Wednesday, June 29, 2011

An Invitation to Get Away and Write!

NCompass Writers Retreat
(Formally the Christian Writers Den Retreat)
September 29-October 2, 2011

For years, Vonda Skelton and I have led a fall writers retreat. This year we’re offering this weekend away once again—but with a twist. You talked and we listened! That’s right—after eight glorious years of writing retreats at the beach and then in the mountains, the time has come to move to a larger place on Lake Keowee and open our writing retreat to more people, including a few men!

Do you feel called to write, but can’t find the time to stop and hear His voice? Are you new to the writing world and don’t know where to begin? Have you been writing for years, but need a chance to get away and focus on your project? Regardless of your location on the writing path, the NCompass Writing Retreat is designed just for you!

Come join us for FOUR days of instruction and hours of writing in peaceful solitude. Bible study will open and close our days as we seek direction from the Master Author.

This year’s retreat will be held in a luxuriously-appointed, 6000 square feet, 9-bedroom, 7-bath waterfront home on beautiful Lake Keowee in Seneca, SC.

The tiered registration fee includes four days and three nights’ lodging, nine home-cooked meals, snacks, seven classes and handouts, hours of uninterrupted writing time, at least one 15-minute editorial meeting, and free give-aways—and you don’t have to cook or clean up!

NCompass classes include fiction, non-fiction, humor writing, platform-building, articles, blogging, and speaking as a writer.

In addition to the writing focus, there will be free time for visiting, shopping and rest. Laptops are welcome, but not required. Free Wi-Fi is available and most cell phones work in the area. Linens and towels are included. This is a non-smoking facility.

Bring any material you would like to share with the group or privately with Edie or Vonda. Since this is a writing retreat, we ask that everyone respect the guidelines during assigned writing times and refrain from conversation or other distractions that would disturb those working.

Want a peek at our 2008 Writing Retreat at The Cabin Cove? Check out this video, created by Kimberli Buffaloe. 
For more information and registration, check out Registration Details.

Check out these two Bonus Opportunities!
BONUS Opportunity #1
GPS: Get Prepared Sooner! Critique
And for those who would like to jumpstart their writing destination, we’re offering GPS: Get Prepared Sooner!, an in-depth, handwritten, advanced critique of up to 3000 words. The $50 fee also includes an additional 15-minute editorial meeting with Edie or Vonda. Deadline August 31, 2011.

BONUS Opportunity #2
Destination:Speaker, Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Would your testimony encourage and challenge others? Do you feel called to speak, but don’t know where to begin? If you answered yes to any of these questions, this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for! The $125 fee includes four classes and handouts, an extra night’s lodging, three meals, and snacks. Deadline for registration is September 15, 2011.

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Get Started as a Freelance Writer—Part Six, Moving from Free to Paid Assignments

First let me say a special thank you to Mary Denman, who filled in so wonderfully for me while I was traveling!

Second, thank you for all your thoughts and prayers while I was away. I have a new appreciation for how important prayer is for someone away on a mission trip. I invite all of you to stay tuned to my Weekend Worship posts for stories about my Ethiopian Mission trip. I took over 1000 pictures (yes, three zeros!) and I’ll be posting them a little at a time on my Facebook page—so if you haven’t friended me, now is the time to do so! (I’m listed as Edie Mahoney Melson on Facebook) Finally, I’m also available to speak to groups about my experiences.

Now, down to business

In the past few weeks many of you have asked questions about how to move from unpaid assignments to ones that pay. Today I’m going to break it down for you.

First, let me assure you that I still have trouble justifying getting paid to write. The reasons are almost too numerous to mention, but almost one hundred percent of them have to do with self confidence.

To succeed as a freelancer you MUST learn to ignore that voice in your head that insists 
you’re not good enough!

Also, it’s important to remember that the expertise you bring isn’t always as a writer—it’s as an expert on the subject of your article.

Here are some specific tips to making the move 
  • Query jobs that pay. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but a lot of you are afraid to apply for these assignments. At the risk of using a cliché, here’s one of my rules for freelancing—Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
  • Don’t differentiate between unpaid experience and paid experience. To a certain degree writing experience is writing experience—DO NOT tell people you’ve never been paid to write. Especially don’t list assignments on your CV as paid or unpaid. That’s no one’s business but yours. If it was good enough to get published, it was good enough.
  • Acknowledge that your expertise in a subject is worth money. Most of you are plugged into writing groups and can get feedback on the mechanics of any article you’re writing. What those groups can’t give you is the expertise your personal experience gives you. Don’t denigrate that expertise!

