Monday, December 21, 2009

Merry Christmas! (and Happy New Year)

Hello, friends. I just stopped by on my way to the airport to wish all of you a Merry Christmas. As you can see, I got my hot chocolate to go, today.

Did you notice the sign on the door as you came inside? Our fine proprietor is closing the coffee shop for the next two weeks. Let's meet here the first week in January to find out who won the drawing for Become a Real Self-Publisher by Michael N. Marcus and to talk about our plans for 2010.

Gotta run!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Self-Publishing and Paid Marketing

Hi, everyone! Let me unbundle - that wind is really whipping out there. You can see that I brought company with me, today. Pull up a chair for Mr. Michael Marcus. I invited him to talk to us because he has a unique voice in the on-going discussion about how to get your nonfiction book published. (Link to Writer Beware! Blogs to view a summary of some of the discussion.) Mr. Marcus had books published by both large and small traditional publishers, but was unhappy with the books and the income. As a businessperson, he is skilled at finding solutions to problems so he applied his abilities to finding a more effective way to publish his books. In 2008, he formed Silver Sands Books through which he has published five books to date. His book Become a Real Self-Publisherhas been on two different Amazon bestseller lists for business books. His blog for writers and readers is

A Christmas gift to one of our followers will be a copy Become a Real Self-Publisher. The only requirement for being eligible for the drawing is to "follow" and be a member of the community by December 31, 2009. (Sorry Marsha Moore, you won our first drawing, so you're not eligible for the rest of the year. Yes, folks, I'm making up the rules as I go along, so let me know if I get too far out with them.)

Mr. Marcus will pick up where Marsha left off last time with marketing your book. Marsha talked about free services, Michael will tell us about his experience with paid services.

"When your book is ready to go on sale, use a paid-for press release distribution service. I've been quite pleased with PR Newswire and PR Web. Both companies offer various packages with different prices based on distribution and the included photos, audio or video. PR Newswire can even display giant photos in Times Square in Manhattan. The prices at PR Web range from $80 to $360. At PR Newswire, you can spend from $680 to several thousand bucks. If you are only interested in state or regional coverage, you can pay less.

With press release services, as in most things, you get what you pay for. The free press release services are pretty much worthless.

"Late last year I self-published a humorous memoir called I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: stories from school and real life. I chose the top-level $360 package from PR Web and was amazed by the performance. Within an hour of the distribution, Google showed many news websites picking up the story. After a week, there were about TEN THOUSAND links in media all over the world. Some of the links were on my own websites or on the sites of stores selling my book, but the vast majority were the results of my $360 payment to PR Web.

"I started writing -- and promoting -- my Become a Real Self-Publisher back in February. The number of Google links grew gradually by about 10, then 20, then 30 per day. On November 6, I had 971 Google links. My book had an official pub date of October 15, but the final version was not available until about November 10, so that's when I launched my paid PR campaign with a release sent out through PR Web.

"Today, Google shows about 8,300 links! That's a big number and certainly shows the power of PR, but links to a book title are only meaningful if people are searching for that title. I'm more interested in capturing potential book buyers who are searching for a topic that's covered in my book. But a popular title helps that too. A search for part of my title, "real self-publisher," shows four links -- but they're all for my book. A search for "self-publisher" has my book on the first and second Google pages. It changes frequently and has had the top two positions on many days. A search for "self publish" puts my book on the fifth page. That's not page one, but it's better than six, or 14.

"Earlier this year I published a book titled Phone Systems & Phones for Small Business & Home. Its title is well suited for a key word search, and comes up on the first Google page for "small business phone system. It's important to keep in mind that non-fiction books can reach potential purchasers who are not planning to buy books. If you've written a book on do-it-yourself bicycle repair, you might sell a book to someone searching for information on patching a flat bike tire, or someone who wants to buy a headlight or helmet.

"I really don't know how many people use Google to search for books. A study three years ago showed that Google had 91 million searches per day, so now the figure could be 100 million, or more. I'll gladly settle for a tiny percentage of 100 million -- especially since I spend so little to get Google to notice my books."

By using the power of marketing, you can make a significant difference in the number of people who read your book.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

This Little Author Went to Market

Brr! Come in out of that cold wind, Marsha! Let me take your coat. A little pot of tea ought to warm up your insides. Do you have some writing tidbits for us to go along with the Christmas cookies we've been eating? Excuse the crumbs and carry on…

"There's no such thing as isolation nowadays, even for writers. Creating a platform and a web presence, particularly for nonfiction writers, is critical to the success of your book – and even to getting an agent on board. Many agents now admit the first thing they do upon receiving a nonfiction proposal is to Google the author. Do you exist in the cyber-world?

"These days, the most important tools a writer can have in their marketing arsenal are three-fold: a website or blog; Facebook; and Twitter. You don't need to be a technological genius to use any of them, but you do need to put in the time and effort to keep them current. There's nothing worse than going to an author's webpage that hasn't been updated since 1998; it's almost as bad as not having one! The best part of these marketing tactics is they're free. It may take you awhile to get your head around them, but getting on the web can create a ready-made market without spending a cent.

"Blogger and Wordpress are the two most popular templates for bloggers. If you're starting a blog and you want to build up your readership quickly, it's best to pick a topic and not stray too far. For example, if you're a travel writer, you may want to blog about travel destinations. If your expertise is in medicine, you can keep your readers up to date on medical advancements. You can throw in personal tidbits (it is a blog, after all) but stay professional. Keep in mind that potential agents and publishers may read whatever you write, so check your spelling and grammar. Make sure to add links to other relevant websites and put a button for readers to subscribe.

