Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tips to Finding Relevant Twitter Hashtags

Today I promised I’d give you some tips to help find relevant hashtags for your tweets. If you’re not certain what a hashtag is, this post I wrote on connecting with twitter will help.

It’s important to use hashtags when you tweet—but even more important to use them correctly. One big thing you should avoid is using more than two or three hashtags per tweet. Otherwise you run the risk of being mistaken for a sales person or a spammer.

If you’re tweeting about a new subject, be sure to check the hashtags and pick ones that will correctly target your audience. For example, I’m targeting military families with my new book, Fighting Fear: Winning the War at Home When Your Soldier Leaves forBattle.

Since I don’t normally receive tweets about military subjects I began to research the best hashtags for my targeted audience. The first one I chose was #military. It sounded like a good choice, but researching it I came up with a lot of tweets about the best times to meet soldiers to get a date. Definitely NOT the audience I was looking for! Next I tried #militaryFamily and that took me to tweets directed at the people I wanted to reach.

I know your next question is going to be, “Where does someone research hashtags?”

I have four sites I recommend. All four are free resources and I don’t recommend one over the others, because they’re all slightly different and I find myself using them in different combinations.

The first is Hashtags.org. This site gives a list of trending hashtags, a graph and a search box to type in potential hashtags. After typing in a hashtag, it lists current tweets containing that hashtag.

Next is Trendistic.IndexTank.com. It also gives you a graph, along with a search box. But it’s graph allows you to check the trends for the past 180 days.

Another I like is WhatTheTrend.com. Like the others, What the Trend has current trends, a graph and a search box. I included it because it also explains why a particular hashtag is trending.

Finally, I also visit Trendsmap.com regularly. This site has a map that tells you what is trending where. This is particularly helpful if you’re targeting a specific area.

Another way to track hashtags is to find out the most popular keywords. To do this you need to check out Google Ad Words.

Now it’s your turn. How do you find the right hashtags? Also be sure to post any questions you have in the comment section.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Clash of the Titles