Still confused—here’s an example of how to turn experience into dollars. A friend of mine has a lot experience as a crafter/artist. Because of that she read a lot of crafting blogs. She stumbled on one where the posts were less than stellar. She contacted that blog and offered to write a series of four blogs for $25 each. The blogger accepted and it was so successful she had a regular assignment. What the blogger didn’t know—this was her first regular paying assignment.

So these are the questions to ask yourself: 
  • What areas do I have expertise in? Or, if you’re afraid of the word expert—what areas do I have experience in?
  • What areas do I have a passion about?
  • What is an area where I’d like to do in depth research?

Now it’s your turn. What questions do you still have about moving on to paid assignments? If you’ve already moved on, what experience can you share about how you did it?

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Clash of the Titles Conquerors - So Many Places to Go

Guest post by Gail Pallotta
How relaxing to sit on a beach and watch the waves roll onto shore. No, maybe to plop down in a rocking chair and overlook distant mountains. 
 How about a day shopping in Paris? Oh yeah, that’d be nice. It might be fun to browse at an open market on a Caribbean Island or go to a Luau in Hawaii. What about walking where our ancestors walked? Find out more about ourselves. Or better yet, walk where Jesus walked. 
Even the most seasoned traveler can find new places to go. Thanks to all the writers who transport us to sites we’ve never seen or show us something different at the ones we have. We hear so much about a book’s plot and characters and rightly so, but the characters need to live in interesting surroundings.
 If a writer’s plotting a scuba diving expedition, the diver needs to see clear water, coral reefs and exotic fish and know all about boats and dive equipment. If a character is in the kitchen cooking grits while looking out a window at blue tinted mountains, that person’s in the south in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A character walking on a crowded street surrounded by high rise buildings with Times Square in the distance is in New York City. The setting also can make characters seem real when they smell newly mowed grass, watch a sunset, listen to the wind howl or feel the onset of a sudden shower.
It’s fun to sit back in a favorite easy chair or curl up on the sofa with a cup of coffee or tea with visions of new places to go and read until the heart’s content. If the character in the novel sees something the reader’s never seen, that’s traveling by book.
Do you have a favorite setting for a novel? The Civil War? The beach? Paris? Do share!
Gail’s husband, Rick, says she’s the only person he knows who can go in the grocery for a loaf of bread and come out with someone’s life story. That’s probably because she inherited her mother’s love of people and enjoys talking to them. Working as an editor and freelance writer, Gail published a couple hundred articles. While some of them are in anthologies, two ended up in museums. In 2004, the American Christian Writers Association named Gail a regional writer of the year. She recently published her first romance, Love Turns the Tide. When she isn’t writing she likes reading, swimming, and getting together with friends and family. Gail wants to write books of faith that show God’s love. She and Rick live in Georgia.
Contact Gail at pallotta[at]gailpallotta[dot]com. Visit her Web site at or her blog at

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Weekend Worship—Meditations from Ethiopia

As many of you know, I’ve been privileged to spend the past few weeks in Ethiopia. It was an amazing experience and I’m excited to share many of my experiences, as well as my photos, in the Weekend Worship section of my blog.

Light Source
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. . . . In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14; 16

One of the first things I learned on my trip was that I’ve always taken light for granted—in so many ways. I’m used to flicking a switch and having all the light I need. But electricity during the rainy season in Ethiopia is a hit and miss proposition. And without electricity it’s hard to accomplish even the simplest of tasks.

The same is true spiritually. When I’m not plugged into the source of light—it’s almost impossible to be a light for someone else. My light is puny and unreliable. But attached to the source of all power I can shine His light for everyone to see.

In Ethiopia I truly felt like a city on a hill . . . exposed and vulnerable. But God proved Himself to be all the power I needed.

I’m interested to know what experiences you’ve had with being a light.

Don’t forget to join the conversation.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Completely Biased Review of Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference 2011, part 2.

Are you ready to hear some more reasons why Blue Ridge was so outstanding this year? Let’s get to it.

6.  Ridgecrest’s campus. Now with their construction completed, you can get from the wonderful accommodations at Mt. Laurel all the way to the dining hall on level surfaces with elevator rides in between.  While I’m all for exercise, those of us with bad knees sure did appreciate the improved routes from place to place. No more excuses of “there are too many hills.”