"Starting up a Facebook fan page before you've had anything published might seem a little premature, but you can use it as a way to advertise your expertise, articles or even promote upcoming talks. Share links, photos and build a base for future book buyers.

"Many have derided Twitter as nothing more than frivolous time wasting (and yes, it's good for that, too), but it's a great way to network with other writers, share links, and promote yourself at the same time. Just be careful: plenty of agents and publishing types frequent its pages, so don't say anything you wouldn't want a potential agent to overhear.

"Get into the cyberspace game now and when the next agent Googles you, you'll be everywhere!"

Monday, November 30, 2009

An Open Letter: Guidelines for Choosing

Hello Lynnda...I read on one of your blog posts that you were taking the Apprentice course through Christian Writers Guild.  I am a new writer and wondered about the course.  Have you found it helpful?  Any other suggestions.  God bless your writing ministry. Connie C.

Good morning, Connie;

Congratulations on your decision to become a writer! You are starting out on a marvelous adventure that makes anything Indiana Jones experienced in the movies seem tame by comparison.

Like anything else that is worth doing, becoming a professional writer is not easy; it's not even simple. Becoming a published professional writer in today's world is difficult and complicated. Becoming a Christian writer adds another dimension to this. What you write will reflect on who God is. For that reason, adding professional skills to the talent God gave you is important.

Which brings us to formal training to improve your skills. I have worked through the first seven lessons of fifty in the apprentice program of The Christian Writer's Guild, and so far, I love it. For me, signing up for a formal training program was important. That may not be true for you. Here are some guidelines for deciding if you want to take that path.

1. How much money can you afford to spend? I can afford the $60 a month the apprentice program costs me. From the prices I've seen for independent mentors, this is a bargain. I have personal attention from a seasoned professional for every sentence I write in the lessons. Since the program lasts two years, my mentor will be a major factor in the polishing of my skills. Make sure your budget can allow for the extra expense. No formal course worth doing is without significant cost. Remember though, this is an investment in your career.

2. How much time can you commit to the lessons? This was another easy one for me, since I am physically handicapped and spend 90% of my time at home. Keeping to the schedule of sending in a lesson once every two weeks can eat up large chunks of your time, if you get everything you can from the lessons. Any formal program will demand that you give up something and spend your time studying the craft of writing. Look at what you can give up doing so that you can replace it with learning to write.

3. What other formal education courses are available for you to consider? I researched several other options before I chose distance learning. If you live in a rural area, distance learning may be the best process for you. If you live in or near a city, check out continuing education courses. If you are fortunate enough to live near a university that has a degree program for writers, look into that.

4. Do you have the energy, stamina, and determination to complete the course? Many times, I have started projects I did not complete (like most of my New Year's resolutions!). Learning how to write is work. If you get discouraged by the feedback on your lessons, if you are depressed by the latest rejection letter, if you have family or friends who cannot understand why you study so much, can you persevere and do the work required? Be sure you have the focus and determination to overcome the obstacles that will come your way.

5. What is your goal in improving your writing skills? For me, the answer is that I want to become a Master Writer. Whatever the goal is, it must be your goal. Put it in writing. If you do not know why you want to take the course, how will you know if you're getting out of it what you need?

6. Is God leading you in this direction? While I researched my options, I prayed. Our minds are as malleable as clay. I wanted to be sure that what I was learning molded my mind to honor God more. As I learned about the programs available, I was sensitive to catch that inner snick of certainty that told me I was on the right path. If you get all the other things right but fail to consider God's will for you, it can lead to a catastrophe.
Taking a formal writing course is not the only way to learn the craft of writing. Books on writing abound (look in a library), as do blogs on writing. Conferences have writing classes and local writing organizations primarily exist to help their members learn how to improve their writing.
For everyone, the best advice is to stay alert to make the most of every opportunity and to glean every advantage from your resources as you go on this adventure. Becoming a professional writer requires courage, a love for words, mental toughness, determination, excellent writing skills, and a burning desire to see others read and appreciate the words you've written. Anyone can do it.

Be blessed,


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Children’s Books – Who Reads What

Hi, Mary Jo! It's nice to have you back at the table. I always look forward to the days you come in. Do you have time to drink a cup of café au lait while you're here? That's perfect drink for this blustery day. I know you've come to tell us helpful information for writing children's nonfiction books. Why don't you get started?

"Lynnda asked me to tell you about age levels in children's nonfiction books. I'm also going to touch on the different types of children's books within the age levels.

"Generally, children's book publishers break down age levels in children's books as follows:

"Baby, toddler:
ages 0-3: board books, touch-and-feel books, cloth books, bath books. Because book packagers often produce these books, it isn't an easy area for aspiring writers to break into.

"Preschool: age 18 months to 3 years. Very simple picture books, novelty books, such as lift-the-flap books, board books. Information books for this age might include concept books (colors, counting, size and shape), books about everyday objects (cars and trucks), or animals (farm animals, animal babies).

"Picture Books: Preschool to grade 3. Classic picture books, generally 32 pages long, in which pictures and text are of equal importance. Longer picture books or photo essay-type picture books might be geared to older readers, ages 5-9.

"I've read recently that the publishers have cooled on longer picture books (retellings of fables, folk or fairy tales), but are looking for picture books with spare language for the very young. Multicultural books continue to be popular.

