Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Top 10 Gift Giving Ideas for Writers

All I want for Christmas…

‘Tis the season of gift-giving and I’d like to propose a few. Most of us are members of critique groups or have a special friend who’s a writer. Here is my top ten list. Consider these a jumping off point, use them for your own Christmas list or as a way to bless another writer this season.

10. A Christmas ornament. This could be something that pertains directly to a WIP (work in progress) or be more generic in nature. Through the years, my critique partners have gifted me with some amazing Christmas ornaments and I look forward to adding them to my tree.

9. A special notebook. I know we live in the age of electronics, but for me, nothing replaces a special notebook. Of course, that leads me to the next idea…An unusual pen. I have a favorite type of pen (roller ball, very thin) but think outside the box. Many bookstores and stationary stores have unique pens.

8. A CD of writing music. Many of us write to music (at least music without words). There are lots of great movie soundtracks, why not gift one to your best writing buddy.

7. A subscription to Writer’s Digest. It could be digital or physical, but there’s no better (or more inexpensive) gift. Not convinced? Read Lynn Blackburn’s review here!

6. A Starbucks gift card. I know, this seems a little out of left field. But many of us find the formula of Starbucks coffee combined with a different setting the magic combination we need to pound out the words. (AltonGansky, this one’s for you!)

5. A gift card to Barnes and Noble, so they can purchase that one writing book they still lack.

4. A weekend away. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but what a gift of 48 hours of uninterrupted writing time!

3. A scholarship to a writing event. It could be a workshop or a conference, but trust me, every little bit helps! Here's a great one February 24, 25 & 26, Writers Advance! Bootcamp 2012.

2. A gift of peace of mind. Do you have a back-up system in place for your computer? If not, you should. Personally, I use Mozy. It’s less than a hundred dollars per year and works like a dream. I know because several years ago I lived through a catastrophic computer crash and lost…NOTHING!!!

1. For those of you who know me, you’ve probably already guessed what number one on my list is—an iPad 2!

So whether or not you use these as your own Christmas list, or an idea for a friend, don’t wait ‘til the last minute. I left a lot of ideas off, but I’d love to hear some of yours.
What was your favorite writing gift ever? What would you most like to have?

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Real Life

*guest post by Michelle Massaro, Asst. Editor at COTT
Can you believe it's almost December? I love the holidays, but I always struggle this time of year. My heart aches for the Thomas Kinkade paintings, for smiles and laughter and goodwill toward man (especially between siblings in the house!), for snuggling by the fire, kisses under the mistletoe, all that good stuff.

Real life is not a painting. Or an old black-and-white movie. (That's often why we love escaping into our novels.)

Nope. Real life finds too many dust bunnies when it's time to move furniture to make room for the tree. Real life has pouting kids who don't want to help lug in the decoration box or be pulled away from their video games in order to just sit by the fire with mom. Husbands who tolerate, but don't enjoy, watching White Christmas, and who grimace and sweat--and possibly even swear--while wrestling with the Christmas lights.

Add to that the fact that I never got around to shedding that extra five pounds--and now feel it's too late to try--the constant pain in my neck, the myriad bills we aren't sure how to pay, a toddler in the throes of the "terrible two's" (to be fair, he's the sweetest boy in the world, just extremely rambunctious), and homeschool pressures...and each day starts to feel overwhelming. Beyond my ability. Sucking me under. Life does not meet my expectations. I'm failing.

And sometimes "failing" at something as simple and earthly as creating the "right" home atmosphere can lead to a depression that slips into spiritual darkness. Lies. All lies. But too often, I believe them.

Maybe you can relate. Or maybe your set of challenges lies elsewhere. Regardless, we all have seasons, or areas of our life, where we don't feel up to the task. And we grieve that ineptitude.

A dear friend recently gave me a gift--a daily devotional--and the first day's reading hit its mark in my heart. In essence, it reminded me that the measure of God's strength given to me on a daily basis is determined by two things:
The difficulty of my circumstances, and my willingness to depend on Him for help.

This concept completely changed my thinking when it came to facing challenges. Demons. I don't need to assess the situation and measure it against my usual ability and strength. I need to depend on Him and believe that He can and will empower me that much more in order to handle the task. And tomorrow, when the challenge is not so great, He will give me just the strength I need for that day.

