Sunday, February 27, 2011

I'm Unpublished, Do I Need a Website?

Greetings everyone. I hope you are having a restful Sunday. Today’s post will be short, as I am typing one-handed. I had a minor wrist surgery last week that has proven a bit of an obstacle in typing, but the show must go on! If nothing more, I hope this will generate some good discussion via the ability to post comments below.

So, should an author with this status devote time, resources, or even funds into constructing a website? I believe the benefits of having a website are valid. Here are some of my reasons:

  • You can establish an online presence.
  • You create an easy connection point for your “potential readers.”
  • You may have the option to create a blog on your site.
  • When guest blogging, you can reference your own site.
  • You can organize, collect, and focus your thoughts.
  • You can let potential readers know what you are working on.

All of these are geared toward making your writing life accessible to your audience (aka potential readers), agents, and so on. You are laying the groundwork for that time when you are published and readers want to know more about you as an author: your likes and dislikes, your current writing projects, your recommendations, etc. You do not want to make your first deal, get published, and then realize that you suddenly do not have a website for readers to find out more about you. Why not have an address and content already in place? It’s the best way to avoid the “website scramble.”

There are many options for you to create a website. A trip to Google will reveal endless pages of possibilities; however, many ISP’s include that option as part of your Internet subscription package (I know Comcast does).

Your website may be basic at first, but as your writing grows and you become published (and thus may be able to devote more time to writing and not to your “other” job), you will have laid the groundwork for your website and will not have to start from scratch. You should make your website look as good as it can, but your financial situation may only allow you to take advantage or your ISP’s or other types of “free” services. But, make the best of what you have at your disposal. It will be good practice for future development.

Even being unpublished, a website (even a basic one) will help you build your audience by giving them a window into your writing room, a place to stop in and see what your working on, and solidify your place in Google’s never ending memory.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lesson 2: What and When

What is the most important part of your book contract? You might think it is royalties or subsidiary rights or who owns the copyright, but you'd be wrong. They're all important, but if you and your publisher have different ideas about what you're writing and when you'll deliver it, nothing else matters.

One of the first clauses in your book contract should describe the work. This normally includes the book's subject matter and tentative title. You also want it to include an approximate word (or page) count. And if you haven't written the book yet, try to get the outline or synopsis attached as an exhibit.

I've seen contracts, especially with smaller publishers, that don't include information on the book. This can be dangerous, especially if you sold the book on a proposal. You don't want to give the publisher the opportunity to claim that you aren't giving it the book it bought. Most publishers are honest, but even Christian publishers have been known to weasel out of contracts when the market weakens. (In a later post I'll talk about clauses that allow publishers to cancel contracts in a more ethical manner.)

If you have a specific direction you want the book to go, try to get the contract to describe it. This will help ensure that the publisher is looking for the same book you are writing and is particularly important for edgy fiction or for non-fiction with a limited audience.

As to word count, the legal guides I've read give conflicting advice. One recommends using page count rather than word count because it provides more flexibility (since the typesetter can adjust the number of words on a page), while another disagrees. Personally, I prefer using word count because the author can control the number of words but only the publisher can control the number of pages in the final, published product.

The contract will also say when you have to deliver the completed manuscript. Sometimes it will be a single date, and sometimes the contract will ask for the manuscript in sections. Or it might set one deadline for the original manuscript and another for returning the galleys. Make sure any deadlines listed in the contract are realistic for your writing situation. Some publishers will be gracious and provide additional time, but others won't. The publishing business has certain release dates, and publishers try to fill a set number of slots for each one. If your book misses its slot, your publisher won't be happy.

Publishing contracts may also spell out how you are to deliver the manuscript. This can include both the delivery type (hard copy, disk, e-mail attachment) and the document format (e.g., Microsoft Word). Make sure you either know how to comply with these requirements or have a computer-savvy child, friend, or co-worker who can do it for you.

Because it's all about the manuscript.

Kathryn Page Camp

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ten Top Reasons to Enter GENESIS and FRASIER Contests

Is your goal to publish a novel, but you can’t land an agent or spark a publisher’s interest?

You’d really like to attend a writer’s conference to get feedback on your wip, but you can’t afford the time or the cash. There’s an easier and less-costly solution. Get your manuscript evaluated by entering the GENESIS contest for $35 per entry or the FRASIER contest for $30 per entry.

Below are ten top reasons to enter:

  • To get a pro to read your story—You want readers, don’t you? Isn’t that your ultimate goal?
  • To learn—How do you format a manuscript? What’s a page break?
  • To improve—What do you need to do better? Did your readers care? Why/ why not?
  • To compete—How do you compare with other writers? Are you in the top 25%?
  • To show off—Frasier judges pick a favorite sentence from your ms. Find out which one rocks and why. It might not be the one you loved.
  • To get feedback—Published judges typically know what sells.
  • To work toward a deadline—Force yourself to enter before the deadline to improve your ability to make a goal and keep it. Once you’re working with a publisher, deadlines will be constant.
  • To win—scholarships and prizes, but most of all, bragging rights that look good to an agent or publisher, and visibility in the market place.
  • To identify your strengths and weaknesses—Find out if you nailed your dialogue or if your hook grabbed the reader. Was your story goal believable?
  • To practice how to take criticism—Once you’re working with an agent you need to learn how to stay professional—even if it means killing parts of your baby. Can you take criticism without getting your panties in a ruffle or your undies in a wad? If you can’t, who’s going to want to work with you?