"Nonfiction picture books include: biographies, behind the scenes (how a crayon is made), explaining money (How Much is a Million), historical events (the Oregon Trail), science and the environment, astronomy, pets, animals (polar bears, sharks, whales), holidays (particularly multicultural), dinosaurs, and sports.

"Easy-to-read, easy reader, or leveled readers: Grades 1 and 2. These are the first books that children read to themselves and have controlled vocabulary that increases in difficulty at each level. In a bookstore or library, easy readers are usually shelved separately.

"In nonfiction, easy readers might be about animals, the rainforest, sports, biographies, dinosaurs, easy scientific concepts (why leaves change color), space, etc. Leveled readers are also usually published in series.

"Chapter books:
Grades 2-4: Some publishers no longer use this term, but these are the transitional books between easy readers and thicker middle grade books. Jon Scieszka's Time Warp Trio series and the Captain Underpants books come to mind. Many of these chapter books are also published in series. However, publishers are in search of good books for boys, so it might be worth a try writing a nonfiction chapter book. Many boys get lost in the shuffle at this age and fall behind girls in their reading skills, and boys at this age often prefer reading nonfiction to fiction.

"Middle grade. Grades 3-6. This is the prime reading age for kids. They often have their own topics in which they become experts, and gender difference becomes more apparent in the nonfiction books they choose to read (for example, horses, ballet, or gymnastics for girls, and space or sports for boys). There are two types of nonfiction books for this group--books designed primarily for libraries and schools (unfortunately called the "institutional market") and the fun, lighter fare for recreational reading--nonfiction you might find in bookstores or sold through book clubs.

"The series I co-wrote, the Undersea Encounters series, was designed for school/library market, but we tried to make the books fun and appealing enough to be in bookstores (fun design, amazing photos, etc). Some Undersea Encounters paperbacks were sold to bookstores, but for the most part booksellers don't want to carry books they perceive to be school support books (no matter how lively the design!).

"To get an idea of library-type nonfiction books, look in the children's room of your local library. These types of books about countries, states, biographies etc (for example, the various Children's Press series) are usually shelved separately. Each book in the series will have a similar format and must include the following: table of contents, subject broken in chapters, index, glossary, and bibliography. Generally the books have also been reviewed by experts in the field (either chosen by the publisher or by the author). For the Undersea Encounters series, for example, we asked renowned marine biologists to be our consultants.

"Trade books for this age include ephemeral mass market books (paperbacks about the latest fads, celebrities, etc), and more substantial books such as the DK books, which have spectacular photographs and interesting designs. The DK books cover all sorts of topics of interest to kids.

"Some of the nonfiction topics for middle grade level include: biographies, environmental issues (rainforest, ecology, being green), animals, sports, books about historical events, music, ballet, how things work, geography, horses, science experiments and projects, fun facts book, nature, cookbooks, craft books, holiday books, computers, drawing books, pop culture.

"YA: Ages 12 and up. This area has grown increasingly important in recent years, though I think primarily in fiction, not nonfiction. YA nonfiction books would include school support material (books, for example, about anorexia and drug abuse), or books that speak to the concerns of young adults: pop culture, music, puberty, self-empowerment, stress, cliques, identity, health, and social issues. Some interesting historical nonfiction has been written for this age level. See, for example, Ann Bausum's With Courage and Cloth, about the women's suffrage movement.

"Final thoughts: If you don't have much contact with kids or teens, it's important to read magazines, watch TV shows and movies, talk to kids, and read books for kids to get a handle of what might interest them. If you're writing primarily for the school/library market, look at what's been written on the topic already. Are the books on this subject already out of date? Check, for example, National and State Educational Standards. Perhaps you can think of a topic that might fit perfectly into the school curriculum.

"Also, I recommend joining the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators - scbwi. As a member, you will receive information about SCBWI conferences around the country (where you can meet editors and agents), and you can network with other children's writers. In addition, the SCBWI bulletin has a section called "what editors and librarians are looking for," which often includes nonfiction topics."

Thanks, Mary Jo. I will return to your advice often as I decide what to write for whom when I have an idea for a children's book.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. You are definitely at the top of my list of people for whom I'm thankful.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Perpetual Researcher

Hello, Ethel. Welcome back! Sit here at the end of the table, get your thoughts together while I order you something to drink, and tell us more about research. (If you missed her first installment on research, click here.)

OK, you have our complete attention.

"Research is not a thing you do.

"Research is a passion for information and the truth it represents. This passion translates into a frame of mind where every wind that brushes across your cheek whispers secrets, opens doors, dispenses treasures. These all enrich your person and give your project unexpected substance and relevance.

"I recall one day, years ago, fuming because I had to take time out from researching the book I was writing to take my mother-in-law to the doctor. Sitting in the office waiting, I browsed through a magazine in search of diversion. Instead, I found an address that promised to hold important materials for my research.

"In the end that one address led to another which led to another and another… This little discovery proved to be one of my most valuable finds in the whole process for that project. If I hadn't already developed what I've since come to call the mind of a perpetual researcher I might have missed it altogether.

"When you research, you must submerge yourself in your topic. As we used to say, you learn to eat your topic, sleep it, think it, breathe it. It consumes you. No matter whom you meet or talk with, you always have one ear open for the magical words that tell you this person my very well be bursting with some expertise, opinion, or experience you are searching for - or they may know someone else who is.

"Become an expert at steering all kinds of conversations in the direction of your topic. Whether they know it or not, you are interviewing everyone you talk with. You are searching their minds and hearts for fresh nuances and personal connections that will give your work both depth and breadth and make it different from anything else on the market.