Today it might be preparing the house, encouraging generousity in my kids, and finding ways to trim the grocery budget so that we can get that tail light replaced.  Tomorrow it could be the death of a loved one, a falling away of a brother or sister, or the loss of a job. But the degree of His power available to me will match whatever circumstance comes my way.

And the same goes for you, too. So if there's any chance that one of you share this struggle of mine at this time of year, I pray this truth shines like a beacon in your heart and gives you hope. It did for me.

If you're interested in the devotional I mentioned, it's called Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. The entry I referenced was November 11th. :-) And if you want some great Christian novels to dive into or pick up as gifts, you always know where to find some winners. (There's always a contest going on at COTT, so I hope you'll join us this week for a look at a couple great cover images.)
Have a blessed week!
Michelle Massaro

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Child’s Play—Learn to Tag Your Blog Post Successfully

Last week I promised a post about tagging, today I deliver. Even though successful tagging may seem like a complicated formula—one part magic and two parts luck—it’s more of a game and not nearly as difficult as you may think.

Tagging, sometimes called labeling, is closely related to key words. If you missed last week’s post on key words you can click here to catch up.

I used to be rather lacadaisical about tagging until I accidently stumbled on success. . .then I was hooked. This picture is a screenshot of where my blog post about Facebook showed up in a Google search. Just FYI, it's number 3 out of about 237,000,000. Not bad. 

Warning, Brief Geek Content
To understand how tagging can help your blog post get found (or lost in the sea of other blogs) you do have to understand a little about search engines. Search engines crawl the Internet searching and sorting all the information. In the simplest of terms, the more your information about and on your page matches up, the higher you rank.

Now, for those of you who truly understand search engines, you know this is way over simplifying the concept. Lots of other things come into count when your post is ranked, but tagging correctly will get you way on down the road!

Here are some of the basics of how to tag successfully.
  • Start with your title. Like I said last week, make certain your title is literal.
  • Repeat key words throughout the blog post. Don’t overload your copy with words. Always make sure the writing is good. Think of it as an exercise in focus!
  • Re-use your title in the first couple of lines. It doesn’t have to be an exact repeat of the phrase, just be sure to include the key words.
  • Tag with phrases, not just words. This is something a lot of people miss. When you tag (or label) your post, use your entire title. Then, if you have room, you can also include individual words. Think of it this way, when you enter something into Google’s search box, do you enter just one word or a phrase?

Like Shellie Braeuner reminded us in the comments of last week’s blog, you can also use Google Adwords to help you make wise selections for key words.

I know this sounds like a lot of work, but I spend almost as much time on my title and keywords as I do on composing a blog post. And it's paid off time and again. This post on using headline techniques with social media is number 3 out of about 151,000,000. Like I said, it can be totally habit forming!

So what successes have you had in the blog-o-sphere? What questions?

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Clash of the Titles Winner!

Guest post by Delia Latham

The Amish are known for their quiet, unassuming manner. Their love of all things peaceful…and shunning of competitive pastimes.

Well. I'm afraid that all flew out the window in the COTT Clash featuring Amish fiction. It was a fight to the finish.... a nose-to-nose race...a no-holds-barred dash to the finish line!

Contestants were:

Suzanne Woods Fisher
(Click on the cover to read Suzanne's Excerpt A)


Laura V. Hilton
(Click on the cover to read Laura's Excerpt B)

Both authors hit the ground running with sizzling teasers that presented a definite challenge to our readers. Both were super-fantastic! Both offered a tantalizing glimpse into an amazing read.

But only one of these fabulous excerpts could take the win.

When at last the dust died down…the crowd silenced in expectation…and the winner stood revealed…

held the finish line ribbon firmly in hand!

The choice was not an easy one, as our readers made perfectly clear in their comments:

"Both of these excerpts are immediately engaging—I think I'd like to read both books!"

"Both excerpts are winners. Can't wait to read them."

"I enjoy the Clash of the Titles!! Each author is fantastic!! And such a great place to hear of new authors that perhaps you haven't read before. Good luck!"

"I love to read stories of the Amish. Thank you for your hard work."

"The authors who write Amish fiction are doing a great job keeping true to the Amish ways while holding the reader's interest with wonderful story lines over and over again."

Heartfelt thanks and deep appreciation to both Suzanne and Laura. I wish we could call it a tie and put both in the winner's slot, because both authors truly are winners.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Weekend Worship—The Freedom of Discipline

I press in toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Phil 3:14

Freedom and discipline may seem like opposite ends of the spectrum. But recently I’ve discovered, through experience, how related those two terms truly are. For those of you who follow my blog regularly you’ve noticed a common theme in my Weekend Worship—stress due to saying yes to often.