Deadline for the GENESIS is March 4th and the FRASIER is March 31st. There’s time to enter both.

Click below for contest guidelines:

How many of you have entered in the past or will enter this year? What were your experiences?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Second-Person Point of View

"You enter a dark, foul-smelling room and immediately notice a large chest on the dirt floor. Perspiration beads on your forehead, despite the chill in the dungeon-like basement. Glancing around, your gaze falls on the broken hasp on the front of the mammoth trunk."

If you open the chest, turn to page 64.
If you turn around and go back the way you came, go to page 42.

I fondly  recall my love affair with Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books. It started in fourth grade. I would place my order, carefully marking the news-printed Scholastic Book Order form and gathering up my rumpled bills and hidden change. I'd wait anxiously until the day that, coming in from recess, I'd spy the box with the red lettering sitting on the teacher's desk just waiting to be sorted.

I remember curling up in the burnt-orange velour side chair, slurping a sticky candy cane, reading by the lights of the Christmas tree. I devoured book after book, exhausting every possible scenario. And I loved every minute of it.

Fast-forward nearly thirty years. (Stop doing the math! Just go with it, people!) Okay, I'm a little older now and a little more pressed for time in my reading for enjoyment. But as I scan the library shelf for Book 3 of a series I've been enjoying, I see another book I haven't read. It's by an author I've enjoyed in the past, it has a catchy, one-word title, and a captivating cover. I slide it off the shelf, read the back cover copy, and add it to my stack of books to be checked out.

As I open the book to read the first page, something about the point of view jars me, takes me back, and messes with my mind. Then it registers--the book is written in second-person point of view. I get my bearings and keep reading. But the reading is difficult. My heart races, but not in anticipation, but rather with anxiety. I keep reading, not necessarily because I can't help it, but because I'm a "finisher" and I want to get to the end of the book. The writing is stellar; the plot unique; the characters well-fleshed out. But I. Can't. Stand. This. Book.

Over the last few days since finishing it, I've wondered what it was about that book that I didn't like. I love the idea of trying a second-person book. I loved those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Books, too, remember? But I think I've finally figured out what turned me off. It wasn't that it was a second-person POV, but that the character was so different from my personality that being in his head made me panic. I'm not a thirty-something married father of two (nor have I ever been or hope to be). I don't take business trips. I don't take chances; or give out my number to strangers; or feel the need to rescue attractive women in distress. While in the C-Y-O-A novels of my childhood, I could pick the path that most appealed to me, I felt drug along for the ride in this current book.

It is interesting to me, both as a reader and a writer, that the author's use of this POV to draw the reader into the story, just made me want to flee from the book, take a shower with Lysol, and smack somebody up the side of the head. The use of any other POV would have given me enough distance from the story that I may have enjoyed it--maybe.

I'm curious about the rest of you: Have you read a book done in second-person POV? Did you enjoy it? Did it pull you in to the story?

How about as a writer? Would you risk trying a second-person book? Would you rather your book evoke a strong reaction in a reader even if it was a negative reaction or would you rather go with another POV and solicit softer feelings?

Nikki Studebaker Barcus

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The best-laid plans

... of mice and men are often gone astray.

My blog entry today is non-existent and I apologize. I hope everyone will join me in praying for my father-in-law who went to the hospital for emergency surgery. He is in his late70s and pretty frail so we are praying for him and his doctors. Since Dad is a strong Christian we do have peace in this situation.

Are You Dobbin-Driven?

You know Dobbin, the faithful, plodding farm horse. That’s how my sentences tend to be. Dull, plodding, the same-o, same-o type of declarative sentences. Yawn. Sure, using strong verbs and vivid nouns help, but … only minimally. I need a fairy godmother to wave her magic wand and convert ol’ Dob into a prancing steed that gets me to the ball.

Alas, doubts about the existence of fairy godmothers for authors have begun to plague me. No wands are waving in my direction, anyway, even with trails of chocolate laid out to my keyboard. With this blog due, I finally resorted to the pain of research. Here’s a simple summary of my gain:

1.     Add a participial phrase (a present or past participle and its tagalongs):                                            

The women sobbed. à The women sobbed, covering their faces with tear-soaked fingers. Or à The women sobbed, wrenched by the calls of their dying children.

2.     Add an appositive (a noun and its tagalongs that renames another noun):                          

The women sobbed. à The women, puny wisps of flesh among the fallen bodies, sobbed.

3.     Add an absolute phrase (a description that moves from the whole to one or more of its parts):                                                                                                                                                  

The women sobbed. à The women, their cries rising to heaven, sobbed.

4.     Add a prepositional phrase

The women sobbed. à The women of the ransacked village sobbed.

5.     Add an adverb clause (a dependent sentence used as an adverb):                                                        

The women sobbed. à The women sobbed because their loss was irreplaceable.

6.     Add an adjective clause (a dependent sentence used as an adjective):                                        

The women sobbed. à The women, who’d known only kindness from their masters’ hands, sobbed.

