing fiction, or you're feeling the pressure of harder-than-ever competition for unpublished writers (can I get an amen?).

Let's get real. It seems that lately all the conversation about the publishing industry--unless you happen to write category romance-- is really quite negative. The number of hopeful writers targeting any given publishing house is on the rise, while the number of available slots for books seems to be ever decreasing. We all know about Family Christian Bookstores and have read the effect the closure of brick and mortar stores is having on the industry. Many of us have had our hopes raised by conferences, only to be later dashed by the realities of how hard it really is for a new writer to break in.

After a while, this process gets discouraging. And if we're not careful, we forget our joy. We forget why we create and imagine in the first place. We forget why we're hopeful, and we forget the magic of writing.

That, friends, is a dangerous place to inhabit.

I want to encourage you--as writers and writers of fiction-- to stop believing that your story doesn't matter. Stop listening to those discouraging voices in your mind that no editor would buy a story that starts in such a unique way, or that the success of your book is all about sales numbers of awards.

Our calling is so. much. more.

Reframe your perspective. 

As Hebrews 12:1 says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."

If you stop running your race, who else will run it? If you stop writing your story, who else will write it? If you don't fight for your readers, how will they ever hear the message God has given you to share?

I get it. I get how hard it is. But creativity makes a hard ministry. We all knew that going in. We as inspirational writers have got to shrug off the victim mentality and realize that if we are called, we are equipped. We do not have to buy into the lie that our stories don't matter.

Maybe it will take you three months to get your first book published. Maybe it will take five years. Maybe it will take fifteen. I am not immune to the struggle of this process. I really thought my favorite story would be published by now. I started writing novels five years ago, and have invested prayers, tears, laughter, hopes, and fears into this ministry. There are days when the dream feels very, very far away.

But the thing is, maybe our stories were never about ourselves to begin with. What if we're called to be stewards rather than owners? What if we reframe the way we look at writing so that we see a ministry that's a gift rather than a failure?

Today, I want to challenge us as writers of Christian fiction to stop bemoaning all the things that aren't going our way, and to stand up for the beauty of our art. If God called you, it matters. Let me say it again. If God called you, it matters. The pieces will come together, even if it's not in the way you expected--and when they do, you'll see an even more beautiful landscape than the one you'd envisioned and grieved. Let's let go of our expectations, friends, and our perceived "rights," and instead, let's learn to write freely.

Let's hear from you! Have you been feeling discouraged lately with all the negative talk about CBA? How do you respond to it and protect your heart for your stories?


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, July 29, 2015

5 Benefits of Accountability Groups

Here at the Alley, we've ganged together to eat healthy and exercise in preparation for ACFW. This conference is the highlight of the year for many of us. This got me to thinking about why accountability groups are so helpful. No matter the kind of change you are making, knowing that someone is watching (and cheering you on) makes all the difference.

There are at least 5 benefits:

1) You know you aren't tackling a goal alone. Whether it's writing that novel you've always dreamed about or losing ten pounds, knowing you aren't the only one makes the goal seem much more reachable. And whenever you're tackling something challenging, knowing you aren't alone makes the task less daunting.

2) You can learn from those you've partnered with. Maybe they have a new kind of exercise they love. Or maybe they have a diet plan that really works for them. You can learn from their success -- and be challenged to keep going when it feels like you are getting anywhere.

3) Encouragement comes in a group. Sometimes I get lazy or forgetful. When I'm working with others, I know I have the accountability. Someone will ask how I'm doing. At the same time, I am often encouraged as I see others writing in the midst of crazy lives. Or I see them making diet changes that work. Or fill in the blank. Finding a place of encouragement is such an important part of sticking with a goal long enough to have success.

4) At the same tie I can be a source of encouragement to others. It helps take the focus off of me and helps me to make sure I am encouraging others in their journeys. I get such joy out of helping others that it encourages me to keep chasing my goals, too. So don't lose sight of the value of helping others reach their goals.

5) Deadlines help me reach points to celebrate. For this group we have the deadline of the ACFW Gala. It's a fun night to dress up and celebrate with other writers. I can circle the date on the calendar and know if I've made it or not. But don't forget to celebrate on the other side of the goal. Do something fun with the group. Whatever you do, make sure you take the time to celebrate the reaching of the goal together.