There are many reasons I tend to automatically say yes instead of no. 
Some of them may strike a nerve with you as well.
  • I don’t want to disappoint someone.
  • It feels good to be needed.
  • I don’t want to be left out.
  • I enjoy that particular task.
  • I feel God has called me to do this. 

Some are good reasons to say yes, some aren’t. I put the reasons in this order on purpose—not because that’s a good order, but because it’s an honest one. All too often I put God’s calling last…not first. And I’ve found that doing things for the wrong reason enslaves my time and doesn’t leave me free to fulfill the call God has put on my life.

Over-indulgence is an exercise that leads to slavery—NEVER a demonstration of freedom.

So today I’m continuing my resolve to pray first, wait on God and PRESS ON to His goal for me—no matter the consequences.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thursday Review—Social Media Examiner

I try to stay up to date on Social Networking and SocialMedia Examiner is one of my go-to sites. I’ve been impressed with the relevance of their topics. I’m also a fan because they explain the many different applications in plain English—no undecipherable geek speak here.

The site is huge, with daily updates. But they keep it manageable with well thought out categories that make sense, no matter where you are in your social networking journey. They also have an active Facebookpage that proves a case study for everything they teach. Their sizable presence on Google+ is proof that this is no behind-the-times teaching site.

Another thing I really like is all of the video tutorials available. I don’t normally watch online videos—the quality of the average online offering tends to be poor and slanted toward selling me something I don’t need. Not these. I really enjoy them, a switch for me, since I generally find it easier to read directions and apply them. Social Media Examiner offers many different ways to develop competence in social networking.

Overall, this is one of my top picks when it comes to researching an unfamiliar aspect of social media. I recommend you sign up for their daily updates and like their Facebook page.

What about you? Do you have any sites you recommend to help us stay up to date with social media?

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

SEO—What is it and Why Should a Writer Care?

In this day and time, it’s becoming more and more necessary for a successful writer to have an online presence. For most of us that translates into a blog, Facebook page and Twitter account.

Without good search engine rankings, a blog can become more of a liability than an asset. To help raise those rankings it’s important to understand a few terms and how they apply. The first is SEO. This is an acronym that stands for Search Engine Optimization. Sounds complicated, right? Actually it’s not.

SEO is where, in the list of millions, your content will show up when searched, using a search engine. When you use different search engines—Google, Yahoo, etc., you'll notice that each will give slightly different results from any given search. But there are things we can do as writers to move our content up in the rankings. To accomplish this we have to have a basic understanding of how SEO algorithms work.

SEO used mathematical algorithms (or equations) to compute the ranking of any given site. The actual algorithms are extremely complicated, but what we need to know about them is relatively simple. First though, lets separate myth from truth.

There’s also a common myth that an article’s search engine rank is determined by the number of times the keyword is used. There was a time—early in the history of the Internet—when this was partly true. But no more

If this were the case, all a website would have to do is have pages of nothing but keywords to up its search engine ranking. Search Engine Algorithms have done away with that method of cheating. Algorithms are too well written to fall for that—and many have built in sensors that penalize websites for trying to cheat.

Here are some other truths about Search Engines

Nowadays, Search Engine Algorithms take words literally—and that can be good or bad
This means that they don't understand it when we make a play on words. For example, a recipe for vegetarian chili titled, Too Hot to Handle Chili will rank lower than one titled, Homemade Vegetarian Chili. This is because an algorithm uses the literal meaning of words and the first title doesn’t even have the word “vegetarian” in it. Often times a clever title will result in fewer clicks.

This doesn't mean we can't be clever—only that we have to be deliberate in where we're clever. Take that chili recipe, give it a title that can be searched literally, like Hot and Spicy Vegetarian Chili, but in the description use the clever tag line as too hot to handle.

Search Engine Algorithms also look for keywords 

Keywords are the words that appear in the blog post that describe its content.
Search engines read from the top of a webpage to the bottom, searching to see that important keywords are used throughout the page.

Here’s a good rule of thumb when determining keyword density
  • Always use the keyword in the title.
  • Repeat the keyword at least once in the first 50 words.
  • Spread the use of the keyword naturally and evenly throughout the rest of the article. In a 400 word article that would mean using the keyword a minimum of three more times. 

This should give any writer a good working knowledge of SEO. 