* guest post by COTT Senior Editor, April W Gardner
The lovely Lisa Lickel has stopped by today to talk about her frigid Wisconsin winters, her 1830’s ship’s captain house, and her growing list of published novels. Join us! Lisa is a Wisconsin writer who lives with her husband in a hundred and fifty-year-old house built by a Great Lakes ship captain. Surrounded by books and dragons, she is a multi-published novelist, has written dozens of feature newspaper stories, magazine articles, radio theater, and edits two magazines: Creative Wisconsin and OtherSheep. She is also the senior editor at Reflections in Hindsight. Lisa is the author of A Summer in Oakville, co-authored with Shellie Neumeier, Meander Scar, Healing Grace, and The Gold Standard. Wisconsin. Brrr! What's the coldest weather you've endured? Lisa: The thermometers read in the negative thirties. The temp has to be at least twenty below, not just wind chill, to call off school. Once it’s minus ten or colder, it doesn’t really feel much different because you still have to bundle up the same.
Negative thirties? It was 24 over the weekend here in Georgia. You should have heard the complaining! LOL I hope you have a warm house. Speaking of which, does your 160 year ship captain's house actually sit on the lake shore? Which of the Great Lakes would that be? Lisa: Where we live is inland from Lake Michigan about fifteen or so miles from Port Washington. It’s midway-ish between Green Bay and the current state line. The LaCrafts came to Wisconsin in the late 1830s and bought land as soon as the surveys were registered. I’m not sure exactly what they did or where they lived before this house was built in 1853, but I know that afterward he gave up his ship, which I’m guessing was a steamer or clipper with a merchant run between New York where they were from and Port Washington. Abraham Lincoln stopped at Port and speechified once, ya know.
Sounds like Captain LaCraft had a rather long and frigid buggy ride back and forth to his ship! Since you have such long, cold winters it’s a good thing your job doesn’t take you outside the home (much). How did your writing career get kicked off?  Lisa: I was a church secretary knowing my kids were leaving home for adulthood and my job wouldn’t last forever I took the very expensive Christian Writers Guild apprentice course. I began writing for my tiny little local newspaper, features and government meetings, etc., which was excellent practice for “write tight.” Meanwhile a novel I wrote for the guild’s very first First Novel contest under Jerry Jenkins did pretty well, I wrote a cozy mystery for Barbour and signed with an agent from the guild about the same time, fall of 2007. And so forth.
Ooh, I’ve always wanted to take one of the Christian Writers Guild’s courses. Good for you for taking plunge, despite the cost! I hear you love to travel. Do you have any funny travel misadventures you're brave enough to share? Lisa: Okay–my husband likes these travel books called “Moon Guides.” You should look them up – they’re fun. Sometimes a little out of date, as we discovered on one journey when we stopped at what was supposed to be a mineral springs spa in the middle of – wherever we were. The motel had just changed hands and the proud grandfatherly owner showed us around, leading the way down this huge scary hallway with, I KID YOU NOT, stained ceiling tiles drooping with insulation showing, rather actively inhabited cobwebs, just totally gross, to the last two rooms in the place which he had fixed up. Out comes a very happy smiling couple from one of the rooms, exclaiming their delight with the place; he opens the last door with a flourish to a very mildew smelling room, air conditioner running full blast and a bed with an obvious droop. I wondered…well never mind. Hubby felt sorta bad about leaving, but, I mean, really…would you?
You bet I would have left! Nope, no guilt there. And it’s too funny that the other couple were gushing over the place. I wonder if he paid his neighbors to say that? LOL You've been on staff at Clash of the Titles since its birth. Which aspect the site do you enjoy most? Lisa: Working with you, of course. (Aw! Thanks, sweetie. And, ditto!) Meeting all the fantastic authors and finding out behind-the-scenes things to do with their work. And what I truly find fascinating is exploring books from all the different angles, such as “Best Romantic Moment,” “Best Back Cover Blurb,” “Most Delectable Hero,” – okay, made that last one up, but…something in the future? Hey, that’s not a bad idea! Raise your hand if you want to see a Most Delectable Hero clash!  How many of your books have been published, and which one have you gotten most positive reader feedback on? Lisa: That’s a nice way to put it, April. As soon as The Map Quilt releases in April, that will make full length novel number five; my first book, MQ’s prequel, is re-releasing later on. I received some nice comments on The Gold Standard, the first book, and I have the most reviews and intriguing public comments on Meander Scar, an unusual romance I did in 2010. Congratulations on the upcoming releases! Whoo hoo!! Each book an author finishes whether it’s ever published or not is a massive accomplishment. And I LOVED Meander Scar. I think I read it in one sitting, and I’ve never done that before. Ever.  So tell us about this book you have coming? The Map Quilt releases in April of this year. Just how high a price does a family secret command? Death in rural Wisconsin is only the beginning to new chaos in Robertsville. What do a stolen piece of revolutionary agricultural equipment, a long-buried skeleton in the yard, and an old quilt with secrets have in common? Hart and Judy Wingate, who met in The Gold Standard, are back to solve the mystery of The Map Quilt. Hart’s new battery design could forever change the farm implement industry. But after the death of Hart’s most confrontational colleague in a fire that destroys Hart’s workshop, the battery is missing. Throw in a guest speaker invited to Judy’s elementary classroom who insists she owns the land under Hart’s chief competitor’s corporate headquarters, and a police chief who’s making eyes at Hart’s widowed mother, it’s no wonder Hart is under a ton of pressure to make sure his adventurous pregnant wife stays safe while trying to preserve his company and his reputation. It sounds like a lot of fun. You're a talented author, Lisa, and COTT is privileged to call you its own! Learn more about the talented Lisa Lickel at her site: www.lisalickel.com.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Weekend Worship—Faithfulness here…now?

He who is faithful in very little is faithful also in much... Luke 16:10

When I was young all I wanted to be was a writer. As a matter of fact, I actually wrote my first novel in eighth grade…long hand, with a purple ink pen. But through the years, my dream of writing drifted farther and farther from the realm of reasonable possibilities, until I finally I gave up.

But as a young mother of three kids, God revived that call. At first I was scared, but then I got excited. Oh the plans I made—I’d write Bible studies and spend my time traveling, speaking and working for God.

I finished my first Bible study and the printer ink was barely dry before I had the manuscript in an envelope and on the way to publisher. I could see my future so clearly and I was on fire, with plans to do great things in His kingdom. All He had to do was open this one door.

Not only did He not open that door, it seemed every door had slammed shut and locked. It quickly became obvious that going and doing weren’t part of the call He’d placed on my life. Instead, the doors at home began to swing wide, as He invited me to share my story with those closest to me. 

As I swallowed my pride and became obedient to act where He’d placed me, the fruit began to grow. Years later, going and doing has become part of my call, but first I’d had to learn obedience and the difference between His will and mine.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How to Have a Great TV Interview

A guest post by Mary Denman
Jack & Kimberly, Your Carolina

Last Friday, I headed to a local TV studio called Your Carolina to watch Edie Melson be interviewed about her latest book, Winning the War at Home.  And what I saw is worthy of review.

The first thing Edie did right was to develop a press kit about her book and then distribute it to the local media stations. As a result of that, she was scheduled for a very popular show called Your Carolina. 

Secondly, Edie knew her material. Yes, she had written the book, but she knew what was important to communicate – that this book is a resource for others who are going through the difficulty of sending a loved one off to war. She’s been there so she spoke with love, conviction and authority.