7.  Downtime at the right time.  While you may not initially think that downtime is important at a conference, once you’re there, you realize you need a little time to absorb all that’s happening.  And, since much of the allotted downtime happens in the evenings, there are wonderful opportunities to sit with others, compare notes, drink Starbucks coffee and enjoy conversations with other conferees and the faculty in a relaxed atmosphere.  Your dilemma of where to sit is between the rocking chairs or sofas.  Tough call.

8.  Reasonably priced critiques available.  This is huge.  If you pay someone to critique your manuscript, screen play or magazine articles, you cannot find prices with so much value as you can at Blue Ridge.  The faculty offers their services for a reasonable $30. Outside of Blue Ridge, you could get into the hundreds of dollars for the first 40 pages of your novel. And, you automatically get an appointment with that faculty member to go over your critique.  What a value and what a service!

9.  Contests.  How best to learn if your writing is hitting the mark than by winning a contest?  There are so many categories to enter and the judging is by qualified, professional authors.  Winning a Blue Ridge contest is a great addition to your professional resume.  And the awards ceremony is stellar.

10.  Faculty talent show. Need I say more?  To get to sing along with and laugh at, I mean, with the faculty?  Besides the award banquet, the talent show is a high light of Blue Ridge. 

So, are you feeling the love?  Once you go, you understand how special a place Blue Ridge is.  MARK YOUR CALENDER NOW! Next year the conference dates are May 20 -24, 2012. Go to Blue Ridge and learn more and sign up.  Or save your pennies and dimes.  Can’t wait to see you there.

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Get Started as a Freelance Writer—Part Five, Find Copywriting Clients and Know What to Charge

Last week I introduced you to copywriting. This week I want to show you how easy it is to find clients.

Targeting Clients
The first place to find potential clients is with the people you know—and who know you. No, I’m not talking about imposing on family and friends, but in offering them a valuable resource—YOU!

In times past, almost every business had a yellow pages ad. This was the place to find a business and for a business to be found. Fast forward to the last time you needed info on a business. Did you pick up the local yellow pages—or log onto the Internet? Chances are you visited the web.

Now all these businesses have to have websites—and they need websites that turn visitors into paying customers. That’s where you come in. You can offer them real value by hiring you to increase their traffic and visibility.

So who exactly do you start with? Here are some of the best ways to find clients.
By association – look for natural pairing between you and potential clients, from hobbies to business connections.
Think about what hobbies or business experience you have? What are your hobbies? Are you a gardener—maybe you already have a relationship with a local nursery. Start there. What about former businesses. Have you worked as a realtor? Then approach brokers to write content helpful to their customers.

By location – this could be your small town, neighborhood business district, state or region.
You can attack this several ways, first by targeting a physical section of your town or city. Or second, by choosing industry to concentrate on, such as childcare or the medical professional.
You can also go one step further, literally. Have some fliers printed up and walk a city block in your local business district. Talk to the business owners; let them put a name with a face. In both circumstances, even if the contact doesn’t pan out immediately, you’ll find that business owners often keep paperwork with financial information on it. A flier you gave out six months ago may generate a new client tomorrow.

How to Charge
Fees for writers are a hot topic on the job boards. There are two major schools of thought. First, it’s a buyer’s market—with individual blog posts going for as little as $25 apiece. Then there’s the group who says they won’t work for less than $100 an hour. I think the truth is somewhere in between.
I think it’s important to gain experience and sometimes the best way to do that is to write for free. BUT it’s also important not to keep writing for free. As you gain experience you bring value to your clients and should be paid accordingly.

Where to Start
These tips will help you decide the best rates for you.
  • Decide how much you have to make this year and break it down.
  • Realize how much time it will take to do the job.
  • Ask your client what their budget is.
  • Offer to do one or two small tasks cheaply, then re-negotiate.

Don’t forget to factor in these items before you quote a price.
Realize your days will be filled with down time. Times of marketing, querying and consulting with possible clients.
Take expenses into account. Copying or printing costs for flyers and letters. Postage. As well as upkeep of your business – computer and cell phone – as well as Internet access and any fees.
Back and forth between you and the client while you learn what works and what doesn’t.

Importance of a Daily Rate
Earlier I suggested you decide what you want to make each year. Now let’s break it down even further and find your daily rate. This may seem redundant, but bear with me.

Having a daily rate is vital when you’re trying to decide whether or not to accept a job or if you’re asked for a ball park figure on rates.

Now that you know why you should care about your daily rate, here’s how to do it. Say your goal is to earn $100,000 from freelance writing this year.

