Monday, December 31, 2012

Finishing Well

If you do an internet search on “year in review,” you’ll see some interesting results – everything ranging from the election to crazy celebrity hair styles. I think that looking back and learning from history is a worthwhile exercise, but I’m always amazed at what this world considers newsworthy.

But let’s take a step back and make “year in review” more personal. How was your year? How was my year?

Finishing well has become a focus of mine since one of my college professors first introduced me to the expression. Usually towards to the end of the semester as finals were fast approaching, she would tell us students not just to finish, but to finish well.

There is a difference. Most people can finish something. In college, most of the students stayed with the class to the end. However, when the end of the term neared, it was easy to tell the difference between students who had stayed on top of the coursework and those who were frantically cramming to get a C. The library became an unusually popular place the last week of school.

Yes, finishing is one thing, but how you finish is another matter entirely.

If you finished the year well, congratulations. If you didn’t, take an honest look at your goals and priorities, and evaluate how you can do better next year.

Whether you’re ready to put the year behind you or sad to let it go, the New Year is just a day away. Take your time to reflect; but then, close the chapter and pull out a fresh page.

We can’t rest on laurels. We can’t hide behind the past. We have to look ahead and ask God for the humility, grace and perseverance to meet whatever task He has for us.

The Apostle Paul understood this concept. One of my favorite verses is Philippians 3:13-14.
“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
So finish well! I'll look forward to seeing you again in 2013.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Have a Thankful Noel

Have you ever heard the alternate lyrics to the Christmas carol, “The First Noel”? They go something like this:

“No Well, No Well, No Well, No Well. We’ve got no water ‘cause there’s No Well.”

I can relate. Last week, we literally had no water at my home for an evening, because something malfunctioned with our pump and well.

All of a sudden, simple things like brushing teeth, bathing, doing dishes and flushing the toilet became more complicated.

Fortunately, a plumber fixed the problem first thing the next morning, but the experience made me think about all the conveniences we take for granted – running water being one of them.

This time of year, we can easily become wrapped up in the holiday shuffle of parties, gift exchanges, and programs. None of these things are wrong, but if we’re not careful, they will wear us out and cause us to overlook the real reason for the season: Jesus' coming to earth as a baby, the first earthly chapter in God's redemptive story. 

The word "Noel" means Christmas, and "The First Noel" refers to Jesus' birth. The most well-known account of the first Christmas is recorded in Luke 2.
7. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
8. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord...
This Christmas, set aside some time to reflect on all the blessings God has given you - the first and foremost being the gift of His Son. 

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Story behind My Cover

“Are you awake, Sis?”

I was, but I didn’t want to be. The minute my toes touched the cold, wooden floor of our family cottage, my first impulse was to retract them back underneath the warm comforter.

But I had promised my brother I would go fishing with him before sunrise. I pulled on a pair of blue jeans, slipped into an old pair of flip flops and grabbed my jacket. Then, I helped my brother pull our life vests and paddles out of the shed before starting for the beach.

The grass was cool and damp with dew as we made our way to the shoreline. The first light peeked behind the mountains that formed the backdrop to Lake Winona. Radiation fog danced across the water’s surface, and the gentle colors of dawn beckoned the start of a new day.

My brother pulled our burnt orange canoe from the bank and slid it into the water.

“Hop in,” he said.

“Wait,” I said. “Just look at that.”

My brother paused to take in the grace and beauty of the scene before us. He grinned, “Aren’t you glad I asked you to come along?”

I ignored him and fumbled for my camera. Never before had I seen such a breathtaking sunrise.

I honestly don’t remember if we caught any fish that morning, but the picture I took has been a favorite of mine ever since. And years later, it made its way onto the cover of my second book.

A friend and talented graphic artist combined stock art elements with my picture to design the cover of Secrets Beyond Lake Winona’s Shore. And yes, there are some “true life” experiences from my childhood at the cottage that slipped into my story as well.

Lake Winona is truly a testament to the handiwork of the Creator God. My hope is that my story will be pleasing to Him and afford my readers with the enjoyment of engaging in a Christian fiction mystery staged around this beautiful shore.

Monday, December 10, 2012

CreateSpace Kindle Conversion Service

As of November 16th, my print sequel Wings of the Dawn, Book 2 became available on Amazon, and less than a month later, is now available as an e-book, published through Kindle Direct Publishing.

Amazon's CreateSpace makes converting your print book to an e-book easy. For a conversion fee of $69 (very reasonable compared to the hundreds of dollars other self-publishing companies want to charge for the same service), CreateSpace handles the file conversion and uploading of your book to the Kindle Direct Publishing site. (Authors, please note that you must first set up the account and then complete the "rights and pricing" portion before you can publish.)

The "learning curve" for me was familiarizing myself with some e-book basics, since I actually do not own a Kindle, and sorting through Amazon's two royalty options - 35% and 70%. (The 70% option is somewhat of a no-brainer, but conditions do apply.) If you're an author and would like to learn more, here are some helpful links:
I also learned some new terminology, namely, DRM or Digital Rights Management. Amazon gives authors the option to enable DRM or not. If you opt to enable DRM, you prevent the sharing of your e-book. If you do not enable DRM, users can share or send your book to their friends for viewing.

For more information, check out this helpful article called Amazon add optional DRM for Kindle publishers which does a nice job summarizing this option.

From what I have read, the conversion process can also work the other direction. In other words, if you start with an e-book through Kindle Direct Publishing, you can then create a print book with CreateSpace.

Have you converted your e-book to a print book, and if so, do you think it's easier to start with an e-book or with a print book? I welcome your feedback.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Writers, Have Your Elevator Speech Ready

I remember attending my first trade show to represent a company and its products. My supervisor asked me, “Do you have your elevator speech ready?”

“My what?” I replied.

An elevator speech is your content condensed into the amount of time you spend in an elevator. In other words, it’s your small window of opportunity – most likely a minute or less – to interest your prospective customer in your product.