Edie Melson on air
Something else she did right was to arrive early. I know because she picked me up first at 9:00 a.m. and we were downtown and in the studio by 9:30 – thirty minutes before the show started. She was relaxed and had plenty of time to mike up before she went on air.

Next, Edie dressed well for the interview. Edie always dresses nicely but she chose her clothes carefully. She wore varying shades of gray which is a good color combination for her, but would also look good on air. Had she worn stripes or neon colors, the attention might have been on her clothes instead of what she had to say.

Edie with Jack & Kimberly
Then, when she finally got in front of the camera, she sat a little forward on the sofa and focused on the co-hosts, Jack and Kimberly. The rest was a natural exchange between them and she appeared calm and collected.

It was a great interview and you can watch it here.

So, whether or not you have an interview scheduled, you can still learn from Edie. Promoting your book doesn’t have to be as self-focused as you think. Edie’s heart is to help encourage others. Not book sales. As she reaches out to help others, the book sales follow.

Edie, Jack & Kimberly on the big screen
Finally, she went out of her comfort zone. Go to the dentist or be on TV? I bet most of you would pick the dentist. But Edie got in front of the camera and shared a message of hope. I bet you could do that too. And that's how we’re truly successful. In blessing others. 

Mary Denman is a writer who also loves photography. Or a photographer who loves writing. As a freelance writer, Mary has had articles published in various forms ranging from Focus on the Family publications to magazines to devotions to op-ed pieces. She has also completed her first novel and started her second. She's a member of several professional writing organizations including ACFW, My Book Therapy, and Word Weavers. 
As a professional photographer, Mary has had photos published in both print literature and online. Her shots have been used by businesses and by fellow authors alike. Her philosophy is to catch a moment that reflects God’s beauty and creativity, whether in nature, in life or in the face of her subjects. And as a writer herself, she understands what authors need in a headshot. Mary blends the two mediums of writing and photography on her blog. www.marydenman.blogspot.com
Married for 24 years to husband Todd, they have home schooled their five children with their eldest in college. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Social Media Update—Why I've Switched from Tweetdeck to Hootsuite

For the past couple of years I’ve been singing the praises of Tweetdeck, an ancillary program to help you organize your Twitter stream. Well no more, I’ve spent the past few weeks switching to Hootsuite and I’m MUCH happier.

Why? Well, unfortunately, nothing stays the same in the changing climate of Social Networking! I know that’s the single most frustrating aspect of Social Media, but it’s one we all have to expect and learn to work around.

Last year Tweetdeck was bought by Twitter. Initially I thought that might be a good thing. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Most of the things I liked about Tweetdeck have been eliminated and we’ve been left with a clunky program that’s mostly ineffective.

Luckily, Hootsuite is more than taking up the slack. Now, before you ask, Hootsuite does have a FREE option. That’s actually the account I’m using right now, although I do think I’ll be moving up to the lowest paid option before too long. But here’s what I get in the free account: 
  • 5 social profiles.
  • Basic analytics.
  • 2 RSS feeds.

Best of all, Hootsuite does most of the things Tweetdeck used to do. Here’s a short list of what I like about it. 
  • It’s easy to schedule Tweets and Facebook posts
  • You can copy and paste tweets into the update window with ease.
  • It has two options for URL shortening.
  • It keeps track of your @contacts to make tagging easier.
  • It has a GREAT get-acquainted video to help even the rawest beginner get started. 

Every morning I spend about thirty minutes scheduling my main Tweets and Facebook posts for the day. I usually line up at least 15-20 updates for the day. I try to schedule them evenly throughout the day so I can reach people in different time zones. Here are some of the things I try to include every day.
  • I search my inbox for interesting articles from my favorite social media sites.
  • I post updates from my regular writing related blogs, including My Book Therapy, the Blue Ridge Conference site, Novel Rocket and Chip MacGregor’s blog. There are many others, but these are some of my favorites.
  • I look to see which of my friends’ blogs have sent me an email update and I try to highlight those.
  • Most days I include something about my blog or books, but lately I haven’t Tweeted as much about myself. I haven’t really needed to. A lot of the people I interact with on Twitter are as diligent about posting info about others as I am.

During the day, while I’m working I check Hootsuite periodically to see who’s retweeted or mentioned me.
I do try to do an @reply to anyone who highlights something I’ve done. This accomplishes two things—it gives them a mention and it’s a public way to say thank you.

A lot of people ask me if my schedule has been beneficial? You better believe it! I’ve reached the magic 1000 follower mark on Twitter and I’ve been adding between 15 and 20 followers a day. And, I don’t spend much more than the 30 minutes every morning to schedule my Tweets and Facebook posts.