"Of course, there's more - TV programs, radio talk shows, books, newspapers, magazines, seminars, guided tours, even junk mail. All these and many more contribute to the flood of information that surrounds us. Each source is a potential gold mine for the writer with antennae tuned to the topic that holds you in its grip.

"In the introduction to one of his biographical novels about Michelangelo, historian/novelist, Sidney Alexander talks about walking through the city of Florence in search of his hero. He called it doing research "through the pores." The passionate researcher opens up himself to it all and lets it invade his mind and his person.

"Ideas fill the air we breathe. So do the sensory observations that bring our writing to life. The whole world is one vast library just waiting to be consulted, but we never know which corner will yield the treasures we are looking for. So, as researchers, we keep the eyes and ears open, the antennae attuned. We never assume that some resource we encounter has no value for us. Rather, we dig it all up, take it apart, question it, give it a chance to make our work great. We become The Perpetual Researcher."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Community Spotlight

Hi, everyone! Sorry I'm late. Let me squeeze by so I can get to my chair.

Don't you just love it when your favorite relative comes to town? My sister and I get to see each other only a couple of times a year, so her visit was a real treat. Unfortunately, catching up with my writing responsibilities afterwards always take more time than I think it will.

I see the table got bigger while I was gone. I want to welcome Jennifer Ortolano. Jennifer writes Blogging It Out and Through the Eyes of a Bulimic. Check out her blogs, but watch out for her sense of humor. She got me with her video.

Lori Calabrese has also pulled a chair up to our table. Link here for her web page. Lori is an award winning children's writer with lots to offer writers of children's books on her web site. Right now, she has a "Fishing for a Free Book" thing going on that looks like lots of fun.

Berta is the third new member of our community. I'd like to put Berta in the spotlight, too. From the list of blogs she's joined, I'm guessing that she lives and writes in Kentucky, but she has no links for me to connect and share. Berta, would you care to leave a comment and tell us more about yourself?

Do you remember what I wrote about not re-inventing the wheel? (Scroll down and read Day 7 if you don't know what I'm talking about.) While I was researching publishers, I found two more places of interest for our community: Funds for Writers , which is full of leads to paying jobs, contests, and grants for writers.

The second one is Selling Books. Don't let the title fool you. Along with marketing savvy, the site calls itself the "guide to writing, publishing and marketing books and ebooks" and it's not an empty boast. While I was exploring the web page, I took the opportunity to participate in their "blog carnival." That was new to me, too. Link here then scroll down until you find the paragraph about Ethel Herr's research article on our community blog. Look for me to use this again for other posts.

I also have a new nonfiction agent for our list (aka "The N-F A-List"). Loren Grossman represents a wide array of nonfiction book topics. To quote the news article, "The Paul S. Levine Agency is pleased to announce that Ms. Loren R. Grossman has joined the Agency. She will primarily handle non-fiction books in the areas of Archeology, Art/Photography/Architecture, Child Guidance/Parenting, Coffee Table Books, Education, Gardening, Health/Medicine/Science, Memoirs, and Sociology." So if you have a book idea in one of those categories, think about querying Ms. Grossman.

Links to Funds for Writers, Selling Books, and Ms. Grossman have been added in the column on the right for future reference.

That's it for today. Sorry I can't stay longer, but I still haven't caught up with everything. See you soon.

Monday, November 2, 2009

And the winner is...

Hi everybody!

I'm in a hurry this morning, so I can only stay a minute. I wanted to let you know that Marsha Moore won Ethel Herr's book, An Introduction to Christian Writing.

Be back again soon.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Trip to Travel Writer

What a beautiful Sunday afternoon! The weather is so crisp and the sky is that actinic blue color that I love to see this time of year. I feel so good that I strolled over to the coffee shop for a change. When I got here, I saw that the Sunday morning crowd had already come and gone leaving pieces of their Sunday papers strewn about on the tables for others to share. At the top of the stack on our table is the travel section. I love to kick back in my easy chair and pretend to visit the exotic places featured in the travel section of a Sunday paper.

The next best thing to going to an exotic place is to read a travel book written by someone who lives there. To spark your imagination for writing about the exotic place where you live, we are beginning a series of posts by Marsha Moore. Be sure to enter her contest.

Confessions of a Travel Writer

I must make a confession, here and now: when I started my whole writing journey, I was dead-set on fiction. In fact, I almost turned down a publisher because I was so sure fiction was what I wanted to do. Not for me, this writing about reality lark. No, I wanted to create, to fashion story lines from the depths of my mind, to make what's inside my head come alive.

I still do want my fiction to be published. I've got four novels waiting for my attention, ready to be polished and submitted. But right now, despite my oh-so-clear plan of action, I'm really enjoying writing non-fiction. Or, to put it more accurately, travel writing.

Ever since I was young, I've loved to travel. My parents were both teachers and were keen to show my brother and me the world. We journeyed all across Canada (my home country), the States, and even to Europe. My mum collected items along the way and encouraged us to make scrapbooks, writing little vignettes. I think that's where it all started. By the age of nine, I'd already written one travelogue -- the dramatically named 'Disasters in Florida' -- where our week-long trip was catalogued in agonizing detail.

Years later, when I moved to Poland to teach English (a quarter-life crisis), I rediscovered how much I loved to write about the different smells, sights, and ways of living. And when I settled in London, it only seemed natural that when it came time to pitch a publisher, it would be travel related.