The concept of having an elevator speech for my book didn’t dawn on me until I was preparing for my first book signing.

I asked myself the question, “What will I say when someone asks me what my book is about?”

The answer may not be as obvious as it seems. As an author, you know your book better than anyone else. There’s the pro. The challenge is distancing yourself from everything you know and finding a way to summarize your 200+ page novel into two or three short sentences.  
So what should an author’s elevator speech include? Here's what I suggest.

What category or categories does your book fall into? Is it fiction or non-fiction? If it’s fiction, is it a mystery, romance, fantasy, or other? If it’s non-fiction, is it a biography, informational book, or devotional? There are dozens of genres, so be specific in identifying which ones apply to your book.

For whom did you write the book? Identifying your target audience will help anyone you’re conversing with decide if the book is right for them or someone they know.

What is so interesting about your book that would make people want to read it? This is your chance to share just enough information about your story to arouse curiosity. Don’t try to summarize your entire plot; you’ll lose your audience, and find yourself floundering to finish your sentences.  

Then, take these elements, and combine them in a way that is conversational. Here’s an example for my newly released book:
Secrets Beyond Lake Winona’s Shore is a Christian fiction mystery that young adults and families will enjoy. Abigail "Abby" Grant, my heroine from book one, stumbles upon a mystery in the lakes region of New Hampshire and must uncover forgotten Cold War secrets in time to save a man’s life. The plot explores right and wrong ways to respond to situational dilemmas while underscoring the value of forgiveness.
A related exercise would be to take your elevator speech and condense it into one sentence. For a formula, check our Rachelle Gardner’s blog on Writing a One-Sentence Summary.

The takeaway from all this is to be prepared. Don’t be caught off guard when someone says, “Hey, congrats on the new book. So what’s it about?”
Be ready to answer.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Marketing Gone Bananas

I like to watch for clever new marketing techniques, and this week, I spotted one in the fruit bowl in my kitchen.

One of the bananas had a sticker that read: I Heart Lunch Boxes. I doubt that sticker would influence anyone's buying decision, but what it does create is memorability. It's not something I expected to see, and therefore it grabbed my attention. I think marketers call that generating visibility for your brand.

Think of a commercial that's stuck in your head. Why did you remember it? Usually, it has a catching tune or something that makes you laugh - oftentimes unrelated to what the commercial is trying to sell.

Have you seen the Pampers "Beautiful Mornings" commercial? I would never have thought it possible to make a diaper commercial attractive or cute, and yet, I think Pampers has succeeded with this one - combining adorable babies with the song "I Feel Pretty" from West Side Story.

And then there's the holiday season that puts on a dazzling display of marketing techniques - targeting audiences of all ages.

What lessons can self-published authors learn from all this? I think the short answer is to get creative with how you promote your book and maybe focus less on thrusting your book in front of readers and more with raising visibility and awareness for your message.

What are some "outside the box" methods you've used to market your book? Did they work and why?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Kristen Hogrefe Presents a New Christian Fiction Mystery the Whole Family Will Enjoy

The press release for my second book is now available on

Summary: This second installment in the Wings of the Dawn Series offers teens and families a fresh, page-turning mystery just in time for the holiday season.

For the full press release, please follow the hyperlink below.

Kristen Hogrefe Presents a New Christian Fiction Mystery the Whole Family Will Enjoy - Christian Fiction,young adult fiction,adventure books

Friday, November 16, 2012

New Release: Wings of the Dawn, Book 2

I'm thrilled to announce the second book in my Wings of the Dawn Series, Secrets Beyond Lake Winona's Shore.

It's immediately available through CreateSpace on my page. Look for it on Amazon in the next few days. I'll share a press release with more information in the near future.

I don't believe in resting on laurels, but I'd like to reflect for just a moment. Ecclesiastes 7:8 says:
"Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit."
One of my professors in college used to challenge us as students to "finish well." After all, anyone can start strong, but finishing takes perseverence and hard work.
"...and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit."
To be patient is to endure in spite of weariness, to press on in spite of setbacks. Yes, I am proud of my book, but not vain (or at least, I hope not). Actually, I can rather relate to Anne Bradstreet in her poem "The Author to Her Book," which begins this way:
"Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain..."
And yet, it is my desire that God take my writing, even if it is but the "ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain," and use it in such a way that would bring glory to Him and enjoyment to those who read it.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Stick to Your Goals: Don't Let Go!

A couple weeks ago, I was driving to church Sunday morning when, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something on my side mirror.

I glanced to the left to see a tree frog holding on for dear life. His flattened body was suctioned to the glass. Every time he tried to move, his tiny legs would flap in the wind; he quickly learned that if he wanted to survive, he couldn’t let go.

Unfortunately for me (and my irrational fear of tree frogs), he didn’t let go – even after I had parked my car. Instead, he hopped from my side mirror onto my window and refused to budge. Likely, he was too exhausted to hop off my car and decided that my side window was an inviting place to rest. However, in my mind, his position implied that the minute I opened my door, he was coming inside. So, I resorted to crawling out the passenger side to avoid him. I know... You’re probably thinking, "That’s ridiculous." Laugh if you like.

Despite my dislike – and apparent distrust – of tree frogs, this one demonstrated a quality that all of us would do well to imitate: perseverance. How many of us want to “let go” and give up when hurdles and challenges stand between us and our goals?

The temptation to throw in the towel can grow stronger when roadblocks arise, but we have to resist the urge to quit. Do you want to be an author? Don’t give up if no one seems interested in what you have to say. Reevaluate and accept constructive criticism, but don’t toss your dream aside in frustration.

Do you want to self-publish? Don’t let the process overwhelm you. Yes, you will probably encounter set-backs. Right now, I’m working through what I hope to be the last typesetting and formatting issues with the interior of my second book. The waiting and constant need to check and double check edits can be frustrating, but I know the end is in sight. I just have to hold tight, do the next right thing, and keep sight of the finish line.