Swap the positions of the phrases and clauses around. Mix two or three together in one sentence. Toss several in the air so they come down as compound and complex sentences. There’s much more one can do to build scintillating sentences, but these are a good start for transforming poor, dull Dobbin.

 How about you? Do you have suggestions that would help get the giddy-up going? 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

First Novel

What a moment--that first time you dare catch the ideas and words that have chased each other, perhaps for years, through your mind. Even if you're not a romance writer, a love story commences between you and your stunning characters. Each day whispers sweet literary phrases in your ears and brings bouquets of new plot ideas. Nothing, nobody is as fascinating as your story. You announce its inception on Facebook, Twitter, the evening news. You amaze your family with your writing savvy. Your mother calls to say you're brilliant. Even your plants bloom when you enter the room.

Stage Two - Yes, your first page and a half is dazzling. Only 298.5 to go. Ecstatic, you register for the ACFW conference and make appointments with an agent and an editor. One little joyous complication--or several, actually: your children all announce they are expecting in August. Plus, your spouse, inspired by your creativity, ceases his twenty-year opposition to remodeling the kitchen--"if we do all the work ourselves." Your mother calls to demand, "What were you thinking, signing up for all this?" You and your plants wilt. And your formerly compliant protagonist starts telling you, the author, how it's gonna be. Still, you make the Genesis contest deadline by thirty seconds.

Stage Three - You are 39,000 words over your word limit--and you're only on Chapter Four. Or your rough draft is 39,000 words short. Your cat, dog and goldfish are now pregnant. Your mother calls daily to report Debbie Macomber's latest sales figures. Your spouse wonders why your characters enjoy far more romance than he does. Your answer: maybe because they aren't washing dishes in a saucepan. Or writing a novel.

Your story's middle isn't just sagging. It collapsed because your heroine likes the villain better than the hero. Sadly, you agree. So do your critique partners. The hero, left in the lurch, threatens to sue. So do your neglected plants.

Stage Four - You do without food, water and double lattes until this story is fixed and finished. You inform your mother that as of now, you talk only to God. You send your spouse and plants to a monastery. You threaten to send your characters there, too, until they cooperate. But with the aid of God, critique buddies, ACFW archives and a Middle East treaty negotiator, you finish the book--on time, though your kids, dog, cat and goldfish all deliver (appropriately) around Labor Day. You and your spouse, who decided to return home after all, celebrate the joyous insanity of new birth (book and babies) by eating a dinner not cooked with a hair dryer.

Even before you can talk your peeved parent and plants into listening to your pitch for the ACFW conference, you get these incredible ideas for ten new novels. . . .

Monday, February 14, 2011

Waiting for Hearts and Publication

My life has swirled with chaos the last three weeks. As some of you might know, my sister is in the hospital waiting for a new heart. As a result, my writing pursuits have rightfully slipped from my "urgent" list.

But I'm learning this wait for a heart isn't much different from my wait for God's will to be revealed in my writing. Both journeys remind me of a song from the ACFW Conference: While I'm Waiting by John Waller.

Every line of that song relates to my experiences of late, but two lines in particular stand out to me. I will serve You while I'm waiting. I will worship while I'm waiting.

A couple weeks ago, a pastor came to visit my sister in the hospital and started to do a devotional reading. About that same time, her nurse came in. The pastor paused so she could do her job.

She waved him on and said, "Oh no, you keep reading. I want to hear it too." She explained that she's a Christian and wasn't surprised to see my sister is a woman of faith. Apparently all the nurses notice a difference. In fact, they often fight over who gets assigned to her because they love caring for her.

That story touched me because it proves that people are watching. It isn't meant to elevate my sister, but rather to show what happens when we're living in obedience and worshipping God while we wait. People notice a difference.

So the question becomes, What am I doing while I wait for publication? Am I using every opportunity to serve the King and bring worship to Him through my actions and words? Can others see a difference in my reaction to rejection or to a lost lead?

Do they sense that something (or Someone) greater is guiding my steps?

I think these questions are important for us all to address. Because whether it's a matter of life and death like it is for my sister, or whether it's a matter of seeing our name on a book or not, people are watching.

*photo by paytai /

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Partners in Crime

I have two favorites in fiction.

I really like the sidekick, a comrade who not only boosts but sticks with the lead, no matter what twists the story takes. They're Lucy's Ethel, Charlie Brown's Linus, Frodo's Sam Gamgee. Sidekicks help leads find their next steps. They make leads laugh. They see silver when the lead sees lead. Every lead welcomes a sidekick.

But I love-hate the foils, those persons who frustrate the lead. Foils can be villains, as is Jean Valjean's Javert. But there are myriad others just as willing to keep a lead from what she wants: the unflappable telemarketer, the academically bullying teacher, the over-confident boss, the cranky cashier, the fender-bendering teenager. But even foils can be foiled. By contrast, foils make the lead seem better.

Let's be honest: you and I want more sidekicks, fewer foils. But since most of us get one or two sidekicks and a lot of foils, why not put them to work in fiction?