My new book (launching 4 November 2009) is a London guidebook, 24 Hours London. While it's quite daunting to compete with biggies like Lonely Planet or Fodor's, I like to think it's a guide book with a difference: all the listings are organised hour by hour, from 5 a.m. to midnight and back again. All you need to do is flip to the hour you're free, then take your pick! It was loads of fun to write and research, and it completely rekindled my London love affair (not that it had ever really ended -- after five years, I'm still enamoured with the city).

If you want to win a copy of the book (and a lovely T-shirt), please head over to my blog at Write On!. All you need to do is write about 24 hours in your location, (Read this for complete details: 24 Hours In Your Neck of the Woods.) then post it on your blog or send it to me in an email:

My thanks to Lynnda for starting this space and I look forward to trading thoughts with you!

p.s. If you want to have YOUR 24 Hours In Your Neck of the Woods posted on this blog, send it to lynndaell[at]live[dot]com before November 4, 2009.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What Idea Do I Research?

Last week, Ethel Herr wrote a great article on researching. I definitely wanted to look up something – anything – to discover new facts. Then I ground to a halt; what should I research?

Today, Mary Jo Rhodes, who successfully published a series of nonfiction children's books, describes how she chose sea animals for her subject. You can see her books at Thank you, Mary Jo for taking the time to tell us your story. Maybe this article will give me some ideas for my research…

*Lynnda kindly asked me to write a few guest posts about my experiences writing the Seahorses and Sea Dragons and the other books in the Undersea Encounters> series for Children's Press/Scholastic. Her first question was:

Why did I choose to write nonfiction books for children about sea creatures?

Writing about sea creatures wasn't an obvious choice for me. I'm not a marine biologist, teacher, or scientist. Both sons, however, loved science and animals. My younger son was obsessed with sharks. We visited lots of aquariums and science museums. I became fascinated with the amazing variety of undersea creatures. One family trip was especially memorable: we watched a sea turtle lay her eggs at night on a beach in Florida. Over the years, we've also gone snorkeling and on whale watching trips.

One day in the gym, I was wearing my seahorse t-shirt from the San Elijo, California, campground. It was an old and ragged t-shirt, but I was sentimentally attached to it because I got it on one of the last trips I took with my mother before she passed away. A friend noticed the shirt and mentioned he loved seahorses. I rattled off some interesting facts about them—seahorse fathers give birth to the babies, not seahorse mothers; seahorses are the only fish that swim upright; seahorses have prehensile tails like monkeys. Later I went home and Googled seahorses. I found an interesting site called Project Seahorses devoted to protecting seahorses, and I continued to research and learn about them.

A couple of weeks later (coincidentally), my husband suggested we go to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, where there was a major seahorse exhibit. Of course, I said yes, and in fact, I had already decided to write about seahorses even before we got to Baltimore. It all clicked into place.

So how does this relate to you? I would suggest when you look for ideas you don't necessarily gravitate to the obvious choice for you (you love music so your book has to be about music). Sometimes those topics we're personally obsessed with might not be that interesting to other people. Be open to receiving new ideas. Think about what fascinates you and what you'd love to learn more about—and what might make an appealing topic for others.

I've been to college and graduate school, but I'm a big believer in self-education. I spent three or four years in my forties learning about octopuses, whales, kelp forests, and so on, yet I was an English major in college. All I needed was a library card and a decent library system where I could order books via interlibrary loan.

I also think firsthand experiences are so important for gathering ideas. Supplement your book learning with "field trips." For example, this past summer, we went on a tour of a 17th century-house in Massachusetts. The tour guide knew all kinds of fascinating details about the house and the people who lived there, the kind of tidbits you might not find in a book, or that you might skip if you were reading a book. You don't have to travel to exotic countries. I imagine there are historic sites near where you live that you've never been to. (I grew up on Long Island, an hour from New York City, but I didn't go up the Empire State Building until I was 23!).

Keep files of interesting ideas that you might want to pursue. Not every idea will pan out. But one of these ideas might lead to something that you'll want to research and write about.

Who knew that wearing my seahorse t-shirt to the gym would eventually lead to a published book!*

Friday, October 16, 2009

Break Out to Discovery

Welcome to our table this fine Friday morning. We have a special guest. I am so excited that Ethel Herr, author of An Introduction to Christian Writing has agreed to write a few essays on the thrill of researching. (Remember, anyone joining our group before midnight on Oct. 31, 2009 is eligible to be in a drawing for Mrs. Herr's book.)

Mrs. Herr, you have our complete attention.

Lynnda has asked me to write to you about a subject that can get me pretty excited. I love research so much it can threaten to keep me from ever getting my writing done. Some folks hate it and drag their feet or never make room for it. But their writing suffers when they fail to gather the authentication that everyone's writing needs in today's information-saturated world.

So, where do we begin?

You have a compelling idea for a powerful book. Unique, practical, earth-shaking. If you pull it off, it could encourage thousands of struggling souls out there. It might become a bestseller. It could even change the world.

One problem: Have you done enough research to make it crackle with authenticity? To grab your readers with sensory details, word pictures and believable stories? To corroborate your theories and observations with strong, memorable quotes?

Research puts a key in your hands that can unlock the doors to your readers' hearts.

But the piles of information and materials available on even the smallest topic are enormous. How shall you tackle the challenge? Where shall you look?