Whatever your goals are, don’t let go of them. Stick to them, and one day, you will reap the rewards and satisfaction of reaching your destination.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Self-Publishing: A Growing Trend

I follow Sally Stuart’s Christian Writers' Marketplace blog, which recently posted about triple-digit growth in self-publishing since 2007.

Check out the full article here.

Two initial thoughts crossed my mind as I saw the statistics.

Go Self-Publishing!
Cleary, more people are breaking away from traditional publishing options and doing it themselves. (Interestingly, CreateSpace claimed the top spot for self-published print media at 58,412 titles in 2011.)
I found these statistics encouraging. More and more, I am becoming a fan of people brave enough to break away from “the way we’ve always done things” into being more independent and personally responsible for pursuing their dreams. Traditional publishing houses have made themselves virtually inaccessible to upstarting authors, using screening services to find book proposals they find interesting.
Granted, these services, such as Christian Manuscript Submissions and the Writer’s Edge, can be helpful in providing advice and exposure to aspiring authors (and a select few do have their books discovered through these services). Before self-publishing my first book, I submitted a proposal to Writer’s Edge and did not find the exercise a waste of my time.
However, that’s not my point. My point is that statistics like these show people have discovered that they can get published on their own – instead of waiting and hoping that the traditional publishing community will take notice of their work.
More Competition
I believe competition is healthy and necessary in any field. It helps screen out the poor performers and forces thought-leaders to work harder to stand out from the crowd.
Therein also lies the challenge of self-publishing. You may have something brilliant to say, but how do you differentiate yourself when hundreds, if not thousands, of people are shouting to get noticed?
I don’t pretend to have the answer to that question, but I think Chris Guillebeau (The Art of Non-Conformity) is right when he says that you must first clearly identify your cause and your intended audience – and then give them a reason to care and a reward for caring.
How we accomplish that is for each one of us to decide.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Amazon's CreateSpace: A Flexible Self-Publishing Solution

When I self-published Wings of the Dawn Book 1, I worked with Xulon Press, a Christian Self-Publishing Company. If you're considering self-publishing for the first time, I would recommend including Xulon in your list of publishing options. Xulon provides clearly defined services (based on your budget and expectations) and structures the process for you from beginning to end.

As I finalized my second book, I considered publishing with Xulon again but decided to try something different. With the experience of my first book in my back pocket, I wanted to see if I could self-publish at a reduced cost and with greater flexibility.
By flexibility, I mean more control – and ultimately, more responsibility – for my interior and cover design. With Xulon, I purchased their plan, shared some design ideas, and their graphic artists created my cover for me. Granted, I've received some great feedback on my first cover but knew that my second was going to require a great deal more customization.
A friend of mine is a graphic artist, and the two of us worked together to make my cover vision a reality. Yes, there is a story behind my second book’s cover, which I’ll share with you another time.
I heard about Amazon’s CreateSpace publishing services through a Facebook friend and started researching it in detail after she shared her positive experience.  CreateSpace offers a variety of self-publishing options (which at first can seem overwhelming but ultimately lets you pick and choose exactly what you want).
For example, CreateSpace offers the following options for self-publishing books. (Note that they also have resources for musicians and other artists as well.)
·         Publishing Solutions (packaged plans)
·         Editing (if you need professional proofreading services)
·         Layout & Design (for interior and cover services)
·         Marketing
The Layout & Design option essentially lets you create your own custom plan, which is what I wanted. For my interior, I selected the Author’s Advantage Book Interior, which involved uploading my manuscript and selecting basic formatting preferences. Then, with the help of my graphic artist, I submitted my cover PDF.

Last weekend, I uploaded some edits and as of today, am waiting to receive my second hard copy proof in the mail. Once approved, Wings of the Dawn Book 2, Secrets Beyond Lake Winona’s Shore will become available on (likely later this month or next).

What about you? Have you self-published in the past, and if so, what programs have you used? Or, if you’re looking to self-publish for the first time, what is most important to you as you look for the right program?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Book 2: Coming Soon!

I apologize in advance for neglecting my blog.

But I do have a good excuse, well, as good an excuse as any. The second book in my Wings of the Dawn series, Secrets Beyond Lake Winona's Shore, is in the final proofing stage; and if all goes as planned, will be available for sale on either later this month or early next.

For the last several weeks, I have spent most of my spare time proofreading and proofreading and proofreading.

But that's not what readers care about, so I'll get off my "I've been working really hard" soapbox.

What is book 2 about?

Abby has just ended her summer internship with her detective Uncle Rick Benton - the job that got off to such a rough start in book 1. She's looking ahead to her freshman year of college when her brothers and their friends Matt and Andrew Baxter surprise Abby and the Marshall sisters with plans for a week's vacation on Lake Winona in the lakes region of New Hampshire.

Yet she no sooner arrives in New Hampshire than her uncle leaves her an unsettling voicemail, and Abby is torn between telling the truth about his suspicions to her brothers and friends - and not wanting to worry them.

She stumbles upon a mysterious old letter and suddenly finds herself face to face with her nemesis Neil DeWitt, entangled in a mystery surrounding a Cold War diary, a missing dossier and a kidnapped treasure hunter.

Can Abby solve the scrambled clues before time runs out? Beyond that, can she find the courage to confront her dilemmas and begin to forgive the one who has wronged her? What weighs in the balance is worth more than even the secrets that lie somewhere beyond Lake Winona's shore.

How did I go about self-publishing book 2?

We'll talk about that in another post.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Hello, Audience! Who are you?

Do you remember the story I shared about the kindergarten art competition my brother won? The reason I believe he won is that first, he put some thought into his drawing (before he picked up a crayon) and second, he understood his audience.