Any questions? If so leave them in the comment section and I'll check in and make sure they're answered!
Don't forget to join the conversation!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Meet Julie Arduini and Renee Chaw

*guest post by Michelle Massaro
Today it is my pleasure to shine the spotlight on two more amazing women who are both members of the COTT Blog Alliance.
Julie Arduini was born on Good Friday with tornado warnings. A description that she says could not be more accurate!
She lives in NE Ohio with her husband and two children. She's also a step-mom to two adult children who live in out of state. Her writing is featured in ten books (learn more on her site!) She also blogs monthly for the marriage counter at the Internet CafĂ©. She loves serving in children’s and women’s ministries through her local church and Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) chapter.
Julie says: "I love my strong coffee, lilacs, NCIS, and Beth Moore Bible studies (not in that order!)"
Her site has been up since December 31, 2006 and was her first act of surrendering fear of what others would think about her. That fear had kept her from doing what she loved since childhood but her baby step into blogging quickly led to many other writing opportunities—a true testament to listening to the whisperings of the Lord.
Julie's warm, transparent personality is woven throughout her blog posts. "I’m not a scholar, just a wife and mom trying to help anyone willing to read know that Jesus is close and intimate with arms open to receive, not turn away." Her focus is to encourage readers, mostly adult women, to find "freedom through surrender."
An avid reader, Julie provides book ideas on her site based on what she's reading. On Sundays you can take a peek at her amateur nature pictures with a few thoughts about God’s love. She posts 5-7 days per week so there's always something new! If you're looking for a blog-hostess gift, I hear she really really loves chocolate!
Surrendering the good, the bad, and---maybe one day---the chocolate
Say hello to Renee Chaw (and her 3 year old dog, Coco.) Renee's blog features reviews of Christian fiction, romance and young adult fiction as well as posts about some of her favorite movies, TV shows, and Steelers football. Woot!
Black 'n Gold Girl's Book Spot is a fun place to gather. Renee is always looking for a way to make you chuckle or at least inform you about some great books and movies. She also sometimes posts about her other interests like vintage jewelry, TV, antiques, sports, pets etc. She always makes you feel welcome!
Another great reason to add her to your blog roll: she loves doing giveaways and hosting authors.
Renee says she's an avid reader of just about anything from the back of the cereal box to the back of a book. ^-^
"I love to blog. I've met so many great people through the blogging world and have had the opportunity to read so many wonderful books that I might not have otherwise had the chance to. I love being a member of FIRST Wild Card and this Blog Alliance, two other great groups that I wouldn't have had the chance to join if it wasn't for blogging. I'm loyal to the local sports teams, especially my Pittsburgh Steelers (LOVE those Black 'n Gold guys ;-)) and I'm a crazy car girl LOL! Take me to a car show over the mall any day of the week!"
She tries to post everyday but sometimes 'real life' limits her blogging to 3 times per week. If you want to bring her a blog-hostess gift, make sure you get a big box with holes in it. Renee loves big, furry dogs! =) Of course, it might be easier to just bring a treat for Coco.
Be sure to check out these two blogs and make a couple new friends!
* Michelle Massaro is Assistant Editor for Clash of the Titles. Find her on twitter @MLMassaro, and Facebook.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Weekend Worship—Exceeding Abundance

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen Ephesians 3:20-21

I stared at the letter in my hand, almost unable to comprehend what I read. It was two days before Christmas, 1999. I’d been so sure God had called me to write, specifically to write Bible studies. This particular manuscript had been at the publishers over a year and, until now, I’d only received encouragement about the progress toward my first book contract.

Dear Mrs. Melson, We’re sorry but this manuscript doesn’t fit
 our needs at this time. While it’s a good manuscript, you just 
don’t have the platform needed.

First came the tears, then anger and frustration. Why had God planted this seed of hope within me only to deny me the opportunity?

Fast forward to Christmas 2007, the first year our family celebrated Christmas apart. Our oldest was serving as an infantry marine in Iraq. To say it was a tough year is almost a laughable understatement, but we made it through. God brought our son home safe.

Last night was the launch of my book, Fighting Fear: Winning the War atHome When Your Soldier Leaves for Battle. It’s a book that was birthed during the struggles of living with a son at war. God orchestrated an unusual venue for the book launch. It was at a professional hockey game, GreenvilleRoad Warriors. This team has an annual Tribute to the Military and had invited me to be a part of it this year.

