Posted in Writers, Writing

Resources for Writers

PhotoFunia-writers write

If you love to write for the sake of writing, then you will find a way to write no matter what.

If you think that you have the great, American novel in you, there are plenty of people out there willing to take your money with the promise of helping you somehow get there.

What I love about this internet world that we live in is that we all can write and reach a fairly wide audience as long as we are willing to share our writing while knowing we may never see monetary remuneration, but only know the intense satisfaction that comes when even one person other than a blood relative has read something of ours and been moved by it.

Through the last few years of writing a blog, self-publishing novels, and studying marketing for my day job, I have come across several free services and tools that may help others with their writing goals. Here are some of these resources:

To Publish:

Kindle Scout:

If you’re willing to release some control of your book for the sake of potential exposure to readers, this program through Amazon might be the ticket. Basically, Scout allows you to put your story in front of potential readers, who vote on the books they would like to see published.

I have opted to try this for my latest project, Camden Meets His Match, which is a continuation of my last book, The Texas Stray.  You can check out my campaign page here. Thanks in advance for taking a moment to check out my book and, hopefully, vote for it.

Even if you don’t get published through the Scout program, you can e-publish your book by creating a direct account with the major publishing outlets: Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and Itunes. Amazon has created an e-book on how to format your book for Kindle that will help you create  novel pdfs that are compatible with any E-Reader.

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Lulu:

There are several direct publishing houses on the internet. These publishing houses practice publishing on demand, so that you can have a physical copy of your book. They literally wait to publish a copy of your book when the book is actually ordered.

I have used Lulu.com for this process in the past. Besides providing the hard copy book, Lulu also has made my books available in the major outlets for either hard or electronic copies. The only cost to the writer is ordering one copy of your book to approve before Lulu distributes the finished work.

As long as you are comfortable with your editing abilities and cover design, you can create your own book with this resource without having to pay exorbitant fees.

To Market:

Internet:

If you want to have an internet presence, you need a website (like a blog), an email where readers can reach you, and at least one social media account. Each blog you post should also post on your social media sites. Most PR people would also insist you have an email list where you can send newsletters to potential readers.

Obviously, WordPress offers what I think is the best platform for blogging. I maintain a free site for my writing, but I have also created a paid site for my day job. Both have found readers and are easy to study stats, key words, etc. Google also offers a free blog service called Blogspot.

A Facebook page costs you nothing unless you decide to advertise your page. Postplanner is a low cost Facebook service that helps you find interesting things to post if following other pages isn’t sufficient for you.

If you have more than one Google+ page like I do, you might want to check out Hootsuite, a service that allows you to schedule posts for Google+ pages.

Constant Contact is a great email service, though it costs you according to how many people you have on your email list. Speaking of email, do you have your blog or web address listed in the signature line of your personal and business email? This is a simple, often overlooked, way to promote your author endeavors.

PhotoFunia-share what you love

Business Cards:

With sites like Office Depot and Vistaprint.com, you can create very professional business cards that promote a particular project or yourself as an author at rather inexpensive cost to you. These can be handed out at events you attend, in your daily course of living, and left at cooperating businesses. Let people know where they can find your books, where to find you on the web, and even your author email address in case they need to communicate with you directly.

The Library:

People do still get books from the local library. I visited my local branch and donated a copy of my first two books. After a review process, they went onto the circulating shelves. Now, I show up in any search of the library catalog, and I have made my books available to even more readers.

Pictures:

There are so many wonderful programs for designing graphics, many of which are free (especially for noncommercial use). Here are just some of the programs I have used:

  • Canva.com–graphics and pictures. Some elements cost money, but if you don’t use them, the service is free. Also, the graphics are available in pre-set sizes, including Kindle book covers!
  • Photofunia.com–upload your picture into pre-designed graphics like bulletin boards, canvases, etc. The site also has several pictures that just take text to help you make a quick graphic for a blog post.
  • Picmonkey.com–fun picture editor that has a free and paid version.
  • Freedigitalphotos.net–gobs of stock photos you can use for FREE as long as you follow the attribution requirements.

Whenever I search for images online, I always use the extra search tools in whatever search engine I am using to narrow down the search to those images which are public domain or otherwise valid for my use (not protected by copyright). I have never worried about my own images enough to figure out how to set the copyright for myself, but it’s worth some investigation if you put a lot of effort into your picture and graphics work.