Experience has taught me that research is discovery and discovery demands at least four kinds of skills:

  1. The skills of an archeologist—the ability to dig through dust and hard packed dirt with patience, persistence and a refusal to stop till you reach the bottom. Never stop telling yourself, "There's a diamond in here somewhere. I will find it."
  2. The abandon of an adventurer—an obsession with going to all the places where the little jewels you need may be lodging. Some likely, some absurd, all (to you) unknown frontiers where you can submerge yourself in the journey. Don't be afraid to tackle unexpected and sometimes dangerous obstacles, to meet people and ask questions and be flexible enough to learn new ways of thinking and doing and experiencing things related to your topic.
  3. The calculating mindset of a detective. Never stop asking "Who would know the information I am seeking?" "Why would they know it?" "Who would they divulge it to?" "Where would they hide it?" "How can I get my hands on it?" "How can I be sure it is authentic?" "What further information does it lead me to?"
  4. The addictive paradigm of a curiosity seeker. Ask questions without end. What is it? Why did he do that? Where did it happen or where is it going? When was it or will it be? Who said this before? What does it mean? How does it feel? What is the mood? Why does it matter? What does it do to my senses—taste, smell, touch, sight, hearing, movement? What are all the theories about this? How might this turn out? Has it been tried before? With what results? Is it a viable suggestion? How will it change my life? My community? My world?...

Research is

a discovery

a fresh wind sighing into the soul

a surprise morsel to chew and savor

a rich full resonance

a hushing spell

an epiphany

creating insatiable appetite for


See you next month!

Ethel Herr

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Day 7: Not Reinventing the Wheel

Hi everybody, sorry I'm late. A traffic jam at the one major intersection between my house and the coffee shop held me up. Being late is better than not arriving, though. That was the result for one driver. She was killed and so was the mail carrier who was sorting mail at the back of his mail truck when one of the cars plowed into him. Please drive carefully. We all want to be here to celebrate the holidays that are just around the corner.

OK, that was not the most cheerful way to start my post, so let's talk about something else. Today, I want to welcome two new writers to our table. The first is Wendy Love. Wendy maintains two blogs, but she is actively writing only on Dipsy Doodling Around Depression . She and her husband live in Ontario, Canada. Welcome, Wendy!

The newest member at our table is Lindsey Martin. Lindsey blogs at Keep Your Eyes on the Son . She is in college in the beautiful state of Arkansas. Welcome, Lindsey! Both Wendy and Lindsey are eligible for the drawing for the second edition of An Introduction to Christian Writing.

Part of brainstorming is to decide what NOT to do in our community. If this blog works only as a place to explore other resources for writers of nonfiction books, then I will consider it a success. Thanks to a suggestion Wendy made, I have an entry for a new category of links: Wheels Not Invented Here. In the business world, some companies find it difficult to use ideas that do not originate inside their own company. See the Wikipedia explanation: Not Invented Here. Our community, on the other hand, wants to find the best the Internet has to offer to writers of nonfiction books and provide links to them.

Wendy pointed me in the direction of ProBlogger.(Thanks, Wendy!) This site is for serious bloggers, but beginners can find information of value, too. If you join the forums ($1.95/month) you can ask questions and receive plenty of answers. Blogging is an important tool in building a platform and in practicing your writing skills. Doing it well increases the potential for delivering your words to a satisfied audience of readers.

After I set up the category, I immediately thought of several other sites I wanted to add: Rachelle Gardner's blog Rants and Ramblings for all things about agents and publishing etiquette, Writer Beware Blogs! for wary writers who want to keep a whole skin and protect their wallet and Terry Whalin's Right-Writing for interesting reading on many nonfiction writing topics.

Finally, I am adding a site inappropriate for nonfiction writers, the NaNoWriMo link. In case you are unfamiliar with this site – as I was until Wendy got me interested – NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. This is the tenth year where writers try to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. While the focus is fiction, no one reads what you write. No prizes are given; you could even write the same word 50,000 times and no one would be the wiser. This led me to the idea to write 50,000 nonfiction words on a book I have outlined. I would follow all the rules, which are few, and enjoy the challenge. What do you think? Could you write around 1,700 words a day for a month? Check it out and get back to me.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Introduction to Writing School

My preparation for school began in December 2008. I was ready to become a professional writer, instead of writing as a hobby. I spent the next nine months learning everything I could find about the craft of writing and about the business of publishing over the Internet and through books. My perceptions changed; even though I learned as fast as I could absorb the information, I began to see that my writing skills had as many holes as a washed out street. I discovered that one problem with trying to educate myself was that I didn't know what I didn't know.

About the time I discovered my problem, The Christian Writers Guild had a half-price special on their Guild Critique Service. I had a children's story in the best shape that I could make it, so I sent it to them. Six weeks later, I got back a cover letter and four pages of in-depth review. What a value for the price!

The cover letter prepared me for a critique that would be difficult to read – setting my expectations that my story would be trashed. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised; the tone of the review was positive even when the message being delivered was negative. Believe me, that tone can make all the difference in how easy it is to hear criticism.

The review was divided into six sections: purpose, planning & pacing, persuasive content, proper language usage & general presentation, personalization and potential.

This is what I learned from the critique:
Purpose: They missed the whole purpose I had in writing the story. Either I was too subtle in the way I wrote it or I don't understand the definition of purpose in writing.
Planning & Pacing: The lack of passive verbs was good; so was asking questions. The plot was too straightforward; I needed to add some twists.
Persuasive Content: My story had clichés - both the figure of speech kind and clichés of scene and character. I used too many exclamation marks. (Just for reference, don't used eight in the first three paragraphs; that's enough for a whole book!) :>)
Proper Language Usage & General Presentation: They thought I did well here, since my manuscript was formatted right, (Check out The Chicago Manual of Style.) and was correct in spelling, word usage and grammar. I had the usual problem with "telling" instead of "showing."
Personalization: This was my weakest point. I did not create a way for the reader to make an emotional tie to my main character. What was worse was that I have no idea how to do that.
Potential: The reviewers complimented me on my solid start and good voice. They also told me to strive for clarity and remove anything that could be confusing.