He titled his drawing, “A School of Fish.” Now what kindergarten art judge wouldn’t appreciate that kind of ingenuity?

More often than not, we can learn fundamental lessons from the elementary.

For instance, have you ever started a writing project and then asked yourself, “Who am I really trying to reach and why?”

I finished re-reading a book my brother lent me called The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau. (Side note: I strongly recommend this book if you need help thinking outside the box.)

In his chapter on “The Power of Your Own Small Army,” he asks readers to carefully consider whom they want their audience to be.

In addition, he challenges them to ask what he calls “The Reason Why.” In other words, why should someone care about what you have to offer?

He writes:
“In the English language alone, there are now more than 110 million blogs being regularly updated. Why should someone care about yours or mine? …. If you can turn the tables and look at your project with this kind of brutally honest thinking, you’ll quickly see whether or not you provide a good ‘reason why’ …”

You may have different audiences and reasons, depending on your writing project. For example, my blog is targeted towards writers looking to self-publish, but on a larger scale, it is truly for anyone who wants to achieve their dreams and express their ideas.

On the other hand, my Christian fiction writing is targeted to a young adult audience and families looking for entertaining, clean and thought-provoking reading.

Have you asked yourself who your audience is? And have you given them a good reason to take an interest in what you have to say?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Proofreading Your Manuscript

Your book draft is done. You lovingly finger the warm pages you just printed. You enjoy a feeling of accomplishment. Your book is almost ready.

Almost. But it’s too early to celebrate. You’ve got proofreading to do.

If you’re an English major (like me) or have a strong command of the English language, you may not need to hire a professional editor for your book. However, if you choose the DIY (Do It Yourself) editing option, here are a couple tips I’d like to share from personal experience.

Ask someone else to read your manuscript.

I’m not downplaying your skills, but even if you’re the best editor or proofreader out there, you still want a second set of eyes.

Why? A couple reasons. First, you as the author are so close to your book that you may have a hard time seeing its flaws. (It’s natural. You’ve just poured months of your life into this project; you’re going to be a bit protective.) You want an objective, unbiased opinion. Don’t bristle at criticism. Welcome it with open arms.

Another reason for a third party perspective is that we can become so close to our stories that we tend to read sentences the way they should be – not the way they are.

Here’s an example: “I cracked open the door and found you package on the step.” (Did your mind naturally fill in the word “your” instead of reading “you” as mistyped?)

Another: “You’ll have plenty of time think of this later.” (Did you catch that the word “to” is missing?)

There’s another helpful exercise to spot these kinds of flaws, which brings me to my second tip.

Read your manuscript out loud.

You may have read your story a dozen times, but “hearing” it helps awkward sentence structure and missed or misplaced words stand out.

Also, it helps you identify overused phrases and words. Do you say “rolled her eyes” on every other page? Do you use the adverbs “really” and “very” too often? I recommend making a list of your “trouble words” and keeping an eye out for them.

Spell check. Spell check.

It’s obvious, but sometimes, we overlook the obvious. Spell check is your friend. You can’t rely on spell check alone, but it provides one additional help for identifying grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes. (Granted, sometimes you have to ignore it, because it can’t discern the difference between an intentional fragment for expression and an actual mistake.)  

If you have the luxury of time, I suggest setting your manuscript aside for a couple weeks and then returning to it with fresh eyes. For those of us who have deadlines or are trying to make sure our books are ready for Christmas, try the tips above.

Happy proofreading.   

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Olympic Dreams

I don’t watch much TV, because frankly, I don’t have time for it. But I make an exception for the Olympics. I’ve stayed up late and watched more TV since the opening ceremony than I probably have all year.

Why? There’s something about sensationally disciplined, hard-core, dream-driven people (egotists excepted) that makes me want to stand up and cheer.

We all have dreams. Maybe we can’t all be Olympians… or maybe we just think we can’t. It depends on your perspective and what you’re willing to do to reach your goals and dreams.
Remember when you were in school. Think back to an academic course or athletic requirement where you struggled. Did you ever say, “It’s just too hard. I can’t do that”?
I had a moment like that in college. I had managed to CLEP out of first year Spanish and jump right into the intermediate level. In my first class, the professor spoke almost entirely in Spanish. I sat at my desk thinking to myself, “What have I gotten myself into? I can’t do this.”
I met up with my professor in the cafeteria and asked him candidly if I could succeed in the class without having gone through the elementary courses.
“You can if you want to,” he said. “You’re going to have to work extra hard, but you can do it.”
And I did. I even got an A. But it wasn’t easy.
Easy isn’t a word that belongs in an Olympian’s dictionary. Pain. Disappointment. Sacrifice. Tears. Those words all belong in their books. And sometimes, so does gold.
But you can’t get to gold without all the other excruciating elements first.
That makes me wonder: What are my dreams? What I am willing to sacrifice to make them happen? As a writer, I’ve sometimes wondered if I can reach my goals or if there’s any point in trying. Getting published is an accomplishment, but will I ever be successful as a writer? Will my writing ever make a difference in someone’s life?
I won’t know if I don’t try, if I don’t fail, if I don’t make mistakes.
So maybe I’m too tall to be a gymnast and too poor a swimmer to qualify in anything but the doggy paddle (which has yet to be recognized as a swimming stroke in the Olympics).
But I can dream. I can dream big … as a writer, as a child of God designed to live a purposeful life.  And so can you.
The next summer games will be held in Rio in 2016. If you’re an athlete, you start training today – no, yesterday. Ok, so you’re not an athlete. You fill in the blanks, and figure out what your goals are and what you have to do to reach them.
Where do you want to be in four years?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

What Makes a Good Book Cover… for Your Book?

We’ve all heard the saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

That may be so, but regardless, we do buy books based on their covers.

Yes, of course we do. We’ve all been in bookstores and lost ourselves on our favorite aisles. Unless we have a specific title in mind, we leisurely peruse the shelves. If a cover catches our interest, we’ll pull it out – and then flip it over to see what it’s about.