Foils serve your story. They create conflict. They worry your readers, slogging along with your lead and cheering him to the very last page. Foils make your story ring true: your readers know these people. They may even share a refrigerator with some of them. But foils can do a greater work for your lead. They reveal the lead's character. They sharpen your lead's objective. Best of all, they hone your lead, forcing him or her to develop.

Mine your everyday foils--your co-worker firing verbal potshots, your preschooler doing a little shopping of his own as you skim a grocery aisle, the driver in front of you braking before you have time to, the manipulating tack of your long-lost cousin--and let your lead tackle the challenges they present.

So who is your sidekick? Thank God for him or her. And who are your foils? Maybe list only today's. Then consider offering them positions on the lead--and writer--shaping machine.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Thank God for Rejections!

This week I got three—count ‘em, three—rejections in two days. I’m querying agents widely about the book of my heart, and in bunches. So it figures that, at least some of the time, I’m going to get rejections in small bunches. But I have to tell you, I’m glad for these. Glad because of the way they’re arriving...but mostly glad they’re arriving at all.

One was a small form postcard. Some people turn up their noses at small form postcards. I don’t. Not when the first line on the postcard is an almost abject apology for time constraints that make this kind of response a necessity. It came across as a very elegant way to say “No, thanks,” that still made me feel like a person.

One was a sweet “No, thanks” sent to me hours after I queried by e-mail. The man in question promises that he does, in fact, sometimes respond in minutes. I would have been happier had he said “Yes” in fewer minutes…but I was happy that at least he was a man of his word.

Several others have been form e-mails, of the kind that begin, “Dear author.” I think of those slightly less kindly at times (!), but they, too, get tallied on the spreadsheet.

Which is, of course, the point. That something can be tallied on a spreadsheet. That I can know “whether or not” on that particular agent, and I can know who should be taken off the “will they or won’t they?” list. In this submission round, I’ve become even more grateful for the ones who do this—and more irritated by the ones who won’t. Ever. The ones who declare up front, “If I don’t respond, it means I’m not interested.”

I’ve tried to objectively “understand” this approach over the years. But I confess…I simply can’t. It’s not right, on many levels.

Many agents protest this complaint as being “unrealistic.” They’re busy people. They’ve got their actual profitable clients to tend to. They’ve got contracts to deal with and bargains to make and editors to woo. Surely we can’t actually expect them to respond to us all if they’re not interested?

Well, yes, we can. Because we’re busy, too. For most of us, writing isn’t our primary means of income. We’re balancing it around kids and pets and jobs and houses and relatives and cooking and cleaning and all the rest. We carve out time to craft something we believe is worthwhile, and we send it out. So the “busy” thing? Yeah. We get that. We’re living it, too.

But more to the point…responding is good business practice because it’s just plain human courtesy.

Last time I checked, both agents and writers were human beings. (Yes, even unpublished writers qualify, despite some impressions we get to the contrary. :-D) We all try to do the best we can to give the “professionals” in our trade exactly what they ask for in terms of queries, formats, etc. What doesn’t get recognized, however, is that the moment we take those steps to send material to an agent, we declare ourselves professional, too. So we deserve to be treated as such. And silence is not professional treatment—on either end.

I know agents get thousands of submissions a year. I understand this. But I also know that many agents continue to solicit new clients, even in the face of this overload. They then fall back on the “no response is a ‘No’” escape hatch—when maybe, just maybe, it’d be a far better idea to just stop asking for material for awhile.

I have no problem at all with agents periodically taking themselves “out of the dance” to do justice to what they already have on their plates. In fact, the longer time goes on, the more I respect the courage it takes to draw those boundaries—and the less I respect the “no response” curtain as a way to do business.

So thank God for agents who respond, even with form postcards or form e-mails saying “No, thanks.” Any response, even a “No,” is better than being left in limbo. It’s more respectful. It’s more courteous. And, in the end, it’s far more professional.


Friday, February 11, 2011

TEN Reasons to LUV a Kindle

YEP, as you can see, I received a Kindle for Christmas. And YES, I've fallen in LUV with it, to my great surprise and to the surprise of my many reading friends who consider me a "purist" (not sure why).

I'm sharing here the ten reasons I LUV my Kindle, but next month I'll be giving the ten reasons I DON'T LUV it. Just so you know. . .

ONE REASON I'm so keen on my K is that I can now buy books instantly. If my husband thought I kept Amazon in business last year, you can just guess what he's going to say this year. (Maybe, but maybe not. See Reason Two.)

Let me give you a speedy purchase example from a few minutes ago. On Tuesday (2-8-11) the Wall Street Journal ran a marvelous opinion piece, "The Roots of Ronald Reagan's Ambition" by John Fund. Know what those roots were? A Christian novel by a Christian author, Harold Bell Wright's That Printer of Udell's, first published in 1902!

Since I'm sharing about Kindles, I just checked to see if That Printer of Udell's is formatted for the K. Sure enough, it is! And right before my eyes, the K price went from $6.23 to $0.00. So of course, ten seconds later, it was on my K. As soon as I've finished this blog, I'll start reading it. I'm eager to read the novel that changed and directed the course of President Reagan's fascinating life. I'm guessing the novel has LOTS of other new readers this weekend besides me. (Maybe you?)

