Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Being a Pro: One Often Overlooked Issue

A popular post from August 2012

by Annette Lyon

Talk to any published writer, no matter where they are on the ladder of success, about their challenges, and you'll get an earful.

A truth: Every stage of the writing life, from your first story until you die (even if you hit the NY Times, get movies of your books made, and end up with actions figures from them) has its challenges.

One of those challenges is that, the more successful you become, the more of your time is sucked up. (I know; it's a problem everyone hopes to have some day!) But it's true: Suddenly, you don't have the luxury of taking five years to finish a novel; you have to turn the next one in by X date. And then there's revisions and edits and galley proofs. And after it hits shelves, there's promotion, and, likely, during all of that, new deadlines for the next book. It's a merry-go-round that, at times, writers feel like they cling to with both hands so they don't get thrown off by the speed of it all.

And this doesn't take into account trying to keep up with regular life, like being a spouse or parent or doing things like grocery shopping and making sure you have clean underwear.

I wouldn't call myself a major publishing success, but I've been published in one form or another for nearly fifteen years. I do freelance writing (articles, technical scripts), freelance editing (for Precision Editing Group and other clients) and, of course, I have my fiction. At any given time, I have multiple deadlines looming over my head.

I also have four active children who need their mom involved in their lives, a husband, and I'm the homemaker of the family.

In the last month, I've had two family birthdays (with another around the corner), two family reunions (one of which required travel and several days), a camping trip with one side of the family, summer school for two teenagers wanting to get ahead on their graduation requirements, family health issues, school shopping (oy!), and more.

I've also had at least twenty writing and editing deadlines of one sort or another (yes, I checked and counted, and no, I'm not making that up). I've been known to stay up late after the family is in bed to meet a deadline. On a family trip, I brought a portable battery to the wilderness so I could work on my laptop in the car on the road and then while camping. I still have multiple deadlines I'm trying to meet.

It's a constant treadmill. Yes, I chose this life. And I'm grateful for the blessings it brings to my family. But it's not easy, and it requires sacrifice. I used to be an avid scrapbooker. I used to watch television. I used to do a lot of things that I simply don't have time for anymore.

Unfortunately, I'm so busy that this includes having to say no to most writers who want favors from me. Even when I really would like to help someone out, I can't without dropping something else--and that "something else" could likely help me pay a bill, which means I have to say no to the other thing.

Without exception, I simply cannot do free edits, critiques, reviews, or blurbs for anyone not in my critique group and beta reader circle (two places where critiquing favors are always reciprocal; it's a must). I just can't do it for others. Sometimes that extends to my publisher nixing a blurb before I can even reply to it.

The crux of this post:
If you're an up-and-coming writer, and get a no, the person higher up on the ladder isn't saying no simply  because they're snooty and they think you're beneath them. They aren't being mean. They may have no choice but to say no. That doesn't make them arrogant or difficult.

I'm not the only person who is (really truly!) too busy and must, at times, say no. This is a topic that has come up with many of my writer friends, and they say they same thing, including the fact that they'd love to help more than they actually can. And that they help less than they used to, because they're busier now than (insert time period) ago.

What's particularly hard about this, though, is when someone asks for an endorsement or other favor and we must say no, but the other person decides to lash back. Even if it's sideways and not direct, it hurts. We're real people too, and we're doing the best we can.

As one of my writer friends said (quoting with permission):

Sure I'll read your book and do a write up on it, if you'll come over and play with my three-year-old, read for an hour with my seventh-grader, do algebra homework with my sixteen-year-old, drive her to and from dance, make dinner, clean the bathroom,  do a couple loads of laundry, help my mom with whatever she needs that day, and then babysit so I can spend a couple of hours with my husband. And that's all I'd ask because I'm a fast reader.

And that was said only sort of with tongue in cheek. We have busy lives, and what time we find that's not sucked up with professional duties is going to belong to our families, and, if we're really lucky, a nap to help catch up on our chronic sleep deprivation.

Knowing how to handle these situations--and being a total professional about them!--will actually help you climb the success ladder faster. Being kind and understanding with any writer, regardless of the rung they're on, will develop for you a reputation as someone who is totally awesome to work with. That may open doors for you, and it will definitely keep them open.

The flip side is that someone who talks smack about another writer (especially for something as small as a "sorry, no") will quickly see that their reputation isn't what they hoped it would be. (Bad form!)

I had an experience several years ago where I gave what I intended to be help to a writer, clarifying a common misconception about publishing. The other person attacked me, saying that they would hope that a "real" writer would try to help other writers. I was stunned.

What this person didn't know is that in the last year, I'd taught several workshops for free. I'd judged three writing contests (providing page-long critiques for each entry) for free. I regularly answered emails asking for publishing advice. I'd spent hours and hours, plus a lot of effort, in giving back. This person assumed I didn't help, judging me, ironically, when I was trying to help.