There are 365 days in the year, but 104 of those days are weekends. There are also roughly 10 holidays a year where it’s virtually impossible to get much work done — Christmas, New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, etc. Family members will likely expect you to shut off your computer and pay attention to them on these occasions.

Let’s hope you’re not working weekends or major holidays, and that you also plan to take at least two weeks off a year (an important time to regroup). That leaves around 240 real, viable work days in the year.

Divide $100,000 by 240 and you get roughly $417 a day. That’s your daily rate. Want to earn $50,000 a year? That’s around $209 per working day.

Once again it's your turn to chime in on this subject. I'm back in town (actually back in the country, I'm away teaching at the beach). Look for a post later this week highlighting my recent trip to Ethiopia.

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Monday, June 20, 2011

COTT - Shattering Reader Expectations

Have you ever dug your heels in and fought fervently for something, only to find out your sparring partner fought an entirely different battle? Some of the most irritating arguments, on and off the page, arise from miscommunications. As authors, we can use the human tendency to misread between the lines to add conflict to our stories. The interchange between J.T. Tucker and Hanna Richards in Karen Witemeyer’s A Tailor-Made Bride is a perfect example.

J.T.’s mistranslation begins with his preconceived ideas of dressmakers, fueled by his frustration over losing the shop Miss Richards purchases. Then, after experiencing J.T.’s rather curt behavior, Miss Richards performs her own faulty translation, presuming his body language and gruff behavior result from a hardened heart. The result is comical tension that reveals the inner fears, concerns, and struggles of each character.

Writers can pull this same bait and switch on their readers by setting them up for an expectation then failing to deliver. Sound contentious? Perhaps. But it will keep your reader turning pages. Here’s what I mean. Let’s go back to A Tailor-Made Bride, Clash of the Titles’ current book club novel. In one of the earlier chapters, Miss Richards notices approaching footsteps. Glancing outside, she believes Mr. Tucker is approaching. What does the reader expect? Why, Mr. Tucker to come into Miss Richard’s shop with his hat in hand, apologizing profusely for his rude behavior. Then bam! We watch Mr. Tucker disappear through another doorway, our expectations shattered. So we move on…only to be surprised yet again when Miss Richards trips over tools Mr. Tucker left outside her shop door.
Do you see how Karen set up our expectations for something, then pulled a switch?

How have you kept predictability from seeping into your novel? Any “pull-the-rug-out-from-under-the-reader” examples you’d like to share?

And if you haven’t joined our book club, there’s still time! Hop on over to to join the fun! And get ready for July’s cyber-chat as we dig into Eleanor Gustafson’s The Stones.

Jennifer Slattery is a novelist, freelance writer and biblical studies major at Calvary Bible college. In 2009 she won first place in the HACWN writing contest in the book category, placed second in the 2010 Dixie Kane, fourth in the 2010 Golden Pen and third in the 2010 CWG Operation First Novel Contest. She has a short piece appearing in Bethany House's Love is a Flame (under a pen name), forwarded by Gary Chapman, another piece in Cathy Messecar's A Still and Quiet Soul, and writes for Reflections in Hindsight, Christ to the World, Samie Sisters, The Christian Pulse, and reviews for Novel Reviews. She's also written for Granola Bar Devotions, Afictionado, The Christian Fiction Online Magazine, Romantic Times Review, Bloom and the Breakthrough Intercessor. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Completely Biased Review of Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference 2011, part 1.

Guesting today for Edie, who is making a difference for Christ in Ethiopia, is Mary Denman, who is not in Ethiopia.

Do you remember your first love? The excitement you felt whenever you thought of that special someone? Well, that’s what Blue Ridge is like for me.  And I don’t think I’m alone.

I have been attending BRMCWC for a few years now and I do have to say the conference this past May was outstanding.  Why? Oh, let me count the ways.

1.     The number of faculty. With over 50 faculty members, you are sure to find someone that can help you with where you are as a writer.

2.     The quality of the faculty.  Where can you go for a week to learn your craft from so many authors, agents and editors who are experts in their respective fields? Blue Ridge. Al Gansky makes sure he brings in people who are respected and have the credentials to help guide and direct you wherever you want your career to go.

3.     The variety of the faculty. Blue Ridge is not specific to one genre of writing or even just to writing. While conferences that focus on one category are needed, Blue Ridge is more inclusive of your entire writing needs. Al covers the gambit of genres – from sci-fi to women’s fiction, from magazine articles to non-fiction books, from a speaking ministry to script writing.