The SECOND REASON I'm so keen on my Kindle is something I just mentioned in the previous paragraph. The low price of books! And most of my K books so far have cost $0.00, including the new Holman Christian Standard Bible just released last Fall. Can't beat that! (Note: Zero dollar prices sometimes last only a day or two.)

THIRD REASON: The instructions for using the K are so easy to follow and implement. A huge plus for someone like me who didn't grow up in this wonderful techie world we now enjoy.

FOUR: It's so light and comfortable to hold. I do a LOT of reading in bed, and the K sure beats books for reading in bed with ease.

FIVE: Plus the K is so easy to read. I always wondered about that, and now I know from personal experience. It's easier than books to see at night. And in a second or two, I can change the font size and line spacing to increase reading ease and speed.

SIX: I've read that some readers say the K slows their reading. Not me. I can read faster because I can turn the pages faster and easier than I can book pages. Yep, I do LUV my Kindle.

SEVEN: It's something new and fun to chat about with friends at book clubs, on blogs, on Facebook, and even with family! My son-in-law also received one for Christmas. We were quite the center of attention as we compared our K's and what we were reading. No one else in our family group had one. They probably will soon. . .

EIGHT: It's just the traveling "thing" for readers like me. I always have trouble keeping my suitcase weight under 50 pounds because of books. The last trip I went on, my suitcase was underweight. Thanks to my Kindle, I had a bunch of new books with me on the plane to enjoy, as well as a devotional and several Bibles. I remember last September being impressed at the ACFW Conference in Indy by an attendee who was comparing a Bible passage in several translations on her K. Now I can do that too. WOW!

NINE: In addition to books, in a flash I can get just about any newspaper and magazine I want on my K. I haven't done so yet, but I plan to, especially the Wall Street Journal that I read every day.

TEN: My K also gives me something to dislike. And I'm human enough to enjoy a complaining session now and then. So check back next month on the second Friday of March for the reasons I DON'T LUV my Kindle. (Although I'm not sure I can come up with ten. . . :-)

Millie Samuelson

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Best Backup System for Writers

The students in my computer class think it’s cute when I tell them “Jesus saves, and so should you”. I don’t mean to be sacrilegious or denigrate the Savior, but I feel responsible to pound into their thick young skulls the importance of saving and backing up their files. But I’m not totally successful, because every semester at least one student loses a project—which they failed to back up. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

In truth, it is possible retrieve lost and deleted files as long as the user doesn’t add new data to the hard drive. But beyond the recycle bin, retrieving files is usually above the skill level of most of us. Yet, with a little foresight and discipline it shouldn’t be a problem to lose data.

Like most writers, I back up my WIP via a flash drive (memory stick). Actually, I use three flash drives, which I keep in three different locations; one in my briefcase, one at my writing chair, and one in my desk at work. I rarely need the backups, but when the magic fairies in my laptop get contrary, it’s a relief to know I’m safe. Maintaining current backups won’t solve all computer problems since computers by nature quit working on occasion—usually at the most inconvenient times.

Such was my case two weeks ago when I visited an Internet site about exercise for men over fifty. Within sixty seconds my virus protector flashed a warning and by the time I exited the site, a virus shut down my operating system. I restarted my laptop, but before the virus protector could find and quarantine the invader the system locked up again and shut down.

Fortunately, I had a current backup, but my computer was useless since it kept shutting down. My only solution was to erase my hard drive and do a new install, which would take several hours and require reactivating all software.

As you may know, software activation can be troublesome if you haven’t deactivated it first. The only alternative to call the software company and hope you can eventually talk to a real person who’s kind enough to help you. All of this takes a lot of time and if you’ve been there you know it gets frustrating.

The solution? Acronis True Image software ($49.00) When I purchased my new computer fifteen months ago, I splurged the extra expense of Acronis True Image, along with a second matching hard drive, and a hard-drive tray that replaces my DVD drive when needed. In short, these three items allowed me to make a clone (mirror image) of my working hard drive.

When the virus hit, it took less than five minutes to remove my virus infested hard drive and insert the cloned hard drive. No need to reinstall operating systems or applications, no problems with the computer registry, no need to reactivate software.

The computer fairies were never aware I had switched the hard drive at shutdown. Everything worked fine. All I had to do was to install my most recent WIP update from a flash drive and I was one-hundred percent like I was before the virus hit. Of course, I haven’t always been this prepared, but through the years I have learned from failures.

To restate the process; I purchased and installed Acronis software on my hard drive while it was working correctly, next I removed my DVD drive and inserted a special hard-drive tray, which I purchased from the computer manufacture (sometimes you can find them on Ebay). This tray holds a second hard drive, which is typically used for additional storage. I purchased a hard drive exactly like the main hard drive in my laptop, but according to Acronis instructions, the backup drive can be any memory size, speed, or brand.

Once installed, the software offers the option to clone your main hard drive onto this added hard drive. It takes a about four mouse clicks and two hours for the operation to complete. Once it’s finished, I stored the copied hard drive in a safe place until it’s needed.

When I do need it, I simply remove one screw from the bottom of my laptop, pull out the main hard drive and replace it with the clone. I put the screw back in place and restart the computer. That’s all there is to it.

