Saturday, September 28, 2013

Cup of Tea

To me, having a cup of my favorite Tulsi rose tea is a way to stretch time.  Somehow, it slows down for a few moments.  And I can remind myself to breathe deeply and embrace the day. 

I think for writers, ideas can be like cups of tea.  We can get lost in our writing and time slows down.  Sometimes it even stops.  And we are somewhere else.  Somewhere inside our own pages. 

So my cup of tea with you today is a new writing prompt. 

Close your eyes.  See a place that exists only in your imagination.  Perhaps it is a whole world of hot pink.  Or it is made of candy (mine would be all chocolate!).  Maybe it's a dark world where trees can move and storms have faces.  See it. 

What does it smell like?  My rose tea smells like a garden filled with fragrant flowers bordered by the exotic mysteries of India.  What does your imaginary world smell like? 

What do you hear?  I hear silence.  Quiet.  Birds chirping softly outside in a tree.  What does your imaginary world sound like?  Do you hear voices or animals?  The ocean?  Chaos? 

Now write it down.  Describe this world.  How it looks, sounds, smells.  Make it real. 

And then sit back and breathe for a moment and remember to embrace the day.  And your own creativity.   Thank you for sharing a cup of tea with me. 


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Set Your Imagination Free

For any of you who are writers, the best advice I can give you is:  WRITE. 

I give myself the same advice every single day.  It's something I learned from the best-friend-I've-never-met, Natalie Goldberg.  For those of you who are not familiar with Natalie, she is the author of the book "Writing Down the Bones."  It is the best book on writing I have ever read (and believe me, I have a lot of favorites!).  I have two copies of the book--one in a regular size and the other a mini that I keep in my purse when I go to writing conferences.  Somehow, the book has always given me a little bit of extra confidence.  It's my lucky charm.  If you haven't read the book, I highly recommend it.  The way Natalie writes, you feel like she is a friend, teacher and coach, all rolled into one.  And her advice not only inspires you to do what you love--write--but it gives you the encouragement to believe you can do it.

So, with Natalie Goldberg as my inspiration,  today I am going to give you a writing exercise.  I want you to love writing.  And I want you to believe you can do it.

The key to this exercise is to spend only a few minutes on it.  Let the exercise warm you up before you open your work-in-progress.  Maybe it will jump start a new story idea.  Or maybe it will let you journal something personal.  But give yourself the permission to write without judgment.

Writing Exercise:
Think of an emotion.  Happiness, sadness, grief, anger--choose the first one that pops into your head.  Don't think about it too much.  It's an exercise, not an assignment.  No one will ever see it but you.  Then create a character you would never expect to display that emotion.  Is it a tiny shelter dog who exudes joy, even though its fur is matted down, and it hasn't had a real home in years?  Is it the girl who just won prom queen and has been asked to dance by the football star, but can't stop the tears from running down her face?  Write out your description.  Sketch it if you want.  Really picture this character.  Set your imagination free and see what you can come up with.

Don't forget to let me know how it goes!


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Seven Things I Wish I Had Known

Being a debut author is like entering any new phase of your life.  It's like walking into middle school for the first time as a shy 11 year old, unsure of whether you will be able to find your classrooms or remember your locker combination.  It's like joining a yoga class where everyone else knows the routine, and you need help just to roll out your mat.  And it's like becoming a parent, holding a tiny baby in your arms and not having any clue what to do, but doing it anyway.  When my first novel, JANE IN BLOOM, was released, I wish another author had given me a checklist of things to do.  I would have happily clutched that list in both hands and checked off every single task.  So, for any of you who are debut authors, here are the seven things I wish I had known:

1.  Secure your ARCs.  In standard first time author contracts, the publisher provides a certain number of Advanced Reader Copies.  This number is relatively small, such as 25.  However, if you are going to generate any buzz for your book before it officially debuts, you need ARCs.  Blogger reviews are a good way to get the word out about your book.  But you need to provide ARCs to the reviewers.  Twenty-five ARCs will go fast!  Publishers will send some ARCs out for you to the major reviewers and some bloggers you request.  But you can do more yourself.  And every bit of buzz helps.  If the publisher doesn't want to provide more than 25 at no cost, you can ask for a provision in the contract to purchase them (it will be a nominal fee) and believe me the cost is well worth it. 

2.  Order postcards, book plates, notecards, and bookmarks.  At my publisher's recommendation, I ordered postcards with my book cover on the front and reviews on the back with the ISBN number and my website address.  I can't tell you how many of these I have used.  They make nice give aways at book signings and can be tucked into the cover of your ARC when sending off to reviewers.  I especially like Modern Postcard.  The quality of their printing is very good, and the turnaround is fast.

The front of my postcard

The back of my postcard
I did not discover the wonderful world of book plates until later.  Book plates (for this of you who are like me and think they are plates with images of classic book covers on them) are little square stickers you can autograph and send to people who already have your book. 

My book plate designed by

Notecards are an absolute necessity.  Order some cards with your name across the top or buy a non-personalized set that fits your website/book cover style.  My first set of notecards was pale yellow with my name in red across the top--the cards matched the cover of JANE IN BLOOM.  You will use these when you mail your ARCs to bloggers, when you send copies of your book to teachers or contest winners, for thank yous to your agent and editor.  I have reordered notecards three times already!
Some authors also order bookmarks and matching business cards.  You can format them to include your book cover and a favorite quote from your book.  My friend, Ann Haywood Leal, printed these beautiful bookmarks and business cards for her debut novel, ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER.
Ann Haywood Leal's Bookmark and Business Card
3.  Lists.  Keep lists of all the people you contact and the people who contact you.  It is time consuming to copy email addresses and names onto a spreadsheet or word document on your computer.  But you are the only person who can compile these names and you can reach out to people when your next book is released.  It is worth the time to maintain your contact list. 

4.  Book Trailer.  Some publishers will create a book trailer for new releases, so if your publisher is creating a trailer for your new release, this item is not for you.  If your publisher isn't providing a book trailer for you, consider making one yourself.  A book trailer is a wonderful marketing tool and is worth the investment.  Read my post with YA author Joy Preble.  Her book trailers are extremely engaging and very well done. 

5.  Write.  Do not sit and wait for your book to come out.  Keep writing.  Your best time to sell another book is between your sale and release date.  So write, write, write! Laurie Halse Anderson is running her Sixth Annual Write for Fifteen Minutes a Day Challenge right now.  Join in.  Here's the link.

6.  Network.  I can't say enough about this.  Get out there.  Build your Author Platform.  (See my interview with  author and blogger Cynthia Leitich Smith for guidelines on the best way to do this).  Sign up for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or Tumblr--whichever one feels most comfortable to you.  But be present.  Today's authors have to be visible online and can no longer hide behind our book jackets.  Find your author voice and establish yourself.  It will help you promote your book and build your career. 

7.  Don't Compare.  This is the most difficult of the tasks to accomplish.  Don't compare your path to anyone else's.  Your reviews, your sales and your journey are unique to you alone.  Don't let the business of being an author get in the way of doing what you love best.  Write.

I wish you all the best!