Thursday, June 18, 2015

How To Strengthen Your Writing By Reading Your Competitions' Reviews

There are numerous ways one can learn the art of writing and publishing a successful novel. Whether your working on your debut or you've been multi-published, workshops, online classes, webinars, reading the bestsellers, and the list of helpful information could go on forever. My favorite and most enlightening resource is to read the reviews of topics similar to the one I've written. The best reviews to read are the one stars.

First, know your genre. I write both Women's Fiction and memoir. When I feel my manuscript is ready for querying, I research the market for published books that are similar to mine. Especially those that made the Bestseller lists. If you write non-fiction, you'll be asked to supply this information as part of your proposal. Check out the reviews on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, and Goodreads. 

Below are some statements I've gathered concerning stories of abuse, both in fiction and memoir.

"This couldn't have happened."  
It's your job as a writer to make your story--memoir or fiction--as real as you can. Read through your manuscript. Are there areas where you can slip in facts that prove this sort of abuse did happen, and still happens today in real life?

"The author is just looking for sympathy."  
This comment almost always applies to memoir no matter what the subject matter is. But as the author, it is my job to make sure I'm not playing the pity card.

"This this type of book should include how the author overcame his or her history, not just a diary of wallowing in it."  
It's my job to make sure I include where the main character is now because of what he or she went through. To find the positives of what they learned. That doesn't mean it should always have a happy ending, but it should have a finished ending. One the reader can feel a part of. Like he or she's in therapy. He or she's happy, married, and has children.

"If this was true, why weren't the abuser's arrested." 
In my memoir, this has a high priority for me. It's my job to show why my abusers weren't arrested and why the county took no legal action. If you're referring to a memoir, this needs to be answered. If fiction, this needs to be answered. Anything that happens in real life must also be mentioned in fiction.

"I don't believe a word he/she wrote." 
I have to accept that not every reader is going to believe my story. My story isn't for everyone. It's for the ones who've lived my story in one way or another. Even a grandmother or other family members are affected by what happens to their relatives or family friends. My job is to tell my truths. Leave the nay sayers alone. No matter what book you write, fact or fiction, you will always find those one star reviews on your work. Don't take it to heart.

"Children and teens shouldn't be allowed to read this." 
The most recent book I read was being used in school for teaching purposes. It's not my job to dictate who should or shouldn't read my stories. Honestly, younger children should not read my current story. Teens are fine, especially if they're living in an abusive home or foster home.

"This can't happen in today's world."  
Nobody wants to believe the cruelty that some adults commit against children, but it happens. Parents sexually abuse their sons and daughters, foster parents from Hell do exist in our world today, and divorcing moms and dads use their children to gain financial gains. It's my job to make sure the reader walks away believing that yes, it can and does still happen today.
"Why didn't the school stop it?"  
Again, fact or fiction, it's my job to make sure I tell the reader everything my main character, teachers, or friends did on his or her behalf to try to help. Sometimes social workers don't believe the children. 

It can be quite depressing to read the negative reviews. But it's impossible to please everyone, no matter what your subject matter is about. Some topics will always be tougher than others. Child abuse is one of the hardest to cover. People don't want to believe it happens. It's not your job to change the reader's mind. It is your job to make sure you're factual even in fiction. 
Once you've read the one stars, make yourself feel better by reading some five stars. Study what reviewers liked about the story and why. Then go back into your story and make sure you are doing everything you can to ensure a fast-paced, character-driven, plot loaded, emotional read.

What tips have you learned to strengthen your writing?

Saturday, June 6, 2015


I participated in a literary pitch contest on Twitter this past Thursday called #Pitmad. For those of you who've never imagined the idea of pitching a manuscript in 140 characters, let me tell you that it's both challenging and exciting.

Writers struggle with writing a 300 word query letter, then the one-page synopsis. Thanks to Brenda Drake's innovated idea, writers can now shrink their 300 page manuscript down to about 25 words. Yes, it's intimidating, but if you know your story well, not only will it help you on Twitter, but also for your query and synopsis.

Composing the #Pitmad pitches made me think about my current project. Really think, not just on the surface level, but what the real story is. What the main focus should be. What story do I really want to tell? Women's Fiction focuses on the emotional journey. The character arc and how she goes from point A to point Z.

"After trusting the wrong parent, a woman held hostage by her past must right her wrongs and fight for the neighbor kids' safety.

My main character Lanae was put up for adoption when she was nine years old. Never adopted, she aged out of the system and suffered through horrible traumas and abuses. When she learns that a neighbor left her (husband and) children for three months before returning, Lanae falls apart and must finally face her past. The heart of the story is Lanae's battle within herself.

Can you narrow your entire story down to 25 words? I challenge you to give it a try. Make sure you leave room for #pitmad and your genre (#WF) in the pitch. Concentrate on the center of your story. Who's your main character? What does he/she want? What's at stake if he/she fails? Share your examples in the comments.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Right Place at the Right Time

I've never believed in coincidence, and I probably never will, but I do believe God puts us where we're needed at that particular time and place in our lives. In 2013, I attended the Pacific Northwest Writers' Association's Writers' Conference where I met Margie Lawson--a licensed psychologist turned book doctor.

Margie taught several seminars during that conference, but the one that struck me the most was on writing emotions. I didn't know how to write or describe emotions in a way that makes the reader feel as if they are right there with the author, right there between the sheets of paper. I came home, found her website, signed up for all her reasonably-priced workshops, and I've learned how to invoke pain and tears and giggles!

