Monday, February 20, 2017

New Writers: 5 Tips for Answering Their Questions

Every so often I get the "Questions". You've probably gotten them too. You know, when someone asks,

"How do I get started in writing?" 


"How can I get my writing published?"

So us writers, we're thinking, this isn't a question that can be answered in 5 minutes. Or even 5 hours. These are "tip of the iceberg" questions. There is no brief answer, and the response is multi-faceted. There's always something to learn, and just about the time we think we've got a grasp on things, the market changes.

And since we're busy with writing and life, we don't always have the time necessary to share all of this with the wide eyed newbie asking the question. Since I've been asked these questions many times, I decided to compile a list of 5 basic tips.

1) Take writing courses.

From webinars, workshops, and seminars, to correspondence and online classes, free and paid options abound. Just because we like to write doesn't mean we have all the necessary knowledge and skills. Good courses teach things like how and where to submit our work, how to approach an editor, and so on.

I experienced this firsthand, learning valuable skills and information from the Institute of Children's Literature courses I took years ago. They were comprehensive, lending direction and cutting the learning curve down in regard to how to write what publications want.

Here are a few recommended sites that offer great courses.

Coffeehouse for Writers
Faith Writers
Poynter's News University
Institute for Writers
Institute of Children's Writers
Writer's Digest

2) Join a writer's group.

Groups offer fellowship, support, resources, courses, workshops, conferences, and more. Find local ones through friends and colleagues, regional papers, or an online search. Organizations such as the ones above also offer online support and/or critique groups.

Other groups include The Insecure Writer's Support Group, which addresses writers of all genres, the American Christian Fiction Writers, and the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

3) Attend a writer's conference.

Conventions, conferences, and workshops are offered year round. National, state, and local groups sponsor ones of all sizes. Don't discount smaller offerings; just because the keynote speaker's name isn't a household word doesn't mean they don't have much to share.

4) Take advantage of great resources. 

Books, magazines, newsletters, websites, blogs - there are great resources everywhere. A few favorites include Funds for Writers, Pen and Prosper, Writer's Digest, and Writers Weekly. These types of resources  offer links, articles, forums, contests, and other great features.

5) Keep learning.

Educate yourself. It's hard work, but keep at it, learning the craft and sharpening skills. There's always something to learn. Always.

While these tips are helpful for newbies, they're also a reminder of the wonderful tools available to all writers, no matter where we are on the journey.

What do you think? Did I miss anything? What advice would you offer? What was the most helpful advice you had when starting out?

Happy writing,

Photo image: Free Images

Monday, February 13, 2017

3 Ways to Move Past Rejection

Anyone who's been writing for a while has known rejection. Whether an unaccepted article or book query, a polite decline from an agent, an unkind blog comment, or a bad book/article review, rejection can be hard to swallow. It stings. And it sometimes creates an argument in your head. True story: I had a mental conversation with the person that posted the two star Amazon review for my book. I felt my head was the best locale because a) I don't know them and b) I'm too polite to say anything if I did know them, and c) sometimes it's just better to keep your mouth shut. 

While we know that rejection is part of life and serves to help build character, it can make us doubt our abilities. We might be hesitant to submit again, finish that story, contact a potential freelance client, speak at a writer's workshop, or to just write anything at all. It might even make us hesitate to stick our heads outside ever again. (Okay, maybe that's just a tad dramatic.) 

When our confidence wavers, so can productivity. So how can we move past the sting of rejection?

1) Keep it in perspective - Rejection does not mean you are a lousy writer. It means that whatever you wrote this time around was not suited to the market, readership, publication, reviewer, etc. Not everything you write will be everyone's cup of tea. And that's okay.

Despite this rejection, the sun will still rise and set tomorrow. Your family, friends, and pets still love you. God still loves you. You are here for a purpose, and wallowing around in rejection for great lengths of time does nothing to help you live life to the fullest.

2) Recall and value past accomplishments - Did you finish that writing class you took last year? Did you attend and meet other scribes at the writing conference? Was your poem published in the church bulletin? Did that children's riddle get accepted? Does your blog have followers? Did you have an answer to that writing question someone asked you?

Recall past successes, writing related or not, no matter how small. No need to get a big head here, but celebrating the positive can refresh and rejuvenate our mindset. Remember too, that you're on this earth for a purpose. You can affect those around you for good. A kind word or gesture can go a long way. Technically "published" or not, you still have something good to say. 

3) Keep moving forward - Like falling off a bicycle, it's important to hop back on and get going again. Write a story, submit a guest post to a friend's blog, or research that topic and turn it into an article. Take a class or brush up on grammar skills. Experiment with another genre. Meet existing obligations. Just keep moving, learning, and polishing your skills. We don't lose until we quit.