Other Resources:

I have found quite a few of the tricks I have mentioned here through a couple of emails I get each week: Author Experts and Publicity Hound.

Goodreads is another great resource to connect with readers. You can easily create an author page, make your books available to readers, etc. through this free organization.

Finally, I’m convinced that Amazon has some of the best SEO practices on the planet, which means establishing an author page with them is very helpful. They send regular emails with helpful tips. You can also increase traffic/interest in your own site by doing other authors the great favor of reviewing their books.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but hopefully I’ve mentioned a few resources you did not know about. Also, please share any resources you regularly use that I have failed to mention.

If you don’t enjoy writing, do something else. If you do enjoy writing, make full use of the variety of resources available to modern writers to make your finished works the best they can possibly be.

 

Posted in Christian Fiction, Writers, Writing

Is There Art in This Fiction?

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This apparent sketch of a domestic kitty cat isn’t actually a sketch at all. It is a picture I took of my feisty critter with a digital, “dummy” camera when he had snuggled himself under the blanket thrown over a chair. I was able to convert the picture at a great website called photofunia.com, which you can use for non-commercial effects such as this. In other words, what appears as decent art is in fact a picture I can really take no credit for.

The act of writing, whether it be a blog, a newspaper story, or fiction, should always strive to be a work of art, crafted with much consideration of word choice, phrasing, rhythm and meaning. It is not something where one can claim, “they have an APP for that!”

Even those of us who give the credit for any writing goodness to God have to work to stay in touch with the whispering of the Spirit in us that leads, hopefully, to the message of Light He would have us give.

It occurs to me that this blog, which I began mainly because I was self-publishing my fiction, has become something else entirely. I named it “GoodChristianFiction” because I hoped that people looking for Christian novels to read might stumble upon this title and be intrigued enough to check out my books.

Instead, my blog is most often about my own questions about living a Christian lifestyle. Of course, if truth be told, the messages I blatantly write in my blog are the same messages I am trying to convey more subtly in my works of fiction.

I am thankful that more of you than I imagined have found interest in what I’ve had to say. I hope that in the coming year, I continue to listen to the Holy Spirit and, hopefully, convey the messages God would have me convey. But, you may also see a little more posts on the art of fiction, this craft of loving words and wanting to share the unique ways you have found to put them together. I do have a graduate degree in the subject, after all, so one would hope I’d have something valid to add to the “fiction” conversation.

Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote:

Easy reading is d—m hard writing.

Hemingway claimed that the first draft of anything was garbage. Mark Twain cautioned to find the right word, not its second cousin. Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life, offers advice about writing that is perhaps best:

“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

So, in this thankful season, let us all be thankful to we writers who have chosen to write our words instead of hoarding them. Perhaps, in this way, we are focusing our treasure in heaven where all things of true love, like real art, abound.

Posted in Christian Living, Writers, Writing

It All Begins With A Story

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Writers live and die by the story. We see a story in the heated exchange between a mother and father over the cooling remains of a half-eaten dinner at a crowded restaurant, in the brief glimpse of a bicycle laying upside down against a rickety fence, in the weathered face of a one-legged man holding a cardboard sign on a street corner.

Are we writers first, born with the love of story? Or do the stories that we encountered growing up make us into writers?

No matter which chicken or egg answer you choose, stories are a blessing no writer can ignore.

My story blessings are deeply rooted in the histories of sacrifice, hard work, and all-out toughness that surround my family’s background. Like many of us, I don’t have to look past two generations to find people who survived off the land, perfected the art of getting by with just enough, and who never questioned the value of hard work and the happiness achieved via the simple philosophy of loving God first and then one’s fellow man.

There are people outside of my family circle, however, whose stories also touched my creative spirit. One of them died before I was born. A friend of my dad’s, he was sacrificed like so many of that generation on the battlefields of Vietnam. As the story goes, he was safely inside the trench when he ventured out to retrieve a fellow soldier. Unfortunately, he died in the attempt. The closest he ever came to having children, I suppose, is the middle name I bear in honor of his memory.

Another one of my dad’s friends survived his tour of duty only to be scarred by it for the rest of his life, or at least, so it seemed. A “frogman,” that friend had the scary job of following behind the enemy divers and dismantling the bombs they had set in the ocean. It was almost fifteen years after the war before he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, but even before that, he had chosen a different path.