I'm no expert, but as long as Margie is teaching, I'll be signing up for her classes. Margie also does writing retreats-well, sort of, but not exactly. She calls this Immersion Master Classes. And yes, there are prerequisites. For five days and four nights you are invited into Margie's home where she will work her magic on your work in progress. She's helped countless authors turn their blah pages into bam pages just by adding a tweak here or there. Your story, your way, Margie says, but with power.

In a few hours, I will be landing in Denver, CO ready to meet Margie for a 2nd Immersion and four other classmates. This is not a retreat where you meet for a few hours and then go off and work in your own writing. Yes, you will have time to work on your projects, but you'll be working on specific things like dialogue, emotion, setting, action, tension, etc. And you will do this from approximately 8:30am to 10:00pm. And I love every minute of Margie's dig-deeper philosophy.

Have you met Margie Lawson? Have you taken any of her classes? Have you been to an Immersion? Share, share, share! I'd love to hear about your experience!

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Before you can build your writer's platform, you need to know what a writer's platform is. Like the platform on a woman's shoe, it gives you a step up, a support to stand on. In today's publishing world you need to prove to a publisher that your book will make them money. How do you do this? By bringing your own audience to the table. This tells the publisher that you have a “following” that will purchase your book, as well as any other books you write down the road. So how do you build yours?

In order to build a strong writer's platform, you will need to be your own marketing manager. If you are a lawyer and write about the law, you've already proven your expertise. If you are a teacher and want to write children's books, you already have a leg up on your competition. But what if you consider yourself to be a “nobody” without an expertise? Maybe you are a stay at home mom who writes poetry, fiction, or young adult literature. Maybe you're an unemployed college student who wants to write science fiction or screenplays for movies. Or maybe you're a full time mechanic who likes to write romance novels in your spare time. If you aren't an “expert” in your field of writing pleasure, then you will have a little bit of work cut out for you. Luckily with the establishment of the telephone and the Internet, it's not as hard as you might think. Here are some tips to help you get started:

What Is Your Niche
Before you can start building your platform, you need to know what your niche is. What do you want to write about? Pick one or two subjects and do tons of research.

Write On Other People's Forums
Search the Internet for forums that you can ask questions on.

Write For an Established Website
I write for Yahoo’s Contributor Network. You can write articles with a minimum of 400 words and get paid for it. The pay isn't great, but getting your name out there is priceless.

Build Yourself a Website
You can promote your writing through your own website. Add a blog for different topics, put out a monthly newsletter. Use social sites like Twitter and Facebook to help spread the word.

Arrange Opportunities To Speak
If you have a topic to share, call schools, churches, and/or book stores to see if you can speak to a group of people on your subject. Make calls and write letters to promote your ideas.

Sign Up With Community Education
Check with your local Community Education center to see if you could teach a class or offer a workshop of your own.

Become a Freelance Writer
Writing articles for newspapers and magazines is a great way to get your name in print and share your message. You can do this for websites like Yahoo’s Contributor Network as well.

Brand Yourself
You could design magnets, pens, t-shirts, key chains, as well as other merchandise to get your name out there in the public. Come up with a favorite phrase or quote to add to them.

Start or Join a Writer's Group
Put an ad in the paper, advertise on Craig's List, post flyers at the local mall, or put a message on your website that you are starting a writer's group in your area. Getting together with like-minded people will help all members network.

There are countless writers conferences offered each year. Check out some local conferences to see if they need volunteers. It helps to get your name out and you will be in the mix of other writers, agents, editors, and publishers.

The bottom-line is that you need to make yourself known in the genre of your writing choice. Whatever you can do to increase your image as an expert in your field will help publishers believe in you as well.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Bursting into tears, my five-year-old daughter repeated the offenses of her now ex-best friend. They'd argued and then supremely announced to one another that they were no longer friends. She calmed down and decided to see if another child in the neighborhood could play. The other little girl had the same idea with the same child.

Coming back home, my daughter walked into our house with long, red scratches down her neck. My daughter had poked her now ex-best friend in the mouth and the girl reacted as most females do: with her fingernails. We did the dutiful trek and talked to the girl’s parents. We adults agreed that the girls needed a break from each other.

Our doorbell rang the following day. My daughter ran to the door to see who was here. Her ex-best friend. My daughter whipped the door open. Before the girl could say a word, my daughter said, “I’m sorry I hurt you. Will you forgive me?”

I stood speechless and proud and humbled and speechless. I didn’t tell her to say those things. In fact, she had already apologized to the girl the day before in front of us adults. 

The Bible tells us to be like little children. If a five year old child gets it, why can’t we adults? Forgiveness is a hard lesson to learn if you’ve been knocked down over and over and over. Our hearts become hard. We tell ourselves no one will ever hurt us ‘like that’ again. And when someone does, because someone always will, we become even more determined to not let it happen again.

Forgiveness sounds nice, polite, and respectful to the other person, but it’s not for them. It’s for you. You don’t want to become fearful and bitter; it’s a lonely place to live. I know. It’s easier to forgive someone for one or two hurts they may have caused you. But it’s another thing when those hurts continue year after year after year.

I am learning to forgive. One of the hardest words to say is one of the hardest words to learn: No. Set your boundaries and don’t let anyone cross them. Easier said than done, yes, but it’s a requirement you owe yourself. Did you hear that? For YOU, not for the ones that hurt you. Every time I say, no, I’m not taking that anymore, I get stronger.

My five-year-old daughter taught me how easy it is to say, “I’m sorry I hurt you. Will you forgive me?” And she meant it. They weren’t just flippant words. Push yourself. The next time you hurt someone, tell them you’re sorry. And mean it. Ask for their forgiveness. Whether the person accepts your apology or not, isn’t the point. Forgiveness is for you. Your heart and mind will fill with peace.