So I’m curious, how is Twitter working out for you? What are your frustrations and successes. Let’s learn from each other.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Clash of the Titles

*guest post by Raquel Byrnes
The Almost Kiss clash has been a whirlwind of romance, breathless moments, and possibilities! Your responses to the excerpts were amazing.Both books were great examples of riveting Christian Fiction available out there, but there can be only one winner and I am happy to announce that book is...
A Thyme for Love by Pamela S. Meyers!
Pamela's winning Almost Kiss excerpt was full of sparks and surprises.  Here's a small snippet of the great scene:
...Marc tipped my chin up with his index finger. “April, you’re sweating.” He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed my forehead. I had nowhere to look but into his eyes and, once there, I couldn’t pull my gaze away. Good thing I didn’t want to. His eyes went to my mouth and he leaned closer. I lifted my chin in anticipation. So much for the boss’s orders... 
He brought his mouth closer, and the tiny elevator started to spin. Then everything went black.
If you missed it, drop by Clash of the Titles to take a peek at One Breathless Moment... We received positive reader response for this spunky romance. "Great tension! I was riveted to every word!" "Love the anticipation and butterflies in the almost kiss scene..." "The setting was marvelous, the tension leaped off the pages." A Thyme for Love is a wonderful example of the awesome Christian fiction available.  This week, an exciting new Unpublished Novel Clash begins. It's hosted by our very own April Gardner! Make sure you come by for another chance to vote and WIN a free book!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Weekend Worship—Weary & Heavy-laden

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. Matthew 11:28-29

Just reading the words weary and heavy-laden weighs me down with exhaustion. But it’s a feeling I’m all too familiar with right now. Don't misunderstand, I know I can’t blame the burden on God, or even on someone else.

It’s all been my own doing.

As I read that sentence I see the truth staring back at me—my own doing. Instead of sharing my load with Jesus, I’ve once again gone haring off on my own, trying to do everything for everyone.

When will I ever learn? When will I heed what I’ve learned?

I’m trying, and today I’d like to share with you what I’ve been reminded of about Jesus’ yoke and the rest He has for me. There are three applications I’ve found from these verses. 
  • First, our yoke is personal. In biblical times the yoke of an ox was made from wood. It was hand carved—especially for that particular animal. It wasn’t interchangeable between animals.
  • Second, our yoke is a partnership. A young, untrained ox was paired with a more mature ox that could guide and teach the young one and make his work easier.
  • Finally, our yoke is perfectly fair and just. The word Yoke has the same Greek root word as the balance on a scale.

So as I once again return to the side of my Savior and protector I already feel the load lifting. I encourage you to try yours on for size, I’m certain it will be as deftly tailored and perfectly suited as mine.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Thursday Review—The Frasier Contest, an Opportunity to Grow

Today I want to share a post about writing contests—specifically about a new contest—TheFrasier. I’ve been in this business for a while and I’ve entered a bunch of contests. I’ve even won a couple. But the value of contests for me hasn’t come with winning. It’s come with learning to put myself out there, dealing with seemingly unfair critiques by judges and by NOT always finishing first.

Reasons to Enter 
  • It’s good practice. For anyone with a desire to be published it’s necessary to take a risk. Any time we submit something we have the possibility of rejection.
  • It’s the mirror image of the REAL world of publishing. I've heard a lot of comments about various contests and the unfairness of the judges—actually I've made some of those comments. But it’s important to remember the publishing industry is a subjective world. Sometimes we don’t get the job just because they don’t like our writing. We may have followed all the rules and turned in a nearly perfect piece, but it just doesn't resonate with the powers that be. As professionals we have to learn to deal with that and move on.
  • It gives us anonymous feedback. I don’t know many people who are comfortable delivering bad news to someone they know. The same is true of critiques. Sometimes the only way we learn the hard stuff is when the person behind the red ink is covered with anonymity. 

A New Contest to Consider

There are lots of good contests out there, but today I want to concentrate on a new one you might not have heard of. TheFrasier is the brain child of SusanMay Warren. I’ve mentioned Susie on this blog many times before—especially in conjunction with her amazing website—My Book Therapy.

When she announced a brand new fiction contest in 2009, I knew I had to give it a try. I wasn’t disappointed. I received the most valuable feedback I’ve ever gotten through a contest. The judges didn’t just say they didn’t agree with something—they gave me concrete advice on why it didn’t work and how to fix it. They also took time to let me know what I was doing right.

None of this was by accident—Susie set it up this way. Her judges critique/score sheets ask for specific information and makes certain the judges communicate the helpful, and difficult, critiques we all need to shape us into better writers.