4.     The availability of the faculty. Not only can you take classes from these respected authors, editors and agents, but you can eat with them and have appointments with them. You have the opportunity for one-on-one time with people you would have trouble meeting outside of Blue Ridge.

5.     Being with like-minded people.  We writers are an odd lot. We hear voices in our heads, know and love characters we’ve never met and spend time figuring out how to make our characters’ lives miserable.  We spend hours alone in front of computer screens and love to be creative.  It’s such a sanity check to be with others who have conversations in their heads with imaginary people. (Although we really don’t think they’re imaginary because we know them so well.)

This is only the start of the list.  Next week, I’ll cover more reasons why Blue Ridge is so special.  But let me assure you it is.  Looking back over pictures from the conference makes me smile and want to go back, to be back with the special people who make up Blue Ridge.  You can go to Facebook and check out the photos on the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writer's Conference page.

Until next week, grace and peace. Mary

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Get Started as a Freelance Writer—Part Four, Have You considered Copywriting?

Copywriting is a great way to earn money as a freelance writer. It may sound a little intimidating, but it’s great fun.

What is copywriting?
The dictionary defines a copywriter as one who “writes copy for advertising.” The field has gone on to include many aspects of business writing, especially those where the company interfaces with the client or consumer.

At first glance, this may seem like a very small niche for writers. Quite the contrary—it’s a huge opportunity. This area of writing continues to explode, particularly in the arena of the Internet.

Primary Goal for ALL Copywriters
Get the first sentence read.
So your choice of Headline, Graphics, Font, Format etc. should lead directly to this goal.
What is the goal of the first sentence? To get the next sentence read. This step by step road is the yellow brick road for everyone who wants to succeed as a copywriter.

KISS College English Goodbye
Think about famous lines.
            It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
            To be or not to be.
What do most have in common? They’re simple and straightforward. No overblown adjectives or prose. In other words—Keep It Simple Stupid!
Effective copy is written clearly and concisely. It’s vitally important to learn the lesson that to engage the audience you have to keep it conversational. Occasionally you’ll break a few grammar rules—but that’s okay—rules were meant to be broken.

Format with the Reader in Mind
Make your copy easy to scan. Use plenty of bullet points, headings and subheadings. Make it clear what you’re offering the audience.

Headlines are More than Words—They’re a Numbers Game!
  • 50/50 – Many copywriters say you should spend as much time on crafting your headline as on writing your copy.
  • 80/20 – The numbers don’t lie. It’s been proven 8 out of 10 people will read the headline and only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.

With a compelling headline a browser becomes a reader. Without that headline the rest of your words might as well not be written. But what makes a great headline? The best contain your entire message in one memorable bite.

What are some key components to a compelling headline?
  • Provide the reader with the tools to evaluate the content.
  • Resonate with a reader’s urgency.
  • Show the reader why this offer/product/person is unique
  • And it must do all of this clearly and concisely.

Format Your Content
Formatting content revolves more around guidelines than rules. Depending on what your copy is to be used for the rules will change. But the following tips will always ring true.
  • Write to your audience. Remember who you are trying to reach and relate to them through your words, graphics, font, etc.
  • Keep focused. Every story you tell should be razor focused on the point of the copy. Now is NOT the time to ramble.
  • Be credible. Don’t make unsubstantiated claims. Use statistics, experts, even testimonials.
  • After showing your credibility restate your focus.
  • Give the reader something to do, i.e. buy the product.
  • Sum everything up, restate why your premise is fulfilled by taking this action.

Cut to the Benefits
So often we try to tell people the features of a product. But features aren’t what sell products—benefits are. Let me explain.
I was shopping for a new clothes dryer and saw one with an optional steam feature. My thought when the salesman mentioned it? So what.
Then he told me I could use it instead of ironing. That’s a benefit and I’m seriously interested!
See the difference—subtle, but vital—when you’re writing copy.
So how do you figure out the true benefit of something?
  • Make a list of all the features.
  • Beside each one ask why it’s helpful.
  • Now ask how that help is accomplished.
  • Tie that information to an emotional or felt need.

A word of warning here. High end business customers and technical customers are sometimes irritated by emotionalism. The business leader wants the bottom line and the techno geek wants to know the specs. They both will still want the benefits, but in those cases the features need to be highlighted as well.