Some of their comments were easy to implement; some were impossible simply because I didn't know what they were talking about. It was at that point I made the decision to learn the skills I need in the most systematic and efficient manner possible, by going back to school. After spending a week studying the review and praying about it, I signed up for the Apprentice program that The Christian Writers Guild offers. Next month, I'll tell you about my first two lessons.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Day 6: Walking In Sunshine

What a beautiful day, here in the world of our virtual coffee shop. October is definitely one of the best months to feel alive right down to your fingertips. The sky has turned that shade of blue that proclaims "No more muggy days!" The trees and bushes are putting on their annual fashion show in a burst of energy that will fade all too soon. I will cherish every minute of this exhilarating season.

My days in the community blog have gotten more exciting, too. I have some cool news to share with you.

First, I want to welcome Juan Lopez to the group at our table. Juan blogs at A Pen Itching to Bleed Onto Paper. He lives in northern California, is a youth pastor and works at a crisis center. Juan writes from a desire to share what God is doing in his life. Welcome, Juan!

Which moves me right into the next news: Juan, Marsha, and Jennifer are eligible for a drawing at the end of October. The winner of the drawing will received an autographed copy of An Introduction to Christian Writing, second edition, by Ethel Herr. The front cover rightly announces that this book is "an in-depth companion to the complete writing experience." If you want to be eligible for the drawing, join us at the table by following the blog before midnight on October 31st. I will announce the winner the following week.

Moving right along with the good news, Ethel Herr has agreed to write a few pieces on doing research for our blog. Her book has a great chapter, Lesson 7, Part 2, that should jump-start anyone on researching. She has not picked a date, yet, for the pieces to be posted, so stay tuned.

Finally, I wanted to alert you to an opportunity to be published. Barbour Publishing is currently seeking writers for a new publishing project:  Heavenly Humor for the Cat Lover's Soul. Click through to see the Guidelines(73KB). They need 75 entries, 500 words each, for this book. If you can write humorous cat stories—drawing some inspirational Christian thought from each, they welcome you to submit entries for possible publication. You will be paid a small fee and receive some free books if they select your work to include in the book.

Come back tomorrow. I will begin a series on my experience as a student of writing.

Happy writing and walk in the sunshine.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Day 5: A Fist Full of Firsts


You may have noticed that another writer has joined our table. Meet Marsha Moore; she lives in London, England and blogs at Write On!. Today, we are helping Marsh celebrate. The mayor of London endorsed her book, 24 Hours: London. [Clink of wine glasses…] Congratulations, Marsha! Link to her blog to read the story.

We are also celebrating another first for Calling All Aspiring Writers with Marsha. She has agreed to write a monthly piece for our site. Beginning on October 15th, Marsha will write on travel books. Her travel book about London is coming out in October and she working on one about Paris. Marsha is our first 897 Regular.

Another "first" for our community is a featured conference. The column on the right shows a fall writers' conference. Escape to Create is a non-profit organization that hosts a January artist-in-residence program in Seaside, Florida. This year, they have expanded their mission to host their first annual writers' conference to be held Oct. 14-16, 2009. This is a boutique conference that accommodates a maximum of 40 people. The award-winning visiting authors will have sessions on memoir writing, the profession of writing, and non-fiction writing that could be of interest to non-fiction writers.

The sessions are small and held in a private residence, so many opportunities exist for one-on-one time with the presenters. Please note that if you are unable to climb stairs, this would not be the conference for you. The sessions are held on the second floor of the home. If you are interested you can contact Mrs. Melayne DeMars at

Finally, I have posted the first links to organizations that educate writers. The Christian Writers' Guild works toward the goal of giving students the tools necessary to keep them from the many missteps and pitfalls that can stall a writer's career. It is the one with which I am most familiar. I have just started their two-year apprentice program. I will start blogging about that next month.

The second one is The Creative Nonfiction Foundation. Quoting from their web site, the Creative Nonfiction Foundation "pursues educational and publishing initiatives in the genre of literary nonfiction. Its objectives are to provide a venue, the journal Creative Nonfiction, for high quality nonfiction prose (memoir, literary journalism, personal essay); to serve as the singular strongest voice of the genre, defining the ethics and parameters of the field; and to broaden the genre's impact in the literary arena by providing an array of educational services and publishing activities." They have contests that may also be of interest.

That's our fist full of firsts for our blog. Let me know if you find them useful.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day 4: All It Takes Is Time

It is raining here. People come into the coffee shop, loosely close their umbrella, shake off the water and hang it on the hat rack in the corner. The clatter of spoons in cups and murmur of conversation drop into the background in the almost constant rumble of thunder. The room has a very cozy feel. This is a mint tea kind of day, so I sit here with a hot cup of tea in my favorite chair.

Today is another day of firsts for our non-fiction community blog. Sitting at the table with me is Jennifer - trumpets, please! – the first non-fiction writer to join me at the table. Jennifer blogs at Blogging It Out. She is new to the blogging world, so take the time to check out her page and tell her hello. Welcome, Jennifer!