The Bottom Line 
  • Why did I enter? Because I trusted Susan May Warren. Last year I entered for the same reason AND because I received critiques that have made me a better writer.
  • What specifically did I get that affected my writing? I gained insight on how to get beyond just adding the five senses to a scene. Instead, to make what the character senses heighten the tension and add to the depth of the scene. I learned how to take a step back and constantly evaluate if my characters were acting in a reasonable manner. Finally I learned how to evaluate when narrative is appropriate to a scene and how to use it without stopping the action cold. 

Contest details
The 2012 Frasier Contest, My Book Therapy’s story-crafting contest for unpublished novelists, is open now through March 31. The winner will be announced at the annual MBT Pizza Party during the 2012 ACFW Conference in Dallas – and will receive a free MBT retreat (a $500 value!). Final round entries will be judged by award-winning author Susan May Warren, Tyndale House acquisitions editor Stephanie Broene, and Karen Ball, literary agent with the Steve Laube Agency. All guidelines and registration details are available here.

So I encourage you to take a chance and enter a contest or two this year. Let the victories—and the defeats—strengthen you as a writer.

What are your thoughts on contests?

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

SEO for Writers—Basic Hyperlink Tips

SEO or Search Engine Optimization and Hyperlink are important terms for writers to know, whether you’re a freelancer writing blogs or websites for customers; or a novelist trying to build a platform.
If you’re not familiar with SEO here’s a post I did on Search Engine Optimization a while back that should help you come up to speed.

Today I want to concentrate on hyperlinks and teach you how to use them effectively.

A Hyperlink is a clickable link found within a post. The paragraph above contains a hyperlink—Search Engine Optimization. If you position your cursor above any of those three words and left click you’ll be taken to another page on the website. Other common terms for a hyperlink are a Hotlink or just a Link.

Hyperlinks are a good thing to have within a post for a couple of reasons.
  • Including them will raise your search engine ranking.
  • It’s a way to utilize previous posts and get more traffic on your own blog.
  • They can give your readers more value by linking to valuable site that your readers may not have visited.
  • It’s a way to build credibility by linking to other sites you’ve written for.

BUT, there are some tricks to formatting hyperlinks correctly to give you the best results. 
  • Tie your hyperlink to valuable words. The words hyperlinked in your post are also searchable by search engines and you don’t want to waste them, so pick words that are specific to the topic you’re linking. For example, in the first paragraph, I could have made the word POST the link. It would have made sense, after all I was referring to a previous post. But how often do people do a Google search for the word post? Not very often. So I linked to a much more interesting set of words, SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION.
  • Be sure the site you link to opens in a new window. This is important because your website stays open and it’s easy for your reader to check out the info you’re referencing and return to your post. Otherwise you might lose them. In most standard blogs and websites you have an option to decide this.
  • Always check your links. Let me say that again—ALWAYS CHECK YOUR LINKS! Very few things will irritate people more than to be curious about something and then be directed to a dead-end when they try to learn more. I don’t care how familiar I am with a link, I always test it before I publish a blog post.
  • Inform others. If you’re linking to someone else’s site or article it’s polite—and smart—to drop them a quick email and let them know. We all like to know that others have found our information valuable. Frequently the honoree will tell others about your article and this can also help you get the word out about your blog or topic.

Now it’s your turn. Post any questions or comments you have about hyperlinks in the comment section of this blog and let’s learn from each other.

Don’t forget to join the Conversation!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Clash of the Titles - Spotlight On Michelle Massaro