So a book cover, like it or not, has a huge marketing impact on the bottom line of a book’s success.
But what makes a book cover good or bad? To say that a good book cover should be beautiful or eye-catching is subjective: What one person considers interesting may be of little or no interest to another person.

I suggest a slight rephrase of the question: What makes a good book cover for your book?
Here are the two key words: genre and audience. Your cover should represent your subject and closely connect with your audience and what interests them.

Some other factors to consider:
·         A readable font
·         Cover styles typical for your genre
·         Don’t forget the spine and back cover!
If you’re feeling lost, check out,, or any other online bookstore. Then, search for books within your genre to get some ideas for what you like and don’t like about the covers.

We as authors spend the bulk of our time writing, reworking, and editing our manuscripts; that said, if we want to reach our audience, we can’t skimp on the cover. It deserves the same careful detail and attention as our book – because it sets the tone for our story and ultimately acts as a significant influencer in our audience’s buying decision.
Your cover is like gift wrapping or icing on a cake. Make it memorable.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Brave Review

Last week, I went to see Disney-Pixar's Brave with some family visiting from Texas, and overall, I enjoyed the storyline. However, I did notice some underlying threads that disappointed me.

What I loved
The broken relationship that Merida and her mother Eleanor must work to mend is a beautiful picture of repentance, forgiveness and love. Their comical struggle to communicate and work together after Eleanor’s transformation will make you laugh, while the price that their foolish pride could have cost them both teaches a valuable lesson.

I also appreciated that the resolution to the problem is not to simply marry off the princess – as in almost every other Disney-Pixar princess movie. She and her mother grow closer through the conflict, and the conclusion implies that Merida is now free to choose her own husband – when and if she decides to do so.
What made me frown

Disney-Pixar is known for having magic in their princess movies – There always seems to be an enchantress, a witch, a sorcerer, etc. So characteristically, there is a witch in this story.
However, the movie presents her as a whimsical old woman and is not clear whether she plays a good or bad part. Her role helps propel the plot but never identifies her as a villain. I dislike when entertainment waters down right from wrong – and blurs the lines between good and evil.  

What also made me frown was how the movie presents men and fathers. They handle themselves like buffoons, always quarreling and fighting. Merida and her mother constantly have to put them in their places. Granted, the men do not lack bravery – jumping to defend the women against the demon bear – but in general, they act like children.
One last note

Due to the violence and scary scenes, I would not recommend this movie for small children. For older children and families, though, it makes for a good story, a discussable plot – and I should not fail to mention the beautiful Celtic soundtrack.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Catch Up and Ramp Up Your Writing

A week ago, I returned from my church mission’s trip, which was quite simply a fabulous experience. Getting away from the day-to-day demands, bonding with a talented and diverse team, and having the chance to help our missionaries in their ministry are just a few reasons why I enjoyed so much being a part of this trip.

Not so fun were the flights back home which involved a nearly 12-hour stay in an airport with a mere 6 terminals, getting into our connecting city at 12:30 in the morning, arriving at a hotel at 2:30 in the morning and then finally landing in Tampa during Tropical Storm Debbie.

However, I’m not convinced that traveling challenges are the hardest part about coming home. I think harder still is getting back into a routine – specifically, a writing routine. After a mission trip – or any trip for that matter – what is the best way to “ramp up” and get back to being serious about your writing projects?

Never stop writing in the first place
Whenever I go on trips, I take a journal with me. Of course, journaling doesn’t equal the intensity of book writing projects, but it keeps me channeling ideas onto paper – ideas that may even come in useful for future projects.
Get your distractions out of the way
What do I mean by that? Simply this: Take care of any immediate demands for your attention. For me, that list included unpacking, laundry, emails, phone calls, photo development, etc. In other words, take care of what you need to address, and then your mind will be freer to focus on your writing projects.

Pick up right where you left off
Sounds like common sense? Well, it is (and it’s much easier if you left your writing projects in some form of organization before you left). There’s no use staring at the computer screen wishing you were back wherever you just went. Roll up your sleeves, and start writing.

So what helps you get back into a routine after time away?

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Rough Draft Is Done! Now Get Out the Red Pen.

It's done! I've completed the rough draft for book two of my Wings of the Dawn series.

But as we talked about last time, the rough draft is simply a step along the way toward completing a book. It's a big step, but still ahead are several challenges.

That's why - although I'm taking this moment to lean back in my chair and appreciate my 60,000+ word count - I am not shutting down the computer just yet.

Instead, I'm jotting down some questions that will help focus my proofreading - and perhaps prove helpful to other writers who are ready to get out the red pen and start reviewing their rough drafts. 

Consider some "big picture" questions:
  • What questions did I raise early in the story? Did I answer them - or did I intentionally leave them unanswered?
  • Does my character development seem natural? Readers should be able to relate to the characters and find their struggles and successes believable.
  • Does my plot move at a steady, suspenseful pace, and do I have a logical timeline of events? 
  • What details might I (as the author) take for granted that my readers may need clarified? For example, by this point, I feel as though I know my characters personally and can practically see them and hear them talk. However, have I glossed over some helpful descriptive information that my audience might want to know?
That said, don't forget the details. Back in college, I learned that I needed to proof my papers and projects several times - each time with a different focus. For example, the first time , I would review the "big picture" issues. Then, as I went back for a second and third review (and in some cases, more than that), I would focus on the details of sentence structure, phrasing and grammar.

Yes, a rough draft is a big accomplishment, but now isn't the time to rest on any laurels. Now is the time to grab the proofing pen and set to work on the next phase of the story's development.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Planning Your Book Production Calendar

The other day, I was telling one of my friends how close I am to finishing the rough draft for my second book.

“Oh, I can’t wait to read it!” she said. “So I should look for it on Amazon sometime soon, right?”