For a writer, this was truly a dream come true. During the first intermission, I sat in the darkened convention center with the other fans, while the trailer to my book played on the huge video screens hanging above the ice. And as I was interviewed rink side, I heard the roar of the cheering of the crowd as she announced my son was in the audience.

Without that seed of hope, planted so many years earlier, I’d never have been ready to write this book. Was it worth the wait? You bet it was.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Thursday Review—Don’t Get Blogged Down

This may seem like a odd topic for a review, but I’ve gotten a lot of questions lately about how some of you are following so many blogs you don’t have time to write. Of course I’m also hearing from some who haven’t committed to following any blogs because of a fear that there won’t be any time to write.

Either extreme will blog…er…bog down your career.

All kidding aside, as a writer it’s vitally important to continue your education. And blogs can be an extremely efficient way to do this. I can hear the chorus of complaints now.
  • There are millions of blogs out there—how do I find one that’s worthwhile?
  • How do I narrow down my choices—do I have to read hundreds to find one that fits what I need?
  • Where do I start looking—it’s gonna be like finding a needle in a haystack!

Enough already.

Finding high quality blogs, that pertain to your situation are just not that hard to find. You find a good blog the same way you find a good book. Think about it, we’ve been shopping for books for years, choosing from millions of titles, and finding success. 
  • First, look for recommendations from people you trust.
  • Second, most blogs have blog lists as a part of their layout. If you like blogger A and he likes blogger D, chances are you ought to give it a try.
  • Third, look for blogs from familiar people. Now days, most bloggers have or are at least affiliated with more than one blog. 

So how do you manage following blogs and keep from eating into valuable writing time?

I have a plan for that too. I like to use a three tiered approach.
  • I start with three to five blogs that I follow regularly. These are blogs I almost always read.
  • Then I have a second level of six to eight blogs that I watch closely. I read these about one half of the time and I decide when by paying close attention to the subject lines and titles of the posts.
  • Finally I have a third level of about twelve to fifteen blogs that I watch the subject lines and titles and read when they sound interesting. 

This is the method that works for me. I’d love to hear how you manage your blog life.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

When Should I Throw in the Towel?

In my humble opinion—never!

My writing buddy, Vonda Skelton, is fond of reminding me it only took me 13 years to become an overnight success.

Now I use the word success as a term of comparison, not ultimate destination. But yesterday was a major milestone for me, it was the day my first print book hit the shelves.

This book is the book of my heart—and one I never dreamed I’d write.

When I began my writing career, my youngest son was three and my oldest still in grade school. As a responsible parent, I had their future at least partially planned.
They’d all excel in school. Then they’d choose a major and spend four years in college, where they’d each meet the girl of their dreams, get married and start a family.

God had another path…

Our oldest son chose the Marine Corps instead of college and the journey began.

The writing years between grade school and today held plenty of ups and down (Vonda, quit laughing, sometimes understatement is appropriate). And many times I was close to throwing in the towel. So why didn’t I? I have to admit, a lot of it had to do with just plain ole hard headedness. But it was also made up of other things. Here are just a few that kept me going. 
  • When I got discouraged, I always returned to the last thing I felt like God had told me. I camped out there until I had clear direction.
  • I stayed active in the industry. By staying visible, I inadvertently created a situation of accountability. I really didn’t want to face telling all those people I was quitting.
  • I developed a small group of friends who wanted to become full-time writers as much as I did. Our group provided each other the support and commiseration successful writers so desperately need. 

Today, with the perspective of time and distance, I can state unequivocally that sticking with it was well worth the effort. I challenge you to stay the course, find a band of fellow travelers and get ready for the ride of your life!

So what’s your story? How do you keep going when quitting seems like an option?

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tournament of Champions: Week Four

Week FOUR of COTT's Tournament of Champions saw four more authors compete and three more scavenger hunts played. 
Here's a recap:
Becky R went to Gail Pallotta's Blog on Monday to find out when Love Turns theTide's Cammie sees a different side of Vic. She got the correct answer and walks away with a $10 Starbucks card from Lisa Lickel. Pumpkin Latte, anyone?
Megan D visited Marianne Evans' blog Tuesday to discover which of Marianne's books was a Christian Small Publisher's Book of the Year nominee. She won a $10 Amazon gift card from Amanda Stephan. Awesome!
Theresa M stopped by Margaret Brownley's Blog on Wednesday and found the name of the Christmas anthology which Margaret contributed to. She also received a $10 Amazon gift card donated by Raquel Byrnes.
Congrats ladies! Clash of the Titles has awarded over $125 worth of game prizes, thanks to its generous sponsors. Thanks, COTT--and another round of applause for all those game winners!
This was the last week of reader games, but fear not! There's still a chance to win the Grand Prize! I'll share how in a minute. But first...