They have since changed their tune toward me, because they learned, I guess, that I really do help when I can and that I'm not an arrogant turd. But if I ever need to find someone I can totally trust to be a professional in a situation, you can bet I'm not calling them.

The publishing and writing world is pretty small; word travels fast in this sandbox. So be kind. Give back when you can, and say no when you need to. Don't talk smack (or even hint of smack) publicly, because chances are, the person you're talking about will hear about it. And so will their best industry friends.

When you're on the receiving end of a no, understand that if someone really can't fit you into their schedule, it's not personal.

It also doesn't mean they're suddenly less "cool" than you thought.

Remember that one day, if the stars align, you'll be the one who really has to say no.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Should Critique Groups Die?

A popular post from August 2012

by Annette Lyon

I recently read something on a blog that I normally love to read, but this post had a laundry list of all the reasons critique groups suck and shouldn't exist. I must disagree.

(I know I've talked about critique groups recently in THIS POST, but this issue is too important.)

First, a caveat: 
All of this writer's arguments are valid, to a point. A lot of crit groups don't accomplish much. Sometimes members end up all writing like one another, developing the same stale voice. Or they don't grow. Or whatever else. Truth.

That said, as both a writer and as an editor, I believe that there is still a place for critique groups, if they're done right. I've read a lot of manuscripts and self-published books where the kernel of a great book was there, but in the end, the writer didn't hit the target (to totally mix metaphors). Many times I've thought, Man, if this person had a critique group to point out a few things, this would be SO MUCH BETTER.

For myself, I can say that joining my crit group was the single best thing I have done for my writing. Ever.

I'll go through his arguments, one at a time:

1) Critique groups take too much time.
In my early years, we met about twice a month and really did read entire books before we ever submitted them. It took me a year and a half to get through the first manuscript I brought. And meetings went long too.

However: After years of submitting and getting rejected, that first book I took through the critique process (not even close to the first one I wrote) was accepted within weeks of submission. My other books had taken months, sometimes close to a year, to be rejected. Those eighteen months of critiquing the same book had taught me a ton about the craft, and they won me a contract. My eighth novel and ninth book with my publisher will hit shelves any day.

Time well spent? Um, yeah.

That said, my group no longer goes through entire books like that. We're all publishing; we're all on deadline. Yet we still find value in meeting face to face. We're professionals who can get to business and focus on why we're there, giving solid feedback. (Although sometimes, to be totally honest, it's so nice to just talk shop and be around other writers who get it, even if little critiquing gets done.)

We meet weekly (roughly), and members typically bring parts they know they need feedback on, like beginning chapters or pivotal scenes. It's a chance to be sure we're on the right track.

At times, we need someone to read a whole manuscript quickly, which is a different experience from reading one scene at a time over the course of a year. In those cases, we email files, read them on the side, and then return feedback quickly.

A critique group doesn't have to take up too much time to get through your work.

2) Editing as a group is dangerous and slow.
Perhaps, if you've got a group that's not skilled. I'm tossing out the slow part first, because I covered that in the last point. The process doesn't have to be laboriously slow.

On the other point, I'm going to argue that it's moot, because critique groups don't edit (caveat: yes, I'll fix punctuation and grammar issues; it's in my blood. But I do more than that). Crit groups provide feedback. My group is well-read in a variety of genres, and we're skilled in what we do. Often when I get a weakness pointed out, I know they're right. No peer pressure. I know I'm free to take or leave their advice. (And I've left it more than once, as they've all done too.)

Sometimes they disagree, and we'll discuss an issue to figure out the whys. In the end, I may leave knowing that something is wrong with a scene, but maybe neither side diagnosed it entirely, or maybe I'll find a better way of fixing it than anyone suggested. But at least the problem was brought to my attention.

These people know what they're talking about. If they agree on a problem, chances are, it's really a problem. The fact that we're all as successful as we are is evidence of that. (See the next point.)

3) Critique groups can't handle most things we write today.
The blogger meant that because you can't cover more than a short section in one meeting that critique groups are best suited for poetry and short stories, neither of which are published much anymore.

Obviously, I disagree. Fact: over the past decade, my group has published several dozen books, and each of us has won and been nominated for numerous awards. Sort of debunks that myth. And two members are on the verge of writing full-time. I'd say we're pretty darn effective.

Enough said.

4) Because I say so.

How about I go with the same argument: Critique groups can totally work. Because I say so.

I do get the point he's trying to make. Critique groups can be total disasters. In the wrong hands, a group can strip you of your voice and creativity. They can lead you and your work in the wrong direction. They can be a total waste of time.

OR, a critique group could be the best thing that happened to your writing. It can push your writing skills forward on light speed.