I smiled to myself and then explained that my rough draft doesn’t quite equate to the finished, published version. It’s just one of the milestones in the process.

My day job involves managing catalog development at my workplace, and I’ve learned that the best way to plan catalog production is to work backwards. Your book project planning can work much the same way.

Start with the finish line in sight
When I say “work backwards,” I mean you must first determine your deadline or define your expectation. Do you want your book to be orderable in December? What do you have to do to achieve that?

For example, let’s take a look at two key dates on the timeline of my first book... in reverse.
  • November 30, 2010 – Published, available on
  • November 4, 2010 – Uploaded manuscript to self-publishing service
Let’s pause right there. When I bought my self-publishing program with Xulon Press, my author service representative told me that the physical production process could take up to 90 days. You need to plan for how long the process could take, and if it gets done sooner (as in my case), that’s icing on the cake.

Some other key steps in your planning process should include:
  • Researching your publishing options: This is an ongoing project (unless you have a publishing house just waiting for your manuscript or an agent who is working to sell your book for you).
  • Editing your draft: If you are confident in your command of the English language and undertake the task yourself, you will have to keep yourself accountable to your book’s calendar. If you contract a professional editor, you’ll need to get a quote up front to help you estimate the time factor involved.
  • Completing your rough draft: This is a huge achievement, but don’t give in to the temptation to sit back and relax. You still have a lot of work in front of you.
  • Getting started: As I talked about in my previous post on metrics, it’s important to set word and page count goals to keep yourself disciplined and accountable. Sure, your estimates are subject to change, but they give you something to work toward and help keep you on track.
Here’s the heart of the matter: Starting your book production with the goal in sight is really the only way to start.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Summertime Reminds Me to Try New Things

Florida already feels like summertime outside, and summer still gets me excited – even though I’m no longer a student and don’t get to enjoy an actual summer break.

No, summertime makes me excited, because for the second year in a row, I'm going on a mission trip. Last year, I went to Nicaragua with Chosen Children Ministries. This year, I’m helping my church – Spring Hill Baptist – with our missions program and a trip to Montana to work with some of our missionaries.

There are two things I love most about mission trips. The first is time set apart to spend time with God and serve Him while seeking to make a difference in other people’s lives. Daily life is so burdened with responsibilities and demands; being able to leave them behind and focus on the One who matters most is indescribably refreshing.

The second is something I learned to love while in Nicaragua: the chance to try new things. We haven’t even boarded the first flight, and already I’m experiencing this blessing.

During our first team meeting, my pastor asked who would be interested in working with puppets. I have never worked with puppets but wanted to give them a try – so my hand shot up along with several teenagers’ hands.

My pastor looked my way and smiled. “Well, Kristen, since you’re the oldest, why don’t you head up puppets.”

Oh boy, now you’ve done it. I thought. I don’t have a clue where to start.
But that turned out to be the best part. My pastor, knowing how I enjoy writing, suggested I write the puppet skits. So I cranked out four skits on the Fruit of the Spirit that follow a frog, a ditzy red head, her friend Daniel and their Sunday school teacher. My puppet teammates and I have had a blast running through the skits and recording them – and now we’re just about ready to start practicing with the puppets themselves.
Our trip starts in less than a month. And I am so excited to see what God is going to teach me and how He may see fit to use me.
I know this post isn’t really about how to be a better writer, but in some ways, it is. Summer is almost here, and there’s no better time to try new things.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Glad Game

Do you ever get excited when you rediscover as an adult a movie that you loved as a child? I just recently watched the movie Pollyanna, starring Hayley Mills, with my family and had this experience. However, my perspective was quite different today than it was when I was ten, and as a result, my take-away was different.

So how do you create a story that speaks to all ages? Two quick ideas from Pollyanna…


That’s a big word that means everyone can relate to what’s being said or done. There’s a universal appeal or application, truth that any audience can recognize.

Pollyanna invents a game for herself called the Glad Game that changes the population of Harrington Town. Simply put, no matter what has happened, you must always think of something to be glad about.

She tells the story of really wanting a doll but getting a pair of crutches instead. Pollyanna finds something glad about the mistake. “Well, at least I didn’t have to use them [the crutches].”

From Aunt Polly to Nancy to Mrs. Snow to Dr. Chilton, all the characters learn something from Pollyanna and her Glad Game. Find yourself in one of these characters, and you’ll find out what you can learn from this little girl.

Something Untold

The movie ends with Aunt Polly and Dr. Chilton taking Pollyanna to have a procedure done that will make her walk again.

As I child, I saw this as a happy ending. Everyone is smiling and waving and cheering.

As an adult, I saw the ending differently. My life experiences have shaped my perspective, and I realize that all stories do not end happily. I realize now there is no guarantee that this little girl whom the entire town has come to love will actually walk again.

And what if she doesn’t? Will she be able to keep smiling? Would I be able to keep smiling?

My Take-Away for Writers

No matter what story you’re trying to tell, it should have the element of universality. For example, are your characters believable? Do they have a backstory, or what are their struggles? If they’re perfect, it’s going to be hard to find an audience that can relate to them!

And finally, what does your story say – or what doesn’t it say? Whether the conclusion wraps up all the loose ends or leaves unfinished details, give the audience something to think about.

So what are some favorite movies – or books – you’ve rediscovered as an adult? What qualities make them worth revisiting?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Metrics and Keeping Your Writing on Track

Have you heard the saying, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure?” I realize this principle is primarily connected with the business world, but I believe there’s an application here for writers as well.

 I remember when I first started seriously writing fiction during my high school years. I’d sit down at my computer, work really hard and save my draft a couple hours later, feeling quite accomplished. But then, life would happen, and the demands of high school (not nearly as complicated as they seemed at the time), would get in the way. My progress was like an irregular heartbeat.   

With my first book – and especially with my second one – I established benchmark goals. Setting goals is certainly the first step, but without a way to track or measure progress, the goals lose their clarity.