Later, after I verify everything is working correctly, I remove the DVD player, put the corrupt hard drive in the special tray and once again use Acronis to clone a new mirror image of my working hard drive onto the previously corrupt drive—so I’ll be prepared if this happens again. (Oops, did I say if it happens? I mean when it happens again.) It’s simple, it’s easy, and it actually works.

Be warned that it’s possible for a virus to jump from one hard drive to another, so in my case I actually reformatted my virus infested hard drive before I removed it from the computer just to be safe.

Of course, there are other ways to backup, and I’ve used them all. I’ve tried Norton Ghost and other software that promises cloning ability, but Acronis is the only software that has been successful for me. Downtime is minimal, and the total cost for the software, extra hard drive, and adapter to replace my DVD tray was under two-hundred dollars—expensive, but worth it. I should mention Acronis has numerous other features, also.

I have friends and students who’ve experienced these same problems and they usually spend one-hundred dollars to get a tech to fix their computer while their computer is in the shop for two days or longer. I feel like the time saving and security is worth the extra expense. In addition, I can use this system for years.

Maybe there’s a better virus protector, but I’ve tried most of them and no virus protector is perfect. But as I said, viruses aren’t the only computer problems a writer faces. Computers sometimes die without warning. I’ve had hard drives suddenly lock up and never work again. I’ve had computers suddenly show the blue screen of death without warning, and require a complete new install. Once I opened the passenger door of my vehicle and the computer slid out and dropped onto the concrete. The End.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How to Eat a Book Review--One Word at a Time

With endless amounts of books being published, which one should I read?

The title is a rip-off of a poem I vaguely remember from grade school by Eve Merriam called How to Eat a Poem. It starts off like this:

"Don't be polite. Bite in. Pick it up with your fingers and lick the juice that may run down your chin. ..."

So, Eve alluded that reading poems was like eating watermelon. Kind of messy. Delicious. Not for fancy diners. No forks and knives needed, just dive in.

Since I don't like watermelon much, this may be the reason why I'm not too keen on poetry, either. And while I'm not too keen on reading poetry, (except for Shel Silverstein's or the Psalms of the Bible,) I do love to a good book. I'm absolutely crazy for books. Devour them, if you want to continue this eating analogy. I want my last meal with a book (preferrably War and Peace, or some such volume many years long.) We can talk about the last meal in another post (or on my blog.)

Most people, when they pick a book to read, pick it because they like to read a certain genre, and maybe someone has told them,"Hey, I loved that book! Ya gotta read it!" That's how they would say it here in Indiana. Just like that. And we read a lot more since they made the state championship basketball tournament a class tournament--boring--and switched to daylight savings time, thus confusing our cows, and we can't get to sleep either because of all that light still shining on our eyeballs at 10 p.m.

But also, when I read a book, it may not even be because I want to read it. Well, I want to read books, just not necessarily all the books I have to, or need to, read. Because I do reviews (less now that I gave up a column in one magazine,) sometimes I read a book in order to write a review of the book to help other people decide whether they would like to read a book. So, essentially, I rip the book apart, and then lace back together enough of the book so that others can make a decision to either buy or borrow a book. Key. So someone can make a decision. If you write a review, keep in mind the reader. So, you hate police procedurals. If someone loves police procedurals, will he love this book? Does it follow the genre codes?

I think that this is the best way to figure out if you want to buy/borrow a book to read--by reading a published review, other than asking a librarian for a recommendation. Your friend, who voraciously reads every book in the library and has all the bestsellers reserved from here to the end of the world, may be crazed, and actually likes Steinbeck. (I worked in a library for 3 years, so I have observed a lot of types of readers. If you tell me you actually like Steinbeck, and revel in his darkside revelations of the human condition, I'm gonna be looking for a side door of escape, just in case...)

That friend may know intimately what he likes to read until dawn,and then bleary-eyed and word-stricken-blind drives to work on the same roads you may be on. That's an "ACK!" you heard from me,but he doesn't know you in your dark recesses of your brain where you actually think about things unless your friend is a) a librarian b) an editor who knows his books he's buying and selling c)God. He just tells you what he perceives as his enjoyment (or edification--whatever.)

A librarian is a good source, but while she/he might like to, can't possibly read or know about all the books being published and in his/her library (I say his/her because my male cousin was a state librarian, writing a book about hangings in Indiana, and my good friend, Judy Gann is a librarian and has written a book called, The God of All Comfort: Devotions Of Hope For Those Who Chronically Suffer . Great book, by the way. I gave it 5 stars and two thumbs up and I'm not crazed--much.

And there are tons of places online to read reviews, but what are the key things to look for in a review to know if it is a book right for you?

What kinds of information do you look for in a book review? First of all, a good book review won't reveal plot points or give away "spoilers." You know how it is when someone is talking to you during a movie and says, "Ok, here's where Indiana Jones just shoots the guy who just did the scary, fancy sword stuff!" You want to smack that guy. It's like blowing the punch line. Don't tell me. I want to experience it myself. Otherwise, why read it?

While it is fine for a reviewer to tell you he hated it/loved it, you also don't want to hear too much of "I hated that book and here's why." Back to the movie illustration, how many times did you read a bad review of a movie, and you went anyway and loved it? Or vice versa? It is a matter of what you like--bottom line. A good reviewer helps you to judge for yourself with just a few clues to help you to choose.