He says that things like hiring an editor can replace a critique group, but I disagree. By the time I get a client's manuscript, I want it to be as polished as they can personally make it. If I end up playing the role of  "critique group," I end up spending a lot of my time, which spends a lot of the client's money. On something unnecessary. 

These are the times I want to say, "Get thee to a critique group! Then come back to me!" (Remember point #6 of THIS POST?)

Personally, I'm wary of publishing anything unless my group's seen it. They've saved me from myself more times than I can count. They stretch me. They keep me wanting to improve and grow. And when I'm losing my mind because of the craziness that is the writing industry (and the havoc it can wreak on our emotions!), they keep me sane.

One big thing going for them is that getting feedback from friends is easier than from a stranger, like a hired editor. I know my group members, and I trust them. I have confidence in them. I know they're giving me feedback purely to help, not to puff up their own egos or to put me down.

I imagine that we've been as successful as we have been because the group has adapted as skills, needs, and careers have changed. The group I attend now hardly resembles the group I first attended. So maybe that's the trick to having a successful group: adaptation.

I could be extraordinarily lucky. Maybe my group is an anomaly. It's quite possible. For other writers' sake, though, I hope not.

As far as I'm concerned, viva la crit groups!

Friday, August 26, 2016

"IF" Is NOT the Key

A popular post from February 2010. 

by Annette Lyon

We all know the line Tevye sings in Fiddler on the Roof:

"If I were a rich man . . ."

That sentence is in what's called subjunctive mood.

It's a complicated topic, but today we're making it pretty simple and addressing the biggest mistake I see with it (even with professional copy editors who are supposed to know what they're doing . . .).

In his song, Tevye describes what he'd do if he had a lot of money. He's not rich. He's rather poor, frankly, but IF HE WERE rich, this is what he'd do.

What he's describing is CONTRARY TO FACT.

That right there is the key. He's NOT rich. Therefore, If I WERE a rich man rather than If I WAS a rich man.

The latter sentence is valid too; it just needs a different context that doesn't contradict reality.

The best way is to put reality in question. What if we don't KNOW whether Tevye is rich or poor? Someone could then remember good 'ol Tevye from the neighborhood and say:

"I wonder if he was rich."

WAS works here, because we're simply contemplating the reality. We aren't contradicting it.

The problem is that most people use a handy-dandy trick as their personal red flag for when things are subjunctive: they look for IF.

And that does work a lot, just like our opening sentence, and many others:
  • If I were a rich man . . .
  • If I were skinnier . . .
  • If I were in England right now . . .
  • If I weren't so impatient . . .
In each case, the speaker is contracting fact. They aren't rich, skinny, in England, or patient.

But here's where things get dicey and most people mess up with subjunctive: they see IF and, whether or not the sentence contradicts reality, they immediately assume, "YAY! SUBJUNCTIVE! I'll use WERE!"

  • He wondered if she were cold.
  • If she were going to get there on time, she'd better hurry.
  • She couldn't help but think about if he were attracted to her.
  • If it were a homemade pie, which she'd find out in moments, she'd surely she'd eat the whole thing.
In each of the cases above, we either don't know the reality (so it cannot be subjunctive) or we do know the reality. But the sentence happens to have IF in it, so heck, let's throw in WERE anyway.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

  • He wondered if she WAS cold.
  • If she WAS going to get there on time, she'd better hurry.
  • She couldn't help but think about if he WAS attracted to her.
  • If it WAS homemade pie, which she'd find out in moments, she'd surely eat the whole thing.
Teachers used IF as a tool to help students spot subjunctive and help them know when to use WERE. But it's not a foolproof method.

IF isn't the only time you'll get subjunctive mood, and it's not a guarantee that the sentence using IF is subjunctive at all.

Simply ask: Is this sentence contracting facts we know?


NO: Use WAS.

Easy, no?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

My Book's Kinda Like...but not Really

A popular post from February 2010. 

By Josi S. Kilpack

Do you write JUST like Dan Brown? Is your next book the NEXT Harry Potter? If so, my condolences. We already have Dan Brown and Harry Potter, and no one needs a replacement. However, when you get the phase of querying agents/editors you need to help them identify who you are and what you write, which is where comparisons come in. But there is a right way and a wrong way to make those comparisons.

  • I write exactly like Shannon Hale.
  • My book is better than Lovely Bones.
  • My book will outsell Twilight.
  • Have you ever wished you'd published John Grisham's first novel? Well here's your chance to do even better!

Saying things like that sounds a little like Vincini in Princess Bride, and we all know how that ended:

"Have You Ever Heard of Plato? Aristotle? Socrates? Morons!"