Now it’s your turn. What experience have you had with copywriting? Take time to read and comment—it will help me out because I’m still in Ethiopia. But I’ll be back in town next week! Be sure to plug in with your network here, on The Write Conversation.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Monday, June 13, 2011

COTT - Well-crafted Main Characters

When you finish reading a novel, are you ever sad to see the protagonist go? Does it feel like you’re saying good-bye to a good friend? Those are signs of well-crafted main characters, like the ones in our excerpts this week.

There are many protagonists whom I’ve met in my life who have felt like old friends, and I miss them at the end of the book.

Here are eight of my favorite protagonists and their characteristics which I found most endearing as a young reader and still admire to this day:
  • To Kill a Mockingbird- Scout Finch’s imagination.
  • Pride and Prejudice- Elizabeth Bennet’s wit.
  • Mouse and the Motorcycle- Ralph S. Mouse’s sense of adventure.
  • Charlotte’s Web- Wilbur’s loyalty.
  • The Baby Sitter Club Series- Kristy Thomas’s organization skills.
  • Jane Eyre- Jane Eyre’s conscience.
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe- Lucy Penvensie’s bravery.
  • Mandie Series- Madie Shaw’s crime solving skills.
My question for you, who is your favorite protagonist?

Amanda Flower is an academic librarian for a small college in Ohio. Her first novel, Maid of Murder, was released in 2010. When she is not at the library or writing her next mystery, she is an avid traveler, aspiring to visit as much of the globe as she can.

She is the author of Maid of Murder

Contact Amanda: amandaflower(at)gmail(dot)com
Amanda's Site, Blog, Facebook 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Thursday Review—Plotting Simplified: Story Structure Tips for the Breakout Novelist

I've come across a wonderful little book by Eddie Jones on plotting. I was fortunate to take his workshop at ChristianDevotions, Writers Bootcamp  in January 2011 and I came away with a new understanding about how to craft a compelling story.  And the good news for you is that he’s written it all down in this amazing e-book.

Here’s the overview of the book:

In Plotting Simplified you'll learn how to map your story using the "passage markers" that shape every story's journey. From introduction and motivation to your Lead's moment of maxim angst, you’ll see how easy it is to develop a story line and keep your characters on the path to a compelling climax. 

Learn how to introduce the Great Disturbance, what 4 Questions you should ask of your plot, how to map-out your story, manage your key scenes, the 7 Keys to every good plot, why Worry, Conflict and Disaster spells success for the writer, and how to introduce your Major Dramatic Question.

Trust me—I own the book and it does all this and more. This book is available through Amazon for Kindle here and through Barnes and Noble for the Nook here. If you don’t already have an e-reader you can download the Kindle software and the Nook software for free for your computer or smart phone. When you do, this should be one of the first books you buy!

Don’t forget to join the conversation,

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Get Started as a Freelance Writer—Part Three, What Should I Query?

SPECIAL NOTE: I am out of the country until June 18. I’m on a mission trip in Ethiopia (and I’d love to have your prayers). But please don’t let this stop you from reading and commenting (if you read the post below you’ll see why)! I’ve scheduled all my regular blog posts, so nothing will change, except I won’t be able to answer your questions or comments. But don’t worry, I’ll catch up with you all when I return. And I’ll have lots of stories and experiences to share.

Making a living as a freelance writer sometimes requires nerves of steel. It’s a business where you have to be willing to take risks. What does that look like in a profession of words? It means applying for many different types of assignments—often where you have little or no expertise.

I know that makes some of you want to hyperventilate, but stay with me. We live in the age of instant access. Instead of being a negative, for a freelancer that’s a positive. It means that you have the ability to learn about almost anything—all from the comfort of your desk chair. In this business, Google is your best friend!

So how do I decide what to query? Here are some of the factors I use to decide: 
  • How much it pays. Okay, I know it’s crass to start with money—but this is the way I make my living.
  • Do I have expertise with this type of writing? If I do, I want to make good money. If not, I may take a low paying job or two to get some experience.
  • Am I interested in the topic? Life is short and I like to look for things that I enjoy writing about. I can't always choose cool topics, but it helps to have assignments I enjoy sprinkled in with the ones that earn money. With freelance writing it's always a balancing act.

 How do I get experience in new areas? 
  • Take assignments that pay less (or even nothing) to gain experience.
  • Offer to help an established writer in that specialty in exchange for tips and techniques.
  • Network, network, network! Did you know you have access to a network here on this blog? Everyone who comments is visible to others—and you all already have something in common—me! Are you taking advantage of this network?