That’s where metrics comes into play. Metrics, as simply defined by, is “the science of measuring.”

For example, my goal with my second book is to have my rough draft complete by June (yes, of this year). A goal has to be specific, so I estimated my target page and word counts. Then, looking at those numbers, I set up an Excel spreadsheet with formulas to calculate the difference between my actual and target counts. As I record my progress each week, I’ve been able to see the difference as I chip away at those goals.  

Guess what? My simple spreadsheet has helped keep me accountable, and I’ve stuck to my weekly goals. I’ve watched the difference between actual and target counts shrink and the percentage completion steadily rise, which has in turn helped motivate me to stay on track.

And what I’ve learned is this: Goals, metrics and motivation work hand in hand. You can’t have one without the others.

Monday, March 26, 2012

October Baby Movie Review

October Baby is the story of Hannah, a college student whose collapse on stage during a theatrical debut demands answers. Answers that lead to a shocking discovery about her birth.

Hannah was born after a failed abortion and deserted by her biological mother. Her adoptive parents, fearful that the truth would be too hard for their daughter, sheltered her from this knowledge.

Angry with herself, with her adoptive parents, and with her biological mother, Hannah joins her best friend Jason and his friends on a spring break road trip that takes her back to her birthplace, a place where she hopes she can find herself.

What she finds is the raw truth – more painful than she could have imagined. And now, she has to decide if she can find the strength to forgive.

Thumbs Up

I went to see this movie with some of my career-aged friends last Saturday and was impressed with how professionally it was done. The acting was superb – not awkward (as has been the case with some private films). The characters were believable, funny and lovable; and the plot unfolded at a quick enough pace to keep my attention.  

At a few points, I had to exercise suspension of disbelief or the willingness not to question the probability of the situation. I’ll just share the obvious one with you – that her parents withheld such a huge piece of Hannah’s history from her. They didn’t even tell her she was adopted, let alone, the product of a failed abortion. Naturally, there are some serious trust issues that unfold as a result.

However, the movie as a whole is excellent and well worth your time.

Just bring tissues. You will need them.

PG-13 Rating

The PG-13 rating is appropriate because of the story’s premise and theme. Abortion is a horrible crime – I don’t care what society says; I’m going to call it murder – and the movie does not sugarcoat it, nor should it.  The story drives home the sanctity of life while also offering the beautiful gift of forgiveness.

The movie itself is clean – no language, no sexual content or violence. The romantic interest that develops between Hannah and her friend Jason maintains clear, respectful boundaries – so refreshing to see and such a good example for today’s teens.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Snippets for Something Later

“Can you tell I’m easily distracted?”

“She was a very manly woman.”

And my personal favorite quote of the week: “Ribbons bother me. Why do we give them out as awards when we also use them to identify prize fair pigs?”

Ok, so what do these statements have in common? I scribbled them down in my small spiral pad, because they sounded interesting.

You never know when someone’s going to say something that strikes a chord with you. Will you remember it if you don’t write it down?

Keeping a small note pad within arm’s reach lets me jot down ideas, comments, even just things to do that I don’t want to forget. Half of what I write down I will tear out and toss later, but some of it may work its way into one of my character’s personalities or a dialogue sequence.

In his article A Day in the Life of a Writer, Jeff Heffron offers this insight into how capturing the commonplace can pay off in the long run.

In a single day, you can find enough ideas to write about for a good long while. Details, images, dialogue, events—in your life, in the news, in the lives of those around you. We have hundreds, maybe thousands of thoughts, ideas, impressions, and reactions that often are forgotten minutes later.
Heffron recommends the exercise of writing down everything that happens to you in a day. I’ve never tried the full exercise, but I have adopted the habit of keeping my small spiral pad by my side.

So take a minute to think back over your day. Did you hear something today that caught your ear? And if so, did you take the time to write it down?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Plotting and Perspiration

Thomas Edison summed up the role of hard work in creativity and invention when he said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

I wish I could say that writers just start typing and the story writes itself, but 9 times out of 10, that’s not how it works. No, a story requires thought and planning. Along the way, you might discover some genius and the words may start to flow more freely  but not until you've rolled up your sleeves and gotten down to work.

I think back to one of my first art projects. My twin brother and I were in the same kindergarten class, and the teacher asked everyone to create and color a picture about the ocean and give it a title. Our “artwork” would then be judged and the winners’ work put on display.
Right away, I pulled out my crayons and started coloring. When I finished, I had a purple octopus, fish of many colors and probably some attempts at ocean seaweed. I got in line behind my brother and waited while he talked to our teacher.
His was not nearly as colorful as mine. In fact, it looked like a meager attempt to recreate a bunch of blue and yellow flounders from The Little Mermaid. I was thinking to myself how mine was totally better than his.
The teacher asked my brother, “What’s yours called?”
“The School of Fish,” he said simply.
I was only four at the time, but I remember my jaw dropped. What looked moments before like a lackluster picture now took on a shade of simple genius. About that time, my four-year-old mind registered that it hadn’t even thought about a title.
The teacher turned to me. “What about yours?”
“The School of Fish,” I blurted. She looked skeptically at my drawing and said kindly, “How about ‘The Hungry Octopus’?”
Yeah, so much for that blue ribbon. And sure enough, my brother won it.
His drawing was no better than my own – maybe worse – but he had taken the time to think before he started scribbling. And his planning paid off.
And sure enough, he found some brilliance along the way.
I’m not saying that you have to plot out your story on hundreds of neat little notecards and then put them in order (although I’ve heard this technique works for some writers). For my books, I keep a running chapter outline in Word. Sure, it’s a work in progress, and certainly, as I type, I give my story the flexibility to “write itself” when I find something’s not working.
But the required element is planning and perspiration.
Booker T. Washington said, “Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.”
Yes, my friends, that includes plotting out your story and taking the time to plan.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Easy Writing Makes Hard Reading

Writing well is simply hard work. Earnest Hemingway said it best: “Easy writing makes hard reading.”