The reviewer should be hitting these kinds of points: characterization, a little bit of plot, message ( and the tone,) style, setting, genre--and finally, enjoyment. You should be able to categorize the book and make a judgment on whether you would enjoy the book or not.

My librarian/writer friend, Judy Gann said, "Librarians don't have all the answers. We just know (usually!) where to find them. ...libraries have online sources for finding fiction books--Novelist, Genreflecting, What Do I Read Next?. These are great for the question: 'I loved this book! Do you have another one like it?'"

These sources mentioned are expensive databases, says Judy.

She says, "At my library we can access them(the sources mentioned above) online (with our library card) through the library's Web site. If not available on your library's Web site, ask your librarian if they can access them for you."

(Back to me and what I say )One of the places I like to find reviews on Christian books is Faithful Reader. You can search through the books, reviews, news and find just what you want to read. By the way, if I am reviewing a book, I NEVER look at someone else's review of the same book before I write. What I say about a book is completely my own Another great place to find books you might like is ACFW Fiction Finder. If you actually want to read and discuss books, do join ACFW Book Club. Great place to mingle with those who read and are constantly giving away books, too.

Another place to look is at Look at the reviews there, but beware--like your crazed friend who loves e.e.cummings' poetry and that Steinbeck character (ok, I read Steinbeck and while I suffered, he did write well, I grant him that much...sigh,) remember that not all of these reviews are reliable. They will, however, give you some insight into whether it is a book you might like. Read these reviews with caution. Some of those have an agenda other than letting you know whether or not you should buy the book.

Looking is for free these days and sometimes you can download the first chapter. I've downloaded now countless free ebooks on my Kindle. Do note the reviewer's comments with caution, but do note the emotion because a reviewer on Amazon will not usually post unless there were some strong feelings one way or another. Also, note the reviewers who post their real name. If they do this, they're putting their own reputation on the line. You can check the reviewer's profile by clicking on their name.

Now, get out there and find a good book. Don't forget to tell me what you are reading right now and your current favorite book, too.
As Stephen King says:
"If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."—

I'm currently reading Serendipity by Cathy Marie Hake (for review for Church Libraries magazine.)I love any historical romances!

Crystal Laine Miller
who has published over 900 book reviews in magazines and ezines

Friday, February 4, 2011

Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned Writing a Novel

I’ve marked something off my bucket list: “Submit a complete novel to an agent for their consideration.”

Woo Hoo!

No matter the outcome, the journey I’ve taken to get to this place has been amazing. In fact, everything I ever needed to know, I learned writing a novel.
  1. I learned to take criticism. My crit partners are amazing and I’m in awe that God brought them into my life.  My writing improved a gazillion percent (really!) from their guidance. How good is God that He would send me such talented writers as my critters? And how good is God when he sends people into our lives that make us better people? 
  2. I learned to be consistent. Novels don’t get written by wishing them into existence. Yes, I’m a busy Mom of twins with autism, another son with mental illness and a pastor’s wife. But unless I make my writing time happen, novels can't be born. With determined effort, I now own a spot in the house and a scheduled time each day where I do nothing but write. Applying this to other areas of my life, I get more done.
  3. I learned to make a plan. Not only for my days, but also for my novel. I didn’t know what kind of novelist I was at first when I began years ago. A seat-of-the-pants writer or a planner? I’ve discovered I’m both.  I learned to map out a story. Even if the story ended up going a different direction, the plan gave me at least a guideline to follow when I’d get stuck. I never experienced writer’s block because of the general plan. I believe God makes plans for us and our novels.  When we think of it this way, it’s easier to depend on Him. I want to be in the center of that plan.
  4. I learned to be flexible. I must be willing to slash and dash, slice and dice what isn’t working in my novel. At first the edits hurt. Now, I find them fun. How can I make this sentence stronger? That emotion clearer? It’s like a captivating treasure hunt. Life’s like that, too. So things aren’t going my way today – what is God showing me? Where’s that nugget of truth I need to find?
  5. I learned to let things go. I learned to cut the things that didn’t work in my story and let them go. Letting them go liberated my story. In life, letting go of the things that “so easily entangle us” is true freedom.
  6. I learned to never, never quit. If God gives you a job to do, He will equip you to do it. By the time I’d readied my novel for submission I was sick of it and full of doubt regarding whether or not the work was good enough, I wanted to give up and walk away. But God gave me the grace to face the pages each day and make them come alive. It’s that way with Him in my day to day life, too. I’m often overwhelmed at the prospect of facing my responsibilities, and yet, He always gives me the grace to get through to the other side. I truly believe that people who succeed aren’t necessarily the most talented ones, but the ones who don’t quit. Talent is nothing without perseverance.
  7. I learned to enjoy the journey. Writing novels is a blast. I’m determined to enjoy each moment. Sometimes when I’m driving in my car I think, “Wow, I have an awesome life. I get to write. I get to do what I was born to do! Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you, God!”   
  8. I learned to remain teachable. I love to teach but what I love more is to learn. There’s always more to learn. I believe that novels aren’t static. I think there’s a way to make them better even after they’re published. I’m actually hoping my novel is accepted simply because of all the things I want to learn to get to the next level of being a better writer. I think being teachable in life is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.
  9. I learned to think outside the box. Donald Maas taught me this truth in his wonderful books on writing. There are tons of great books out there that will teach you how to create awesome stories. Reading good fiction books also teaches me. Sometimes I outline a good book so I can see the rhythm of it. The “what ifs” of creating a story never end. Nothing’s too crazy. Life is the same. I’m convinced there are always creative solutions out there if only we’ll jump out of our little box and go looking for them.
  10. I learned it takes a village to write a novel. I can’t list all the amazing people I’ve learned from through the years. They’re innumerable. Some of them include Dr. Dennis Hensley, Randy Ingermanson, Colleen Coble, Cara Putman, and many, many more. ACFW is a huge blessing to me. My family’s willingness to do without a Mom for several hours a day and their support is something I never take for granted. Likewise, no one can do this thing called life alone. We all need help. Learning to accept that help is a huge lesson in humility.
  11. I learned to take risks. Going to conference scared me. Meeting with a publisher and an agent was even scarier. Submitting my manuscript for criticism to a published author frightened me more. If I’d stayed hidden at home in my safe little corner, terrified and pitiful, my novel would still be sitting inside my computer, useless. Sometimes when I take risks there’s a voice that says, “Who do you think you are?”  One obstacle after another tries to block my progress, but I manage with God’s grace to smash through the barriers and carry on. Often in my life, that voice (we know where such snarkiness comes from don’t we?) reminds me of my past, of my mistakes and mocks me still – “Who do you think you are?” I’ll tell you who I think I am. I’m a writer on a mission from God. I’m a saved, redeemed, blood-bought, whiter-than-snow, bold woman of the Most High God. Watch out devil, here I come.
  12. I learned to pray, pray, pray. I learned I became a better writer when I spent time praying and asking for God’s help. Not only in my quiet time, but during the process. “What do you want me to write here, Lord? I need a good idea. Lord, what now? Oh God, please anoint me to write this, give me Your Words.” Christian writers are blessed for the Author Himself whispers in their ear. Christians are blessed to have the Shepherd guiding them day to day. All we need do is ask.
There are countless other things I’ve learned on this journey of becoming being a writer. What about you? What have you learned? Where do you write? When? I’m curious and want to know!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Are You Ready for Criticism?