*guest post by April W Gardner
"I often cry when I am in prayer for my children. When eternity breaks through the here and now and the only request left in me is please, God, bring my children into the Kingdom." -Michelle Massaro
It's my immense pleasure to introduce a lovely woman to you today, and offer an opportunity to get to know her! Michelle Massaro is my right arm at Clash of the Titles. I'd be lost without her, but she's so much more than just assistant editor at COTT. Michelle married her high school honey, Mike, and they now have four amazing children. They are passionate Creationists and attend Living Truth Christian Fellowship in Corona, CA where they have taught Jr High studies and where Michelle is involved in the worship ministry. Michelle is also a homeschooling parent and an aspiring author of contemporary Christian fiction. She loves coffee, peanut butter M&M's, and new eyeshadow. Her blog hosts weekly Story Improvs, where readers are encouraged to jump in and add to the plot. Above all, she is a follower of Christ Jesus, unashamed to stand upon the Word of God from beginning to end. Michelle, I love your blog's sub-header. It says "Follow my journey toward publication. Laugh, cry, point and stare-- it's all good. I'll leave a trail so that you, my fellow author, may have a straighter path to finding your own elusive publishing contract. Adventure awaits. Let's travel together..."  Like they say in court, you've opened up a line of questioning. So!  Regarding laughter... Every time I watch Forget Paris, I laugh hysterically over Ellen driving down the road with a pigeon stuck to her head. Which movie makes you laugh hardest?  Michelle: Wow. This was tough because I don't belly-laugh often enough at all. But one movie that comes to mind is Meet The Parents. Some might be offended because there is some inappropriateness in there, but I can't help it. It's funny! There are so many quotes that get me going. Greg's prayer at the dinner table for one: "and we thank you oh sweet sweet Lord of Hosts...for the ...smorgasboard you have so aptly lain at our table this day and each day..by day...day by day by day...".  LOL, I'm laughing just remembering all the hysterical lines from that movie! You have me laughing, too! Visualizing Greg milking a cat... LOL Regarding tears... You and I are women. We're allowed to cry anytime, anywhere. It's our prerogative. I cried yesterday at the sight of traffic stopping for children exiting a school bus. It's a touching scene--the world coming to a halt to protect our little ones. When was the last time you cried, and what was it over? Michelle: It is a touching scene! (Thank you! I feel better now.) I cry all the time. Seriously. Usually nobody is around to see but I probably shed at least a couple tears nearly every day. I often cry when I am in prayer for my children. When eternity breaks through the here and now and the only request left in me is please, God, bring my children into the Kingdom. But I also cry over physical weaknesses, regrets, longings, and even Disney movies. In elementary school I bawled over the movie Annie and begged my mom to adopt some orphans. Today I teared up watching a scene from Mulan (when she resolves to take her father's place in war), and my eyes stung listening to pianist Yiruma's Kiss The Rain for the first time. Raise your hand if you teared up during that little speech! Must move on to happier thoughts before I drip on the keyboard. Regarding pointing and staring... Our lives are so much more exposed now with Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and all the rest. It seems we can hardly say or do anything privately any more, which can be a blessing. And a curse. What's the funniest social networking faux pas you've committed to date? Michelle: This was hard too. (Great questions, April!) The closest thing would be when a secular writer I know posted about her new release on Facebook. She had some trouble with Amazon tagging because of the somewhat offensive cover image and turned to her FB friends for input on its appropriateness. I commented with a gentle opinion on why I thought Amazon might have tagged it the way they did, hoping to speak for the conservatives out there without being abrasive. What I hadn't considered, was that by commenting, her book image would appear on my wall in my "recent activities" and moments later my MOM left a scathing comment below mine asking why on earth I was posting this image. I messaged her privately to adamantly explain that I wasn't the poster, I was weighing in on the matter. I deleted my comment and told my mom she should do the same because obviously it was then going to be on her wall too. Oy vey! Lucky for me, the incident was small-scale and rather private. I suppose I've gotten off easy so far. But it's never easy being "caught" by Mom. That's too funny! Mom's are great at catching us with our hands in the cookie jar, no matter our age!  Tell us about that trail you're leaving for other writers. What was the last thing you posted about on Fiction Fridays? Michelle: I've always posted things I learn and experiences I gain whether that's contest feedback, craft techniques, social networking (alot of that with COTT), or opportunities to pursue. I sometimes use Fiction Fridays for hosting Story Improvs where readers get involved and write a story together one line at a time. Last week I posted an update on where I've been and what I expect in 2012 and I ended with a story prompt. This one is a little different than the Improvs. In this one, I challenged readers to take the prompt and expand it on their own blog, then send me the link. I don't know how many will join the challenge and play the game, but it would be fun to see what different authors do with the same prompt. Wanna play? You can check it out right now: http://michellemassaro.blogspot.com/2012/02/fiction-friday.html
Oh! Sounds like fun. Y'all make sure you head over there and jump in on the action. You've been with COTT since the beginning as a vital staff member, but looking through the eyes of a reader/voter (which you also are!), which part of COTT do you enjoy the most?
Michelle: I'd have to say I most enjoy getting that slice of a story I've often never heard of, and then getting to hear how it came together from the author. It's more personal and more focused than scanning amazon for sample chapters. And I can vote! Most of us love having a say in things and I'm no exception, lol. Being able to interact with the authors of the books I'm voting for makes me feel like I'm stepping into an elite circle of friends and as a reader, that's huge. I heartily agree! Thanks, Michelle, for being so gracious to open your world to us for a little peek. It's been a blast! And now you must excuse me while I go dig through my DVDs for Meet the Parents. LOL Michelle: April, thank you so much for this opportunity. I value your friendship and admire your work so much. I'm truly honored to be a part of Clash of the Titles. We couldn't do it without ya!
Readers, do you have a question for Michelle? And don't forget, you can still comment on the Almost Kiss clash going on right now at Clash of the Titles!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Weekend Worship—Chosen

You did not choose me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain... John 15:16

Growing up I was never athletic. In fact, my idea of exercise was turning the pages of the latest book I was reading. You can imagine what the playground games were like for me. I was always the last one chosen. At least that was true until I met Amy. She was the exact opposite of me, excelling in sports. And, although we attended different schools, we got to know each other at church and became best friends. Then, one summer, she somehow convinced me to play softball with the church.