Now it’s your turn. What are some of your questions and experiences? Remember, I’m out of town for a couple of weeks so you’re going to have to help each other. Take a minute to read the comments section and help each other out—here’s your chance to start that new network!

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

COTT's first YA Champ: Shellie Neumeier

Shellie Neumeier has just received the honor of being named a COTT Champ with her teen novel, Driven. This is a first for COTT, having a YA title take the crown. And Shellie deserves high accolades. She had some stiff competition: Julie Carobini and her book Fade to Blue.
So how did this story come about?
"The plot [for Driven] morphed over several dinner conversations with my kids and my hubby," Neumeier says. "It started with a whole lot of what-if questions and ended with a girl, a demon, and a whole lot of forgiveness."
You can read COTT's excellent interview with Shellie here.
A clip of her winning excerpt:
Robyn can’t help but notice the handsome new guy at her school. She ignores, however, the arrival of another being at Brookfield Central High School—a demon assigned to destroy her…
Read the full blurb, along with that of her competition, here
About the book:
Robyn can’t help but notice the handsome new guy at her school. She ignores, however, the arrival of another being at Brookfield Central High School—a demon assigned to destroy her…
Robyn loves her friends, enjoys her youth group, and looks forward to meeting cute Caleb Montague. But when a caustic news reporter challenges her school’s prayer team, Robyn must choose: defend their right to meet on campus and pray for whomever they wish or back down at the principal’s request.
Now she must learn what God wants her to do. And she had better learn fast, because there’s a supernatural enemy in town whose sole mission is to stop her—no matter the cost.
Shellie's reaction:
Oh wow!! I'm wordless! Especially since, Julie's Fade to Blue has such a wonderful blurb. (Actually, I can't wait to go get her book, now:D.)
Thank you, COTT crew and Jennifer for letting me be a part of your competitions. And a big thank you to all the folks who left encouraging notes. That means so much!!
Here's what our readers had to say:
"Good work . The books you write help us go to a different place in our lives."
"Both blurbs are very appealing. I have to say that if I was a teenager I would be more attracted to "A", but because I'm older and love anything to do with art "B" is my choice. Very Close!"
"I'm wanting to know just how big a role this demon plays in the story. I've always been fascinated by books that give glimpses into the spiritual realm. (i.e. Frank Peretti, Randy Alcorn")
Visit Shellie Neumeier's website to find out more about her and her writing. Then visit Amazon to get a copy of Driven.
Congratulations, Shellie!!
Make sure to hop on our to the Clash of the Titles Book Club to join the fun discussion on Karen Witemeyer's A Tailor-Made Bride. (In July, we'll dive into Elleanor Gustafson's novel, The Stones.)
And if you'd like to get your vote on, head over to COTT for their current Clash and BE HEARD (not to mention be entered to win a free copy of a contending title.)
COTT Assistant Editor Michelle Massaro is married to her high school sweetie, Mike, and they have four amazing children. They attend Living Truth Christian Fellowship in Corona, CA where they are involved in teaching the youth- primarily about origins science- and where Michelle is involved in the worship ministry. Michelle is also a new homeschooling parent and an aspiring author of contemporary Christian fiction. Above all, she is a follower of Christ Jesus, unashamed to stand upon the Word of God from beginning to end!
Contact Michelle: michelle_massaro(at)hotmail(dot)com
Michelle's Blog Find Michelle on Facebook.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Thursday Review—ON WRITING

A Review on Stephen King's ON WRITING
by Lynn Huggins Blackburn

I don’t like horror. I don’t read it. I don’t watch it. I try very hard not to think about it.

So it will come as no surprise that I have never read a Stephen King novel.

What may come as a surprise, especially if you also avoid Stephen King’s novels—preferring to sleep without nightmares or a baseball bat in your hand—is that Stephen King is a respected author. His writing—according to people who are much braver than I and who have read his work—is excellent, his storytelling skills exemplary and his technique worthy of emulation.

This poses a problem for me. Because while I’m interested in reading and learning from masters of the craft, I’m not going to read his horror novels.

Fortunately for me—and you, should you happen to share my belief that it is actually possible to be scared to death—I don’t have to. Several years ago, King compiled his thoughts On Writing. No horror. No gore. Just practical writing tips from an author who knows what he’s talking about.

The book is divided into three sections—C.V., On Writing, and On Living: A Postscript. 

In the C.V., King gives a brief autobiography and it's an engaging read. I enjoyed his style and voice so much, I flirted with the idea of reading one of his novels. (I came to my senses when a popping sound made me jump and I realized it was just the A/C kicking on).