Which Books Won the Clashes?
Rosslyn Elliot's "Fairer Than Morning" and Delia Latham's "Destiny's Dream" clashed last Monday. "Fairer Than Morning" came out the winner.
Shellie Neumeier's, Driven and Ann O'Barr's Singing in Babylon struck swords on Wednesday. Driven took the top spot. 
These two victorious titles competed together on Friday to determine which would move on to the finals for a chance to win the Laurel Award. And that finalist is...
Rosslyn Elliot's "Fairer Than Morning"
She joins Marianne Evans' Hearts Crossing, Elaine Cooper's The Road To Deer Run, and Karen Witemeyer's A Tailor-Made Bride. We now have all four finalists vying for the ultimate COTT honor.
Voting for the Big Winner is going on RIGHT NOW, and continues all week long. The big announcement will be made on November 12th. Public vote determines the outcome, and one reader will receive a Grand Prize of 15 books!!!  Want a shot at it? Enter by sharing links, putting up buttons and banners on your blog, becoming a follower of COTT (just make sure you tell them you've done so--they aren't psychics!) Details on the prize basket and full instructions on how to enter can be found here. To make it easy to grab n go, here are the banner and button codes.

Clash of The Titles

Here's the button code:

Find me on twitter @MLMassaro, and Facebook.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Weekend Worship—Time for a Reboot

My computer is becoming a serious source of irritation in my life. Not just the ordinary, I hate technology moments we all have, but I’m going to have to wipe the hard drive and start over sort of drama.

To be fair, it’s not even a real computer, it’s a netbook. I’ve had it for just over two years and I have used this little machine hard. Its logged as many travel miles as I have and, for a PC, has been a truly trouble free machine. And up until the past few months, I’ve been thrilled with its performance. It’s always booted up quickly and gone from application to application with lightening speed. It’s definitely been the favorite out of all computers I’ve ever had.

As I said, a few months ago that all began to change. At first I thought it probably had something to do with a virus or spyware or even cookies. But I’ve run every diagnostic in the book and it’s free from digital disease.

One thing all my diagnostic digging did reveal was a very full machine. Its open memory space is rapidly disappearing. Where once it had room to perform, now its life is cramped and overloaded. Its performance has dramatically decreased and if it were a person I’d even go so far as to say it’s chronically cranky. Its bad tempered disposition is due to the fact that I’m expecting it to do things it was never designed to do.

Because it was originally so efficient, I kept piling more and more on it. Moving all my work life to its hard drive because it performed so well. And, until it became overloaded, it just quietly processed my requests. Now, my only option is to wipe its hard drive and start over. And, to be totally honest, I really don’t have the time to spare.

Why? Well it seems I suffer from the same sort of malady as my darling digital offspring. While I considered what to do with this machine, God began to draw some obvious parallels within my own life. This has been a banner year for me, but with my successes have come a dump truck full of opportunities. 

For some, that would be a good thing. For me, the queen of I-can’t-say-no, it’s developed into a nightmare. My own life has become overloaded and my performance has begun to suffer. Where once I finished projects early, now I struggle to complete them on time. I’m suddenly driven by deadlines and distracted by details. And the only answer is take a little time this upcoming holiday season and do a serious reboot to my life.

I’m in the process of plugging back in to my Creator and letting Him remind me of the special things He designed me to do. I'm looking forward to wiping my life free of everything I wasn't designed to do. So where do you stand coming into this holiday season? I encourage you to use the time to readjust your life back in line as we all spend the season celebrating God's love.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Thursday Review—The 11 Secrets of Getting Published

I was first introduced to Mary DeMuth when I read her book Watching the Tree Limbs a couple of years ago. But it wasn't until I noticed friends re-tweeting her tweets (@MaryDemuth) and liking posts on Facebook that I discovered what a friend Mary DeMuth is, to both the new and not-so-new writer.