We were a large church and had enough players to field two teams. Amy and another girl were chosen to captain the teams and I found myself once again transported to the memory of grade school playgrounds while two popular athletes chose teams. The other girl won the coin toss and got to choose first. When Amy’s turn came I determinedly stared at the ground in front of me, praying this torture would end quickly. Imagine my surprise when the person she picked first was me.  I moved to her side and the teams were decided in short order. Later, I asked her why she’d chosen me first. Her answer floored me, “Because you have potential. I can see how athletic you are.”

I don’t know about the athletic part, but I didn’t embarrass her at church softball. God sees the same thing in each of us, and when we trust His view we can find the confidence to move forward and let Him bring about the fruit in our lives.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Small Steps…Giant Gain! Take Advantage of Your Signature Line

This week I’m going to start a new type of post on my blog. Small Steps...Giant Gain. These will be small things that you can do to help yourself grow as a writer. There will be craft steps you can take, business steps and networking steps. They may even be short prompts, exercises, or a series of questions.

The common theme for this section though is the fact that it’s SHORT.

So without further ado, here’s the first one.

Have you considered your email signature line?

If you’re not certain what that is, it’s the line or lines including or directly below your signature that is automatically generated within your email program.

This one simple addition to my life has made it much easier for people to
  • Find my blog.
  • Buy my book.
  • Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Here are the basics you should include:
  • Your name and/or the name you write under.
  • A link to your website.
  • Your blog address.
  • Your twitter account name.
  • Your Facebook Fan Page link.
  • A link to your latest book (if you write books).

  • Keep your signature line to a maximum of 6 lines. Anything more and people lose interest.
  • Try NOT to add graphics, these take longer to load and the person who receives the email has to click on a permission tab to see them and most of us don’t bother.

Here’s a screenshot of my iPad sig line to help you see what it looks like.

Although it doesn't look like it in the picture, the title of my book is a clickable link. Also, this is a slightly shorter sig line that I use with my iPad.

What do you like to see in someone else’s sig line? What do you include?

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

How Often Should I Post—Keys to a Reasonable Blog Schedule

There is lots of information about blogging around, some of it good and some of it not so good. One of the biggest misconceptions I see is in regard to how often you should post your blog. The common misconception seems to be that daily is always best. While this may be true for some, it’s definitely NOT for the majority and here’s why. 
  • Daily blog posts don’t always get read. People are busy and few (if any) have time to read every blog every day. If you post once or twice a week I’m much more likely to read every post than if you post every day. For the sites I follow that post every day I pick and choose what I read by the title of the post (which is a whole nuther subject!).
  • A daily schedule can cause burnout. For many people, a blog is something they do in addition to their regular writing. If you have to work too hard at it you may be tempted to quit.
  • Frequently the posts are better when they’re spaced further apart. Let’s face it, it’s hard to be great day-in and day-out. This definitely holds true with blogging.

So what is a reasonable blogging schedule? Truthfully it depends. But here are some things to think about to help you find that magic number for you. 
  • Your personality – are you easily discouraged when you don’t live up to expectations? If so, I’d start slowly. Once a week is a good goal and then, if that’s manageable you can add another day. But keep the schedule in line with what you can accomplish. If you’re like me, when I fail at something too often I give up and quit.
  •  Your goals – think about what you want the blog to accomplish. Are you trying to connect with your readers or start a network? That will entail posting more often and replying to comments in a timely fashion. Do you want to build a platform? With that, a regular schedule of two to three times a week, with focused articles and posts should do the trick.
  •  Your lifestyle – what does your home life look like? Do you have a full-time job or are you a full-time writer? I have a friend who writes and she homeschools five kids. Believe me, posting four or five times a week just isn’t a reasonable goal for her. 

So what’s the answer? Mainly, I think we need to be flexible. We need to give ourselves the time and space we need to figure out what works best for us and our readers. When we do that, we’ll be well on the road to excellence.

So what have you found? I’m curious, how often do you post and what feedback have you received about your posting schedule?

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Clash of the Titles - Amish Clash!