A sort of “old hippie,” he travelled the country playing music, never laying down roots, and yet still having that bon vivant quality that drew others to him. At his funeral recently, Dad was impressed by the stories this buddy’s more recent friends had to tell about the kindnesses extended and lives touched by someone who truly sacrificed all for his country, leaving behind in the end nothing to really call his own.

No matter how diligently we try to express or emulate the stories we experience on paper, beyond personal experience there are no stories as powerful as those woven for us in the pages of the Bible. Open this good book anywhere, and you will encounter love stories, great battles, and conversations with God.

How incredible is the story of Saul called Paul, a Pharisee known for his zealous pursuit of the infidel Christians, a Roman citizen who met God on the road to Damascus and gave up all the acclaim he had earned among his peers to preach the truth of Christ to the Gentiles? Or what about David, who had a heart like God’s, yet still continued to struggle with the same sins that we all must face each day? Because David repented of those sins, he continued to find moments of wonder with the One and Only.

But my favorite stories of the Bible are found in the Psalms, where anonymous, every day people, just like you and I, pour out their praise and fear and even anger with God as they combat the challenges that are inherent to being human. What a glorious God we have, that He will love us through our happiness and our pain! If you ever doubt it, you will find a fellow traveller in the Psalms for whichever place with God you are at. And if you are far from God, I am convinced that the every day people of the Psalms can bring you back again.

From Psalm 91: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’”

From Psalm 33: “We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.”

From Psalm 12: “Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore; those who are loyal have vanished from the human race. Everyone lies to their neighbor; they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts.”

Solomon tells us, “There is nothing new under the sun,” but there are beauty and wonder, tears and pain.

And it all begins with a story.

Posted in Writers, Writing

Fuzzy Wuzzies

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Writing is like a stab in the dark, the results often more like trying to see the world through a poor camera lens on a cloudy, moonlit night than the crystal-clear image snapped by a fine, digital camera on a sunny day.

We writers are observers, and what we craft is our version of reality, a view colored by our individual experiences, our cultures, and the worlds in which we live. Some of us write for the love of language, for the poetic rhythms that only a fellow lover of words can truly appreciate. Others feel compelled by an inner message they wish to share or a story they just have to tell.

For the longest time, writers truly crafted in a sort of tunnel. Maybe, like the expatriates of Hemingway’s day, they found fellow wordsmiths with which to share fledgling works before finally publishing for a general audience. Many, like Dickens, found a sort of immediacy by publishing stories in installments in newspapers of the day. Today, we can gain responses to our writing in face-to-face groups, chat rooms, and blogs. The rapidity and ease with which we can express ourselves and get feedback sometimes tempts us into sharing a piece before its time.

Every writer needs a reader, else we might as well be standing at the edge of the ocean and scream into the wind, our words floating away and into nothing on the salty breeze. As a writer, it means something to get responses to what you have written. For one, you want to know if readers got the meaning out of your writing that you wanted them to get. For another, you want to know if what you are toiling to do well is actually making a difference. No one is an island. People need people.

Yet, no matter how much we share in this modern-day writing world, the craft of writing is most often a lonely business. Words flow best in the quiet, in the immersion of experience that only a set amount of time with just you and your blank computer screen allows as you delve into the depths of your brain for just the right turn of phrase or action to make your idea a reality.

“Find the right word,” Mark Twain advised, “not its second cousin.” That kind of dedication to creating a well-written work is really a rare quality. We can’t all create the great American novel.

But that doesn’t keep us from trying.

Posted in Christian Fiction, Christian Living, Writers

Legacy: A New Chapter

The Texas Stray cover
Find my latest book at Lulu.com and in the Nook and iBookstore!

I wish I could say I was slick as all get-out and had planned a series on the concept of legacy to end up in conjunction with finally getting my second book published, but I’m just not that smart. Writing on legacy began for me because we had taken it up as the next subject of study in Sunday school class and because, before I started getting to use my writing through blogging and self-publishing a couple of years ago, I really struggled with questioning what God wanted me to be doing. (I still struggle with that, by the way, but it doesn’t consume me as it once did.)

Now that I have spent some time reflecting on what legacy should mean to a Christian, I of course realize even more that worldly things like writing a book are not what legacy is really about. But, since I am trying to use my writing to plant seeds for the kingdom, so to speak, I hope that my writing will be fruitful in that sense.

For all of my fellow bloggers out there, you know how exciting and frightening sharing a finished work can be. We never really are finished with editing anything we write. Something can always be improved upon, just as we ourselves can always find things personally to improve. But there comes a point when we must let the little bird leave the nest, and so I am ready with my second novel.