What would you add?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Research Like an Expert, A Librarian's Guide to Researching Your Book
As an assistant librarian for a Christian college and now as a writer for Library Journal, I must admit research is one of my favorite things. Yes, my books and spices are alphabetized, although I'm not a clean freak by any means. 

I wanted to share a few sites that librarians make frequent use of and how they are used. I think many of them will prove helpful for writers and I want to share why.

Library of Congress: Digital Collections and Services department is a HUGE database with loads of resources that you will find helpful. 

Let's pick a topic. Suppose my main character is a slave escaping from Virginia to Canada using the Underground Railroad. 

Browse collections by topic and click on the African American history section. You will find endless documents, maps and pamphlet collections. For many of these you can even purchase reproductions.

One especially helpful resource you can find here is voice recordings and interviews. Here are 7 hours of interviews from former slaves. You can even see the pictures that go along with those voices. I don't know about you but listening to audios helps me capture voice inflection and accent of the time period and the peculiarities of accent in different places. 

Chronicling America is an advanced search site that includes newspapers from a variety of locations during the years 1836 through 1922. A hundred years ago today alone includes 59 periodicals. By perusing newspapers, not only can you find wonderful black and white photographs that express emotion and evoke your time period but you can gain a feel for the language usage, slang, and common expressions of the day. 

The National Jukebox contains over 10,000 sound recordings. If you are looking for popular music from a very specific era or more rare location it can be next to impossible to find at your local library. On the sidebar, you can click on day by day and you'll find a list in order by year of recording. You can search by genre, or artist, or even get as specific as requesting a particular day using this search engine

One of my favorite sections is Collections of Maps. There are over 2000 maps in the collection from the Civil War alone. You can also find battle and campaign maps that would be especially helpful for those writing novels about any war. Panoramic birds-eye view maps can give you a great feel for the topography and the buildings of an area. Other maps in the City map category can give you understanding of the evolution of place for the town your story takes place in.

Spend some time browsing this site, there are myriads of resources you will find useful no matter what your subject is. Those who work in libraries spend much time on this site and writers will find so much to help them in their research!

There are two features I think are super valuable. Ask a Librarian is a great way to get expert information from librarians who know your topic. I may be a bit biased but I think your local librarian is a great starting source to help you dig into all that's out there on your time period of interest. Here you can chat or email with librarians who specialize in a specific collection, such as Africa, Law, or American Folk Life. 

And don't forget about a great service your library can offer you, interlibrary loan. If you haven't made frequent use of it, start. Through Library of Congress your librarian has access to resources you might not be able to find as easily on your own. 

Please share: What are your favorite sites for research? Do you use the Library of Congress resources?

Julia lives in central Virginia with her husband, two children, and three spoiled ragdoll cats. She writes and reviews for Library Journal magazine and is a regular contributor to the website Wonderfully Woven

Monday, July 27, 2015

Growing Patience & Self-Imposed Deadlines

I have written about self-imposed deadlines at the Alley before...I am pretty sure it's a struggle for many aspiring authors. We aren't held to a contract or have an editor pushing us along. But we are anxious to get this writing career going and want to get the submission-ball rolling. At least, that's how I feel most of the time.

Self-imposed deadlines are great goal-setting tools. I enjoy writing toward something; holding myself accountable to my writing time; keeping in mind that near future date so I stick to the story and don't allow non-writing things get in the way (well, the non-important non-writing things like Facebook and retail therapy).

There is another benefit to self-imposed deadlines, though. And that is the flexibility to change the
date if need be. Recently, I surprised myself after a decade of my publishing pursuit, when I met my self-imposed deadline with a complete manuscript...and then..I didn't hit send on that date. I wanted to be sure it was where it needed to be, not when I wanted it to go out.

You know your patience has grown when you pass up a self-imposed deadline to get it right.

It's a fine line to know when to hit send and when to pause for another read-thru. Sometimes, we peck our stories to death and tweak and tweak and suck the joy—and perhaps the voice—out of the story. There's a lot of fear and guts and vulnerability in hitting send. So those self-imposed deadlines can give us that courage.