*guest post by Delia Latham It's been an edge-of-the-seat, flashing-swords kind of Clash between Vannetta Chapman and Beth Wiseman. These gals elicited some genuine response! It is beyond clear that both authors are well loved, and that their writing touches hearts. This was an Amish clash, and if you missed it, you'll definitely want to check out the excerpts, as both were excellent examples of GOOD Amish fiction. Beth Wiseman's The Wonder of Your Love elicits a whole tangle of emotions, with a dreaded meeting between an Amish woman and her deceased husband's Englitscher mistress.
If you missed our interview with Beth, be sure to stop by and check it out. Vannetta Chapman's Falling to Pieces, on the other hand, paints a poignant picture of loss and confusion after the death of a loved one, all wrapped up in a stack of gorgeous Amish quilts.
And here's our interview with Vannetta. I'd love to post every reader response, because I didn't see a single negative one in the overwhelming number we received…but in the interest of space, I had to choose just a few: Please don't stop writing...because your gift transports me to another place, away from all the stresses of life and encourages me! I love Amish Fiction. Both of these excerpts make me want to dive into these ladies' lives. Hearing an Amish story takes me back to my childhood in the mountains of Kentucky. We read by lamp, the Bible mostly. Everything we ate we grew in the garden and canned on a wood stove for winter. The outhouse was about fifty yards from the backdoor. Thanks to both of you for taking me back. God Bless. I love the Amish Clash as I love to read Amish stories. Having been in the homes of Amish people and corresponding so many years, my home has a room with all Amish figurines and dolls. Keep writing Amish fiction. Keep writing! We all need encouragement to live more simply like the Amish! I was drawn into the stories immediately, and now those characters are going to be following me around all day! We are so grateful for this feedback from our readers! It's your involvement that gives Clash of the Titles its purpose. So, which sword-wielding author came out on top? As much as I'd love to name both of them (since they're so obviously both WINNERS!), we can only have one victor per clash. That victor, this time around, was:
CONGRATULATIONS, BETH! A brand new clash is now underway, and it's the kind that will curl your toes. Head over to Clash of the Titles and vote for the best Almost Kiss!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Weekend Worship—Clinging

But test all things. Hold on to what is good. I Thessalonians 5:21

Every year, since 1996, God has given me a verse of Scripture for the upcoming year. These verses have been my anchors in a storm-tossed life more often than you might imagine. This past December, I was challenged by a close friend to ask God for more than a verse for the year to come, but to give me a specific word. I promised to pray, but was uncertain how God would choose to answer. He answered almost immediately with this verse from I Thessalonians and the word, cling.

I felt He was warning me about my tendency to say yes to every opportunity that comes my way. He wanted me to stay close and cling to His wisdom so I wouldn't find myself overwhelmed and exhausted.

This past week, barely into February, God has already had to send me a strict reminder about this verse. I found myself with a health scare that has forced a re-assessment of all I'm involved in. It has been a time of readjustment and I'm not finished...truthfully I'll probably not ever be finished. This has shown me that whenever I drift even a short way from God's side I put myself in harm’s way. So this will be my year of learning how to cling to God, letting him prioritize my time, and use me to accomplish His will.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Thursday Review—Conflict & Suspense

My fingernails are gone…every last one of them.

I haven’t been watching horror flicks or reading thrillers.
What I have been doing is reading the latest book on the craft from James Scott Bell (@JamesScottBell), Conflict & Suspense.

Unfortunately for my manicure, Bell uses multiple examples from books and movies that—frankly—I have avoided up to this point.
And because Bell doesn’t want to give it all away, I’m now conflicted.
Do I go ahead and read The Silence of the Lambs? Is it worth never being able to take a shower again to see Psycho?

(I won’t keep you in suspense. The answer is NO).

But don’t misunderstand. I’m not complaining.

Conflict & Suspense lived up to my high expectations. The good stuff begins in the Introduction. Don’t skip it. He makes a strong case for “making trouble” for your characters and concludes that no matter what your genre is, “trouble is your business. And conflict and suspense are the tools of the craft that will take your business to the readers.” (p. 2)

He then dives into fourteen chapters on Conflict. He covers inner conflict, ways to lace your dialogue with conflict, methods for structuring your novel with conflict in mind, how to brainstorm for conflict, and much more.

In Chapter 15, he turns his attention to Suspense. (This is where my nails lost the battle). We’re talking cliff hangers, stretching the tension, using your setting to add suspense, and how to include instant suspense in some of your low tension scenes. There’s advice on coming up with twists and how to style your dialogue to heighten the suspense.

The final chapter is only four pages—and those four pages alone are worth the price of the book. And no, I’m not going to tell you what they say. You’ll have to buy the book to find out. My copy is dog-eared and highlighted with particular emphasis on the “Do This” exercises. So if you see me in a Panera with 3x5 cards scattered all over the table, please don’t offer to help clean up the mess.
It’s just me—making some trouble.

Care to join me?

Lynn Huggins Blackburn has been telling herself stories since she was five and finally started writing them down. She blogs about faith, family, and her writing journey on her blog Out of the Boat. Lynn is a member of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild and the Word Weavers, Greenville. She lives in South Carolina where she hangs out with three lively children, one fabulous man, and a cast of imaginary characters who find their way onto the pages of her still unpublished novels. She drinks a lot of coffee.