              Imagine the following scenario. At long last your best novel manuscript to date has overcome all the hurdles: the writing, the revising, query letters, proposals, more polishing, acquisition committees, contract negotiations, and finally reaches the Big Day—your novel’s release! With boundless joy you announce the wonderful news to friends, family, neighbors, even the guy at the 7-Eleven on the corner.
And then, like multiple bullets to your heart, unknown strangers begin taking online (or in print) potshots at your book. “The characters aren’t fully developed.” “Some of the scenes fall flat.” “Insufficient tension.” “Too religious.” “More Christian propaganda disguised as a suspense novel.”
You might think, “Well, sure, those things happen to other people’s books. But I’m carefully writing and polishing mine.” Guess again. In fact, let’s pause and count all the books in the history of the world that pleased and excited absolutely every reader. Are you ready for this? The answer is—zero. From God’s inspired Word and trickling down to every other book in the history of the planet, virtually every published book has faced critics who found fault.
Admittedly, when you’ve poured months or years into a writing project, when you imbued it with your own emotions, when you sparked fictional characters to life and lived with them in your imagination, it can hurt to have someone type a review that basically says, “What a worthless effort. Better luck next time. And leave out the religious stuff.” Such reactions are like waiting nine months for your child to be born and then having total strangers walk up and say, “Your kid has big ears and a stupid-looking grin.”
Literary criticism is inevitable. It is going to happen. It’s simply impossible to please every reader. Here is a real-life example. My friend Jim Rubart’s best-seller Rooms has reaped many glowing reviews on Amazon. “Fantastic novel,” says one reader. “More than a 5,” shouts another. And then comes, “Ultimately, though, it was disappointing. The writing itself is not very strong: too many short, choppy sentences (if they can be called such), too many fragments, awkward phrasing in droves, etc.” Here’s another example: In his novel Defiance, Don Brown (another friend, by the way) continues his Navy Justice series about JAG officer Zack Brewer. One reviewer exclaims, “Brown is defiant to write a book I don't like yet!” and awards it five stars. Another labeled the same novel “Evangelical subterfuge” and pegged it with one meager star.
So what can a writer do to avoid getting negative criticism? Nothing. Except stop writing. In fact, regardless of how well a story by a Christian writer is crafted, it will garner criticism simply due to its Christian worldview, even if it’s not “preachy.” This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since Jesus Christ was criticized and crucified by those who didn’t like His message. If He were to come today instead of 2,000 years ago, I suspect elements in our “tolerant” society would treat Him and His sermons in about the same way.
So, dear writer, don’t be shocked or offended when antagonists jab literary spears into your book. Simply do your best for God and follow the inspirations that He gives you!

Closing thought: Do you have a personal strategy for coping with criticism? Or perhaps you find encouragement in a Bible character who did rightand still felt the sting of critics?
Rick Barry