What a pleasure to add another chair to the table just for Jennifer. With a little help from other people who have an interest in writing non-fiction books, our community can grow. If you will help by joining us at the table and telling others you know about the community, we can build some momentum. Jennifer has gotten the ball rolling. Now all it takes is time and enough people who care.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Day 3: The Who

You might have noticed that my blog ended rather abruptly, yesterday. I spilled lemonade on my laptop. Yeah, bummer, huh? Fortunately, it was not terminal – for the laptop, I mean, but it almost gave me a heart attack.

I had another crazy brainstorming idea while I was gone. All aspiring writers have rejection letters. Those one or two sentences can be very painful, but they are universally dull – at least in my experience. They range from the extreme of "no comment," after waiting three months to hear SOMETHING, through "the project is not right for us," to "you need a huge platform to sell this." It might be fun to collect rejection letters. Twice a year we could vote on the most creative one and award the winning agency/publisher an
"R" (a rejection letter) – pun intended. If we have no creative rejection letters submitted to the community, then we could hold a creative rejection letter-writing contest instead.

A community blog takes a lot of teamwork. The volunteers who commit to writing regularly on a topic in which they are skilled will be part of The 897 Regulars. Some of the talents the community will need: writers in these (and other) genres, cookbooks, travel, academic, devotional, narrative, memoire, biography/autobiography, journalistic, humor, (Please, help me, here! Add some non-fictional genres to the comments.) and experts in building platforms, writing queries, researching, interviewing, marketing, creating blogs and building a following, designing and using web sites, staying motivated to write, editing and self-editing, language usage, and publishing/self-publishing.

Other members of The 897 Regulars will be the volunteers who keep facebook, twitter, and other social network communities updated with the community blog news and those who manage the sidebar extras that we create for the right-hand column of the blog.

Today marks the first time any 897 Community content goes up on the blog. Two agencies who specialize in representing non-fiction work, Daniel Literary Group and Martin Literary Management become the first two members of the N-F A-List. If you know of any agencies that specialize in non-fiction representation and you have researched them thoroughly enough to recommend them to others, please either email me at lynndaell[at]live[dot]com or leave a comment.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Day 2: Brainstorming

This coffee shop is nice. The location is good, the tables are generously sized and the food and drink taste as good as they look.

I sit in the chair I have claimed for my own, back to the wall, ready to welcome those who come my way. Did I mention that the shop has Wi-Fi? I found that out yesterday, so I brought my lap-top, today. While I wait for you to find the coffee shop, I want to drink my lemonade and do a little brainstorming.

In case you've never been in a brainstorming session, the idea is to let the imagination fly, record every thought - no matter how harebrained, and see how well the creative juices can flow. So, here is a list of questions I am asking myself – and you, too, if you want to join me.

Who would be invited to join?
Anyone in the world who is interested in creating and publishing non-fiction books and who can speak English
Would like a diverse group that works in all the genres of non-fiction
Must be willing to share what they know best and generously support other aspiring writers

What should be in the posts?
Anything and everything related to creating and publishing non-fiction books including
Platforms – when you need them and when you don't
Identifying genre – difference between biography and memoire, journalistic and narrative, etc
Research techniques – the web, the experts, libraries, etc
Tips and ideas for writing in a specific genre of non-fiction

What reoccurring topics could be used?
site statistics - how many visitors, countries, etc;
each genre have a focused blog posting once a month;
the student's view of taking a writing course: college/correspondence;
Birthday party for non-fiction books published since the last party;
seminars and conferences of special interest to non-fiction writers (and why);
blog parties to introduce all the new blogs to everyone;
funny story Friday night;
Fording the River, how my manuscript got published (by a person who follows the blog)

What else should be on the site?
Contests -(#1: choosing a better name for the blog!),
corporate sponsors (all related to publishing),
a list of agents specializing in non-fiction books and what they are looking for,
list of blogs and web sites of interest to non-fiction writers,
opportunities for visitors to vote on blog content and other issues,
a non-fiction award for web sites/blogs that are most helpful to non-fiction writers (award created here, sites nominated and voted on by the readers),
blogger award for the most informative blog posted on this blog the previous month (top three chosen by number of comments, winner by reader votes)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Day 1: Sitting Here Alone

Here I am sitting at the table in the corner with my back to the wall, ready to smile and wave a welcome to anyone who heads my way. On the table in front of me is a lined tablet and a fat mechanical pencil just waiting to capture my thoughts, as I sit here waiting to see if anyone else will show up. I have a fresh Dr. Pepper and plenty of time, so come on over and talk.

What am I doing here? That's a good question. Let me tell you how this got started.

Almost a year ago, my hobby of writing got kicked up a notch to the aspiring writer category. I began browsing the web to learn something about the business of publishing and the craft of writing. I've linked up with some great folks and learned a ton of new information. All of that came with much frustration, however. What I discovered – not the first to learn it, I'm sure – is that most bloggers, web sites, and all things publishing focus primarily on fiction.

Now don't get me wrong. I love fiction. Most of the books I read are fiction and 90% of the ones I buy are fiction. But the one I am writing is non-fiction. I have spent hours looking for a web site devoted to non-fiction ideas, issues, and conversation without success. Well, I saw the movie, too; "If you build it, they will come." So here I am.

If this blog is to be a success, I need your help. If you write non-fiction and are willing to contribute posts on this blog, e-mail me at lynndaell[at] (You know the drill, replace [at] with@.) Let's discuss your participation. Meanwhile, I'll just sit here, drink my Dr. Pepper, and write.

Oh, yes, if you've discovered any web sites devoted to non-fiction writing, leave a comment and I'll start a link list.