But, sometimes, that self-imposed deadline should become more of a checkpoint than an end. I took another week after my last deadline and did a read-thru and more tweaking. I am so glad I did. That fear and vulnerability died with my cut lines and deleted commas.

How about you? Do you set deadlines and ever pass them up to get it right?
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 six historical novels and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. Angie also spends her time designing one-sheets and drinking good coffee with great friends. Check out her author page at, her personal blog at and connect at:
Twitter: @angiedicken

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Writer's Mind

Are you working on a story? Which "person" do you find most difficult to "be" as you write? 
Have a great Sunday!
Found on The Writer's Circle

Friday, July 24, 2015

Should You Start a Newsletter?

One of the things I do as a virtual assistant for several authors is the creation of their newsletter. In a social media world where all of our reach is constantly restricted by one algorithm or another, reaching readers and our audience is getting harder and harder. As a publishing industry, we strayed from the value we put in newsletters for some time, wanting to reach readers where they are at. But anymore, that’s not always the best way and the buzz in the industry is to get back to newsletters.

So how do you create a really great newsletter that gains you subscribers and gets a strong open rate?

If you’re looking for a secret sauce to build a great newsletter fast…there isn’t one.  Building a newsletter takes time and patience and most of all perseverance to put out a quality product every time. Just like with writing a novel, putting together a newsletter should be a labor of love—a glimpse into your heart and life that makes you seem more “human” to your reader.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind while your building your newsletter.

Content is just as important as numbers, because without one you won’t have the other. While building your newsletter, don’t obsess about how many subscribers you have. What you should obsess about is giving those subscribers the very best that you can. The numbers will come.

Keep it short and sweet. Just like with writing a book, give it a beginning, middle and end. One of my favorite newsletters is from Christian romance author, Becky Wade. (sign up for her newsletter in her sidebar). She always starts out with some kind of upcoming book news, includes her latest blog news, a recipe from her sister, a fashion tip from another sister, and a book recommendation from her mom. This works for her genre very well, which leads to my next point…

Keep content relevant for your genre…and a bit about your life. Searching for good content when you don’t have a book sale or new book news? What genre do you write? If you write historical, legal thriller, romance, comedy, whatever it may be, readers are getting your newsletter because they also like your genre. So take something from your research and share a behind the scenes view.

Another one of my favorite newsletters is from Deborah Raney (sign up for her newsletter on her home page) who always includes some kind of news about her family and what she’s reading or what she’s endorsing next. Not all writers are going to be comfortable with this, but share what you can or want. Readers want a peek into your life, so what are you drinking from Starbucks this season? What team are you cheering for in the playoffs? Where are you going on vacation? Your life is interesting to people even if you don’t think so.

Be consistent with your newsletter mailings. If you’re sending out a newsletter every season, make sure you do it. If you are sending out a newsletter anytime there is big book news, make sure you do it. This is your direct line into your reader’s inboxs…now to just get them to open the email.

Have a catching email header subject. The better the “call to action” the better the open rate you’ll get for your newsletter. Something that hints at your content. “New cover you’re seeing first!” “Fiction sale to load your ereader!” etc. Keep it short. Make it catchy.

You’re going to get people that unsubscribe every time you send a newsletter. It’s the nature of the business and it really can’t be helped. Don’t take it personally. It’s more than likely because they are tired of having their inbox flooded with mail (and can you blame them?) But the key to keeping your subscribers is to promise and deliver really great content. Figure out what your readers love and deliver it to them every time.

Maybe that means a giveaway (like Sarah Sundin does in every newsletter) or revealing your new cover to your subscribers first like Beth Vogt did recently.  Your subscribers want to feel special, spoiled and valued.

You’re an author (hear you roar! ;), you have readers who care about you and when your new book is coming out.

So create a newsletter, make it professional (yes, invest in money to have a nice template—it’s worth it), keep it to your brand/genre and then have fun with it. It might not be your favorite part of the journey, but it’s a valuable one.

Take the time to invest in building it and you’ll see the fruits of it over time.

What are your best newsletter tips? 

Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She is a country girl now living in a metropolis of Denver, Colorado, employed as an administrative assistant at Wordserve Literary.