I want to take a minute, just a minute, to let myself feel good about this accomplishment. How many people always say they want to write a novel, but never get around to it? Now, by God’s grace, I have been able to complete two! I may never get published by a major house, but with print-on-demand venues like lulu.com, I am able to share my writing with someone other than a person I am related to. If I can touch just one person, haven’t I let God use me to His good purpose just a little bit? You can read more about my book here.

Now, concerning legacy. I need to make sure I don’t put all my hopes of bearing fruit into the proverbial writing basket. In fact, it would be complete arrogance and misunderstanding of the Word on my part to assume I have come close to living a Spirit-filled existence if all I did for others was try to write. Let’s face it, writing is probably 90% for the writer and only 10% for her audience.

No, I need to make sure I am harvesting the fruit of the Spirit in my daily life. I need to shine the light of Christ by being kind, doing things for others, helping those in need when I have the ability and resources to do so, and trying to see things from the other person’s perspective.

This week, with Thanksgiving, I think we will all have opportunities to reach out to others with Christ’s hands. What a wonderful way to begin the ending of the old year and move into the new one.

Thus endeth the lessons on legacy. Thanks for joining me in them.
Posted in Writers, Writing

Fish or Cut Bait?

I am working on a short story collection, among other things, and in doing so, I have dredged up some of my former “masterpieces” to consider. I have begun by typing up one of the older ones that I no longer had a text file on, at first just typing what was on the page and doing some small edits here and there.
But, as I came to the conclusion of my previously written story, I realized that I hadn’t done quite as good a job as I thought at the time. In fact, I might even have written a total bomb. I can only say that my creative writing instructor at the time must have taken mercy on me, or given me a pass for the totality of my work.
So, now is the time to make the decision ever writer has to make at some point in the process of most works. Do I have something worth fighting for as a final product, or should I file this one in the round cabinet, where so many of my lost hopes have found their final resting place?
For this story, I find that there are several elements in the original story when it comes to the characters and even the action that I just failed to fully develop. I, being much younger and less experienced in the world, simply let the ball drop. The problems and conflicts and possibilities of the characters and plot, I find, do still intrigue me. And, I know that I am more qualified than I was at the time to further explore the relationships that I barely skimmed the surface of on my original attempt.
The downside to my story is I have a central action that needs to take place that I know very little about and have very little interest in personally. So, I have to get the discipline to study this area enough to make the details of the action believable, or I have to decide to change the setting and circumstances of the story to avoid having to do the research to ring true. How important is the original central conflict to the true conflict I find developed as I drafted the piece, the conflict that I think I could develop into something much more fulfilling?
These are important issues to any story re-write. Becoming a good writer is so much more than just dreaming up a storyline and characters. We have to also be winnowers, shifting the chaff from the wheat. And that is always a bit easier to do the longer it has been since you first wrote something. Even Ernest Hemingway said that the first draft of anything is trash. That’s so hard to take to heart when you are in the early drafts of anything new. But, when you have the luxury of time to reflect on your writing, it’s actually so right.
For now, I’m going to keep fishing on this short story. Only time will tell if I should truly let all or part of the story go.

Posted in Writers, Writing

Time is a powerful editor

If you ever wondered who your best critic may be, don’t plan on your present self for your most recent work. Also, don’t plan on your mother, or favorite uncle, or even your meanest aunt. For one thing, people who love you will always see your work through that love filter. For another, chances are these loving people also share a big cache of the same experiences you do. They can, in other words, read into what you may have actually failed to convey to an audience that hasn’t seen you in your nappies.

You can be your best editor, eventually. When you have just finished the first draft of something is not the time to be that editor. When you have just written something, it is still too new and fresh, your baby, cuddled in your arms and loved. Put it away for a time, as long as you can and still make your deadlines, before returning to it with an editor’s eye.

I was reminded of this advice, heard so often from experienced and successful writers, as I was digging through my old short stories this week to begin working on a collection to publish. Some of the stories are so old, I have somehow managed to lose the original files. In all honesty, some of them may have even been typed up on the old electric where I began to learn the keyboard in my high school days.

The point is not my age showing, but that, as I have begun to look at these stories afresh, I am seeing the nuances I failed to offer in language and structure the first time around. I can also see how much I have grown as a writer through the years, as real-life experiences have tempered my abilities to paint pictures with words.

Time can be the great healer, then, of hearts and wounds, and words.