Author Ann Gabhart said, "Rejection is not fatal." She's right. While it's an unpleasant part of life, we can use it as a catalyst, onward and upward to new and better things.

What helps you work through rejection?

Writing always,


Photo credit: Free Images

Monday, February 6, 2017

Meet the Blogger with Donna Volkenannt

As you might have guessed, Donna Volkenannt and I met through blogging. She's a gifted writer, with stories appearing in Chicken Soup for the Soul and numerous other publications. Her blog, Donna's Book Pub, offers a host of goodies from writing advice and publication opportunities to thoughts on language and books. She's friendly, helpful, and I suspect, just as kind and sweet in real life as she is online. It's always fun to hop over and see what's happening at her place. 

Welcome, Donna! It's good to have you visit. Why did you start blogging? How long have you had your current blog? 

At a writing conference several years ago, a speaker talked about the importance of building a platform and networking. I was unsure what the terms platform and networking meant, so I flashed back to my younger years. Back in the 1970s I wore platform shoes and owned a pair of fishnet stockings, but when the speaker mentioned blogs and blogging, I realized she wasn’t talking about vintage fashion attire. (Just kidding.)

In reality, in 2008, a techno-savvy member of my critique group told me how easy it was to start a blog. With a burst of enthusiasm, I rolled out two of them concurrently. One was my personal blog, Donna’s Book Pub. The second focused on book reviews. Updating and maintaining two blogs left little time for other writing, so I let the second one fade away to focus on Donna’s Book Pub.

Platforms - Lol! I never thought of it like that. And I owned quite a few pairs of platform shoes myself. I guess we had a head start on the whole marketing thing after all! :D Tell us, what is your blog about?

My intent for Donna’s Book Pub is to be a friendly place for visitors to drop in and chat about writing, publishing, books, and thoughts on life in general. Over the years I’ve shared submission opportunities, tips on writing, conference notes, author interviews, personal stories, and a potpourri of thoughts and observations.  

Well, I'd say you've succeeded in making it a friendly place. It is indeed that and a whole lot more. What benefits have you gained through blogging? 

I’ve gained discipline with writing and self-editing and have come to realize that ideas and plans need to be adjusted to fit time constraints. 

The greatest benefit has been connecting with so many amazing writers who share a passion for the written word. I’ve met talented and generous bloggers who have given me a glimpse into their lives and have helped me learn about the art, craft, and business of writing. 

I agree. The benefits, friends in particular, are great. It's a great community. What projects are you working on now? 

A few years ago I started a novel during National Novel Writing Month. I crossed the word-count finish line, but the novel wasn’t complete and wasn’t very good. Since then, in between writing shorter works, I’ve been plugging away on the novel.

The second project I’m excited about is a volunteer project -- a short script that will be performed during our parish’s cemetery walk in the fall. I’m looking forward to receiving research material from our parish heritage committee so I can start writing the script. 

Both projects sound interesting. Will look forward to hearing more about them in the future. What might people be surprised to learn about you? 

A pleasant writing surprise occurred in 2012 when my essay, “Honey, Can I Borrow Your Garter Belt?” won first place in the Erma Bombeck Global Humor Award. As part of the award, I received a generous check and was a guest at the Erma Bombeck workshop at the University of Dayton. It was an unexpected honor and a delightful experience! 

Congratulations! How exciting. Those kinds of surprises are nice! What advice would you share with a newbie blogger? 

Take risks and explore new ideas, but be prepared to change or adjust as needed. Also, take time to visit other blogs and leave comments. 

Good advice. Blogging is a lot like real life, isn't it? Thanks so much for joining us this week, Donna! It's been a pleasure. :) Wishing you much success with your writing.

Thank you, Karen!

More About Donna 

Donna Duly Volkenannt got her first byline as a high school reporter for “Prom,” a St. Louis-area magazine for teens. She is a former president of the Missouri Writers’ Guild and has presented creative writing workshops in Missouri, Illinois, and Arkansas. Her work has appeared in: Chicken Soup for the Soul, Spirits of St. Louis, Irish Inspirations, Mysteries of the Ozarks, Cup of Comfort, Sauce, Bookreporter, Storm Country, SASEE, and other publications. First-place winner of the Erma Bombeck Global Humor award, Donna lives in Missouri with her husband, grandchildren, and fourteen-year-old black Lab. In her spare time she reads, writes, and volunteers.

Visit Donna at her Blog

Do you have any questions for Donna? Do you concur with Donna's advice to newbie bloggers? What are you writing this week?