She has taken a variety of posts from her blog and compiled them into an e-book, The 11 Secrets of Getting Published.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, so I today I give you 11 Reasons to Download 11 Secrets
  1. It's cheap. Most writers I know wouldn't pass up a penny on the sidewalk. At the same time, most writers I know aren't above plunking down $4.99 for a peppermint mocha either. Um. Okay. So maybe that's just me. Regardless, this is no twenty-page e-book. There's a hefty quantity of quality content. And it won't add an inch to your waistline.
  2. It's an e-book. Yes, I'm the queen of the obvious, but this is a key point. I don't own a Kindle, Nook, or iPad. I read e-books on my little iTouch while feeding babies and waiting in carlines. E-books are a great way to stuff your brain with writing knowledge whenever you have a spare second.
  3. Mary was an English teacher. She dispenses some gentle English teacher love and a grammar lesson or two. You might not enjoy it, but you need it.
  4. She recommends writing “nekkid.”
  5. She writes fiction. This book hits a variety of topics including purple prose, killing adverbs, cliches, sentence structure, weak verbs, and head hopping.
  6. She writes non-fiction. You'll find wisdom on querying and writing proposals for everything from newspaper and magazine articles to full-length books.
  7. She uses the word “wonky.”
  8. She's passionate. It shines through on every page.
  9. She's honest. This is not a “follow these 11 steps and you will be published” book. She doesn't gloss over how tough the industry is.
  10. She wasn't an overnight success. As much as we would all love to have our first book fought over by the major houses and spend three years on the bestseller's list, the reality is that most successful writers spent years honing their craft. She did. It gives me hope.
  11. Her advice is for both unpublished and published writers. If you've already landed an agent and held your book in your hands, you still need to read this book. There's great advice for the mid-list author peppered throughout. 

Oh—you thought we were done? Well, when you get to the end of the book, you'll discover—oh, never mind. I think I'll keep that a secret!

Have you read The 11 Secrets of Getting Published? What was your favorite piece of advice?

Don't forget to join the conversation!

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Google Plus, Part Three—Privacy Settings

Today we’ll continue with our exploration of Google+. If you’ve missed the either of the first two posts, you can click here or here and catch up.

One of the biggest complaints I hear about Social Networks is confusion about privacy settings. Frequently this confusion can leave users exposed without even knowing it. Google+ gives the user the opportunity to customize many settings in a straight forward manner and bypass the confusion.

To begin, go to your Google+ home page (click on the HOME icon).
Now, click on your name. It’s in the upper right of the screen – on the black menu bar. This will activate a drop-down menu. The bottom choice on the menu is PRIVACY. Click on this.

Now you’re in the privacy settings page.

The first tab you want to consider is your visibility to search engines. On the right side of the screen you’ll see a light gray box with EDIT VISIBILITY ON PROFILE written in it. Click on this and it will take you to your profile page.

At the bottom of the page you’ll see, PROFILE DISCOVERY, after that, you’ll see one of two things:
For writers, I recommend you make certain your profile is visible in search.

Privacy and Circles

With the circles in Google+ you have the option of different circles, family, friends, acquaintances, etc. There may be times when it’s appropriate to share things with family or close friends, that you don’t want shared with business associates or acquaintances. You manage that setting every time you post information (a picture, link, post, etc). This may seem like a lot of work, but it’s actually a really good fail safe for your privacy. Each time you post, you can decide who you want to see what you’ve written.
SPECIAL NOTE: There is an automatic default with this setting. When you post something to your stream (your feed) and you designate who can see the post, Google+ will remember this setting and default to it when you post again unless you change it.

It is possible to set your privacy settings to let the friends in your circles be visible only to other friends or to the entire web. To do this, click on the gray box that says, EDIT NETWORK VISIBILITY.
This will take you to your profile page. Once there, the entire screen will gray out and an active box will pop up on the left hand side of your screen.
The first option on the box is IN YOUR CIRCLES.
You’ll see the heading, SHOW PEOPLE IN, and you can check this box and decide which (or all) circles to show.
Below that is WHO CAN SEE THIS.
You have the option to either check,
I recommend you only choose YOUR CIRCLES.

Below that is the option to make yourself invisible in someone else’s profile. Unless you’re a celebrity, I recommend you do NOT make yourself invisible. Showing up in someone else’s profile is a great way to network and make new contacts.

SPECIAL NOTE: Remember, with Google+ only you know the specific names of your circles and who you’ve added to each one.  

There are other settings you can tweak on this page, but these are the major settings you need to be concerned with. Now it’s your turn, what questions do you have?

And don’t forget to join the conversation!