The middle section, On Writing, is a tight package of writing tips. After establishing the “Great Commandment”—read a lot, write a lot—King details what should be in your writer’s toolbox, gives suggestions for setting up your writing space and then dispenses advice on dialogue, theme, symbolism, description, characterization and the revision process.

The final section, On Living: A Postscript, is a brief account of the accident that almost claimed his life in the summer of 1999, as he was writing this book.

He concludes by providing a brief sample from a short story. We see the first draft, followed by his revisions and a note explaining why he chose to make the changes he did.

Thankfully, while this passage hints that there is some creepy stuff going on, it’s tame enough for a wimp like me to be able to see the flaws in the first draft and appreciate the revision process without hyperventilating or slamming the book closed, too afraid to read to the end.
In fact, this is a book I will open again and again. My guess is that you will, too.

Disclaimer: This book, while an excellent treatise on the craft of writing, is written in a conversational style, including very raw language.

Lynn Huggins Blackburn has been telling herself stories since she was five and finally started writing them down. On her blog Out of the Boat she writes about faith and family while her blog Perpetual Motion documents the joys and challenges of loving and rearing a child with special needs. A graduate of Clemson University, Lynn lives in South Carolina where she writes, reads, knits, takes care of three amazing children, one fabulous man and one spoiled rotten Boston Terrier.
Follow Lynn on Twitter @lynnhblackburn

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Get Started as a Freelance Writer—Part Two, Query Letters

Last week I posted an overview on starting your freelance writing career. This week we’ll delve more deeply into the strategies and skills you need to earn money. The first skill you need to develop is the ability to write a compelling query.

How to Query
This simple concept has caused more anguish for writers than anything else around. But it’s a necessary evil. Your queries may find their way to the editor's desk in hard copy format or email, but the principles are the same.

It may seem unfair that your writing ability is judged on a single letter or email, but that is the hard truth in this industry. And, having sat behind the editor’s desk, I now understand why. Invariably a poorly written query previews major problems in the writer’s submitted work. I have rarely found this to be the exception. But rather the rule.

The query letter serves two equally important purposes:
  • Get the assignment.
  • Showcase your writing ability. 

The Parts of the Query 
  • Salutation. Make certain you get a name – not Dear Editor. If you can’t find the name listed anywhere, call the office, just don’t let them connect you to the editor. Also, check the spelling and the GENDER. You don’t want to use the wrong pronoun.
  • First Paragraph. You should start with your hook. Don’t use anything corny, “Don’t miss out on this opportunity.” Instead, it should be a legitimate hook. You also need to reference what part of the magazine/website you’re pitching. Don’t say something like, “This idea would work well anywhere in your magazine.” This signals to the editor that you’re an amateur. Also give the approximate word count.
  • Second Paragraph. This is where you pitch your idea. It’s good to include specifics—even bullet points—here.
  • Third Paragraph. This is your bio, your credentials for writing this article. Be honest, but don’t over inflate your merits. As editors, we've seen it all and can spot a fake from a mile away. Also don’t criticize or run down yourself. “I don’t have any writing credits, but I’m willing to learn.”
Here are the basics you need to achieve these goals:
  • Keep it short. Your query letter/email should NOT exceed one page…ever!
  • Use a standard font. Times New Roman 12 point font.
  • Use standard formatting. For an e-query use block formatting (no paragraph indentions, single spaced, double space between paragraphs). For hard copy use traditional letter formatting (indented paragraphs, single spacing, no extra lines between paragraphs).

Here are some red flags to look for:
  • Too long.
  • Strange fonts.
  • Improper or mixed formatting.

Also, it’s vitally important not to waste time when sending a query. By this I don’t mean hurry to send it off, but rather, get to the point. Don’t waste the editor’s time with things that are understood (just say the word and I’ll send you the article) or have no bearing on the article you’re pitching.

There are a lot of good resources on writing queries out there. The best I’ve ever seen is a screen cast by Alton Gansky. He goes through an actual e-query and explains what works in it and why.

There is also a free e-book, How to Write a Great Query, by Noah Lukeman (You may remember another book he wrote, The First Five Pages). In this book he deals with queries for agents regarding book length manuscripts, but a lot of the tips are also relevant for freelancers—particularly the section on non-fiction books.

Now it's your turn. What experience have you had with queries? What questions do you have?
Don't forget to join the conversation!