I will never forget one of my English professors whose daily habit was to open class in prayer. One of her requests was simply “to be clear.”

We as writers would do well to pray for clarity of writing. We should not write to impress. We should write with clarity of message and with simplicity of meaning that readers can relate to and appreciate.
Easier said than done. Writing in such a way that reading becomes effortless is in fact, hard.
Music presents an analogy that speaks to this reality. Having sung in choirs since I was thirteen, I can appreciate the importance that practice plays. Soloists and instrumentalists often puts hours of preparation into their music. During a well-polished performance, the audience simply listens and lets the music speak to them. Their focus is on the song, the melody, and the words. And that’s as it should be. However, the music can get lost in the performance when the musician makes a mistake – misses an entrance, forgets the words, or sings a flat note.  
The same is true with writing. When readers pick up a well-written book, they become so involved in the story that they hardly notice how the words sound on the page. On the other hand, the reader gets distracted when grammar isn’t right or the wording becomes clunky. In this case, the story becomes lost in the medium of the English language due to a sloppy presentation.
That said, we could shift the words around in Hemingway’s quote to say, “Hard writing makes easy reading.” The same is equally true.
Therein lies a challenge for every writer – the challenge to write well so that the story doesn’t get muddied by mechanics.
So go write hard.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Find Your Time to Write… And Stick to It.

Today, I had the inspired idea to wake up early (on my one day to sleep in), turn on my computer and write before having breakfast.
I quickly discovered that this scenario might have some problems after hitting snooze twice and reluctantly rolling out of bed thirty minutes after my planned writing rendezvous.
I wasn’t encouraged after staring at my computer screen for twenty minutes without having written anything I liked.
After 30 minutes, I started to warm up, but by then, I was getting distracted by the Publix blueberry muffins sitting on the table. I gave up.
Perhaps you are thinking: This writer is such a slacker.
Actually, I am a very task- and goal-driven person. Right now, there are at least three lists on my desk, and I’m happily scratching away at them as the day progresses.
I realize that writers can become guilty of making excuses and letting their writing schedules start to slip, but that’s not the point of this post. In fact, I decided to try this morning’s exercise because I had already met my weekly writing goal and wanted to experiment a little.
And what I learned is that I must clear away distractions before I can fully give myself to writing. The blueberry muffins were a distraction to my empty stomach. My unstarted lists were a distraction to my task-oriented mind. Before I could settle into my writing zone, I needed to tend to these distractions first.
Maybe some people actually work better with lots of things going on simultaneously. Everyone is different.
The moral of the story is in the title. It’s good to try new things – like a new writing schedule – but if you discover something doesn’t work, don’t waste your time. Just get back on your game, and stick to the writing routine that works for you.
For me, that means early mornings on Saturdays are probably out.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Hungry for More: Sequels, Series & Suspense

You’re on the edge of your seat. You’re dying to know how the story ends. And then it ends. And you’re still so involved that the first thing you do is go on and search for the sequel.
This was just my experience. I recently finished the first book in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy. I had heard good reviews about the series and saw the trailer for the movie coming out in March, so I decided to buy the first book.
From page one, I was hooked. First, I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen first person used so effectively. Second… Well, let’s talk about what elements of The Hunger Games – and other well-scripted stories – leave readers scrambling to find the sequel.
Make us care
The author has to make us care about the characters. Collins starts on page one. Her heroine has to hunt food illegally just to keep her family alive – after her father was killed in a mine explosion. On top of that, the evil Capitol harvests two young adults each year to fight in the annual Hunger Games. Think of the Roman coliseum concept but on steroids, and you’ll get the idea. When her younger sister is selected to participate, Collins’ heroine Katniss volunteers herself to be tribute instead, knowing full well that fighting in the games means almost certain death.
Hands down, Collins has made us care.
Create a cause
Successful TV shows are much like good sequels in that they make you want to come back. One that had me hooked last season was Terra Nova, a sci-fi drama that follows a family who risks everything to stay together.
The saga starts in 2149 when having more than two children is considered a crime. Jim Shannon’s family manages to hide their third child for a time, but eventually, the authorities discover their secret and imprison Jim. Meanwhile, Shannon’s wife, a trauma surgeon, and their other two children have been selected to join a lottery of people and travel back to a prehistoric world through a “fracture” in time. She stages a daring plan to break Jim out of prison, smuggle their third child onto the 10th pilgrimage, keep the family together, and start a new life.
You want a cause? From episode one, you’ll find yourself rooting for this family to survive and help create a new world.
Leave unanswered questions
Readers expect plot resolution, so when something is left unsettled, they start asking questions. Perhaps the most basic and yet effective question to make the audience ask is, “What’s going to happen next?”  
Unanswered questions not only propel the story’s plotline, but also provide the driving force for a sequel.
For example, look at the Anne of Green Gables novels by L. M. Montgomery. There are eight books in the series, and the first book closes with Anne thinking about the future and beyond what she can see. The second to last sentence reads, “And there was always the bend in the road!”
What question does that raise? Naturally, what’s beyond the bend in the road?
Another great example is how C.S. Lewis ends his first book in The Chronicles of Narnia: “And that is the very end of the adventures of the wardrobe. But if the Professor was right, it was only the beginning of the adventures of Narnia.”
Even if the last sentence doesn’t raise a question, an unfinished plot detail may demand further exploration. Maybe the villain gets away, or the love triangle remains unresolved.
I won’t tell you how book one of The Hunger Games ends, but I will say that I just received the two remaining books in the trilogy a few days ago. The second book kept me up most of Friday and part of Saturday night. And I’m not going to touch the third one until I get caught up on my sleep.
What good reads have kept you up at night? And what endings have left you unsatisfied and looking for more?