Happy writing,

Teacup photo credit: Free Images

Monday, January 30, 2017

Miscellaneous Monday

It's been a while since I've done a Miscellaneous Monday, so I thought it was about time to share a few helpful links. Hope they will be of interest to you too.

Do you or a writer friend need encouragement? Edie Melson's post, 10 Things to Say to a Writer Who's on the Ledge lends great encouragement. Even if you aren't on the "ledge", her wise words will keep you going.

Whether you're looking to get a book published or not, The Hard Truth About Publishing - What Writers and Readers Need to Know, is a worthwhile read. Kristen Lamb examines the interesting history of publishing and how it isn't as profitable as it used to be for most authors. She offers tips on how we can help authors be more successful in the industry. 

What advice can a graphic artist offer writers? Jennifer Brown Banks' Ask the Experts column highlights a few tips in this recent interview with designer David Lange. They discuss cover art and branding, among other things. And yes, David's my son. Thanks for tolerating this shameless plug. :)

Want to improve your writing skills? "Learn more and earn more"? The Coffeehouse for Writers addresses the needs of writers of all levels and genres. Check out their offerings at the Coffeehouse site

Speaking of the Coffeehouse, I'm sharing my thoughts on Dale Taylor's The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in America on their blog. This book is part of the Writer's Digest Everyday Life series; it covers 1607-1783 and is a great resource for fiction and nonfiction writers.

Do you have any helpful links to share? What are you working on this week? 

Happy writing,


Photo credit: Free Images

Monday, January 23, 2017

How to Write a Query Letter by Carol J. Alexander

Freelance writer and editor Carol J. Alexander joins us this week, offering tips on a popular (or maybe not, lol) writing topic, writing the query letter. 

How to Write a Query Letter - Step-by-Step 

By Carol J. Alexander 

I wrote many query letters before finally landing an assignment. Even then, I’m not sure what the editor saw in that pitch. (Other than the idea, that is.) Since that time, 10 years ago, I have studied and practiced enough that 96% of all my queries have led to published articles—eventually.

As the editor of a regional lifestyle magazine, I get a lot of those “diamond in the rough” kind of pitches. Sometimes they come from students at the local university. If I know that, I help them along the way by drawing them out with questions. But sometimes, these anemic queries come from seasoned freelancers. Those, I delete.

Sound harsh? Consider this pitch I received recently: 

Subject line: Article idea—Apple Festivals 
The valley is loaded with them, from Winchester to Lovingston. Would be a good article and pix could be taken now for next year. 


Varieties of Virginia apples (more than you might expect and more than you'd find in the grocery store)
Apples in the history of the Valley
Apples today: produce, craft fairs, Appalachia, tourist destinations 

What does this writer want to write about—apple festivals, varieties of apples, the history of apples or what, exactly? I also want to know who she might mention in the story and who she might interview. Finally, Lovingston is not in the valley—our coverage area.

See what I mean?

Since I didn’t know what this experienced journalist wanted to write about, I would have to ask. My response would prompt many back and forth emails hammering out exactly what she intended to write, the points she wanted to include and who her sources were. I could see myself spending over an hour of the magazine's time helping this gal formulate her ideas and pitch so that we both understood what the story would cover.

Most magazines, mine especially, cannot afford for their editors to spend time holding the hands of freelancers who do not know how, or are too lazy, to write a proper query letter.

So if your queries are getting no response, keep reading. 

How to write a query letter 

There are five main parts to a query letter. They include:

  • Advance planning
  • The hook
  • The pitch
  • The outline
  • Your credentials
  • A call to action 
Let's take a look at these five parts a little closer. 

Advance planning 

While not exactly a part to the letter, advance planning is still an important part of the process. Many beginning writers balk at the thought of putting time into a story that has not yet found a home. But it pays, I promise. 

I heard a guy in my beekeeping group planted a truffière. I had no idea you could grow truffles in North America, so I wanted to write about it. Since I knew little about truffles, I did a little research. I then ferreted out experts in the field and secured interviews. I did all this so I would know what I was talking about before I approached an editor with my idea. 

The hook 

The hook is your introductory paragraph. Write it as compelling as the lead to your story. This is where you capture the editor's attention so he or she doesn't get bored and delete you. 

The pitch 

The pitch paragraph tells the editor what you want to write about. Here is an example: 

A truffle is a type of underground fungus, or mushroom. There are hundreds of varieties of truffles. … They are harvested using trained dogs, or pigs.  

European white truffles can cost as much as $3,600 a pound. … And I recently learned that David Cassford, a member of my beekeeping group, also farms truffles. Whoa. Growing truffles could be a lucrative business for the modern homesteader; so why aren’t more people talking about it? I want to talk about it.  

Your Outline   

Once you tell your editor what you want to write about, spell it out for him. Give him your three key points, the story length, what you will include in a sidebar and who you plan to interview. 

Your credentials 

A lot of new writers get hung on not having clips. Unless a magazine comes right out and says they only publish established writers, you don’t need to worry about it. If you don't have any clips, don't mention it. If you do, share what is appropriate. Also share life skills or experiences that make you the best person to write the story. For instance, when I pitch parenting magazines, I tell them I have six kids—it makes me look like I know what I'm talking about. 

A call to action 

Ask for the assignment. Short and sweet: "Would you like this piece for your holiday issue? I can have it to you by June."

And that’s it. Not quite easy-peasy, but I can pretty much guarantee that if you follow this outline your query will get read. What about you? Have any other query letter writing tips or secrets? I’d love to hear about them in the comments. 

Carol J. Alexander has been published in over 60 local, regional and national publications. She is currently the editor of Shenandoah Living Magazine. For more help honing your query letter writing skills, get a free copy of her eight-page tip sheet "How to Write the Query Letter that Sells." 

Visit Carol at her website, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Sending a big thank you your way, Carol, for sharing this great info!

How sharp are your query writing skills? As Carol asked, do you have any tips to share?

Happy writing,

Photo: Free Images

Monday, January 16, 2017

3 Reasons Why You Need a Blog Break

Anyone who's been blogging for a while knows that it takes time, energy, and good doses of inspiration and creativity. If you add blogging duties to all those other items on your normal to-do list, it can be overwhelming sometimes. This is why I'm a firm believer in blog breaks. Here are my top 3 reasons:

1) We need to get away to maintain health and peace.

My husband and I have been self employed for 30 plus years. While there are many benefits, running a business is taxing, and time off is essential to not only our well being, but for relationships with family and friends too.  Our business runs from our home, so despite taking days off, its presence is ever near, a reminder of constant, necessary tasks. My point - we learned early on that "You don't really get away unless you get away."

I think this is true with blogging, too. There are constant reminders everywhere, from Facebook to Google+ and beyond. Taking a break helps us to step back and "get away" by setting healthy space between us and our blogs. For that matter, a break from social media is probably a good idea too. But that's a topic for another post. :)

2) We need time to rediscover our creativity.

Combined with other commitments, blogging's constant demands can dry out the creative well. Keeping up often crowds out creativity, and can cause stress and a drop in productivity. A break provides opportunities to work on other projects, and to rediscover our creative side in fresh, new ways.

3) We need mental and physical space. 

Between my laptop, tablet, and smart phone, I'm potentially connected 24/7. While this isn't a bad thing in the right measure, it can be detrimental to my life and worldview. I compare it to a vacation - sometimes we need a change of scenery, to get away from the "screens" of everyday life.

Distance from the blogging world can be therapeutic. So whether taking a walk, cleaning out a closet, or meeting a friend for lunch, you're gaining healthy space, hands on life experience, and perhaps some writing ideas too.

That said, what's the best way to take a blog break?

1) Just do it. 

Tell your readers you're taking a break. Follow up on prior commitments, such as guest posts or interviews, of course, but make a break a part of the regular schedule. For example, I schedule a 3-4 week break at the end of the year. I look forward to this break - it's delightful! It's not that I dislike my blog friends, it's just that by this time of year, I need a breather. My online classes are on hiatus as well, so it's a good time to kick back, read more, work on projects, etc.

2) Be disciplined.

Determine that this is your time off from blogging. Set boundaries, even limiting time on social media if that aids in your escape from daily demands. Make a list of items you'd like to accomplish if that facilitates staying focused and motivated. Don't put too much pressure on yourself, though. The break is meant to reap healthy benefits.

3) Get off the treadmill.

The blogging treadmill, that is. Sometimes we don't know what we're missing until we hop off. There's a whole other world out there for us to explore. We know this, but sometimes we get wrapped up in cyberspace and forget to direct our energies elsewhere. That "elsewhere" produces plenty of writing ideas for future use.  

4) Remember that it'll all be there when we return.

The blogging world will continue to spin in our absence. And our friends will be there when we get back. Unless they're taking a break, of course. :) 

A postscript of potential interest - after I wrote this, I spotted these related posts:

Grammarly's You Need a Break: How to Ease Into a Productive 2017
Pen and Prosper's 8 Tips to Maintain Your Blogging Appetite

Do you take blog breaks? Do you think they're important?

Happy writing,

Photo: Free Images