But agents/editors DO want comparisons, they need to know how you measure yourself against other books, and the books you choose says a lot about what you write, who your target audience is, and whether or not you are paying attention to your competition. Which brings us to the other Wrong way of facilitating comparisons:

  • My book is like nothing you've ever read before.
  • My book is a fresh new genre.
  • There's nothing like this on the market

Now, there are some books that really are unlike anything else out there, now and then someone does make up a new genre--but even THEY have something to compare to. Twilight was new to many of us, but vampire books have been around for a long time. The Firm was also unique, but there had been other books that used law as the backdrop to the story. Shannon Hale's adapted fairy tales were new and different, but they are based on fairy tales which have been around for a very long time.

Never mind that when you say you're "As good as...", or "The next..." you come across as arrogant and, probably, deluded. You are NOT Stephenie Meyer. You might write as well she does, and you might tell a similar story, but you are NOT her because you haven't sold 18 million books.

Is that horse dead, yet? Good, then we can continue.

In Real Estate, appraisers use other homes around you to estimate the value of your home when they work up an appraisal. Your home might be worth two million Beverly Hills, but it's not in Beverly Hills. If homes similar to yours are selling for $300K, asking for 2 million will not get you the result you're looking for. Book comparisons are similar; you are pointing out the 'value' and 'market' and 'genre' of your book by comparing it to other books in the neighborhood.

The other benefit of comparisons is that it reflects your market saavy. You need to know the market you want to publish in, which is why when writers say "There's nothing like this in the market" industry people roll their eyes. There probably is something out there, similar in some way, you just haven't done your research. Agents/editors want to know that YOU know your market and your potential competition--comparisons show them that you understand this.

So, how do you compare the right way. Understanding why comparisons are important is the first step. Knowing your overall market is the next. The third step is finding the right comparisons. People (including me in this post) tend to go with very popular books most people are familiar with. This isn't bad thing, but keep in mind the people you are querying know that John Grisham isn't the only legal thriller writer out there, and Harry isn't the only kid with a wand. As you learn your market, look for books that might not be on the NY Times Bestseller list but have really good reviews. Look for books that might not have caught the spotlight in America, but sold well in foreign markets. Not only does this set you apart in that you're not the 39th writer that week comparing yourself to Angels and Demons, but it shows that you have really learned your market and that selling 400 million copies isn't your only goal; you also appreciate the power of good writing, and good reviews. Agents/editors know about the mid-list books out there, so you'll impress them in that fact that you're paying attention on a deeper level than most. And it's often in these mid-list layers where you'll find the best comparisons to your book anyway, better helping the agent/editor get a feel for what your book is about. NEVER say your book is "Just like" any other book, because if it's "Just like" another book, then why would they want to publish another one?

To find comparisons go to or your local library and peruse books by genre, ask a librarian, check out reader lists, or even google "Middle grade apocalyptic fantasy novel" and see what comes up. Be sure to read the books you choose to compare yours to. It would not do well for you to say your book was similar to a book is had nothing in common with. But don't overwhelm yourself. You should be able to find a couple books or writers that will work well for you--you don't want more than a few comparisons anyway because YOUR book is the focus.

In summary, the key to comparisons are:

  • "My book is similar to...
  • "but different in that...
  • Read the books you are comparing yourself to.
  • Be professional.
  • Be humble yet confident.

Happy writing!

Monday, August 22, 2016

What's the Point?

A popular post from January 2010

by Annette Lyon

Yes, I know you love your characters and that they're real to you, but we don't need every single detail about their lives. After they get home from work, do we really need to have a 4-page scene with several of them sitting around discussing what they ate for dinner?

You'd be surprised at how often I come across that kind of thing in my freelance work: long, exhaustive scenes that serve no absolutely point (besides, maybe, as a substitute for Ambien). They may be well-written on the sentence level, but they accomplish nothing.

The entire section could be deleted, and from a story standpoint, you'd never know it.

As a writer, it's easy to inadvertently drop in useless scenes. Like I said, we love our characters. They're real, at least in our heads. And just about anything they do is interesting . . . to their creator.

But you've got an audience to keep entertained. That's why every scene needs to accomplish something. Preferably, more than one something.

Here are six potential goals for a scene:
1) Advance the plot.
This is one of the most important goals for a scene. If the story isn't moving forward, a reader is going to get bored. Keep the story moving, progressing, advancing.

2) Create or show conflict.
Tension is what propels the plot. Without conflict, you have no story. Conflict holds the reader's interest. Plus, it's what most of your story should be based on anyway, right?

3) Set the setting.
Few scenes should have this as a purpose exclusively, but it is a valid one. Often we need to see and experience where the characters are, especially in genre books where the location is just as important as the rest of the story, such as in historical, science fiction, and fantasy works. Just don't belabor the setting. Make sure something else is going on as well. Eight pages dwelling on the unusual sunsets, architecture, or clothing get old.

4) Reveal character.
Do this through actions, thoughts, and dialogue of your POV character as well as their interpretations of others' actions and dialogue. Use this one a lot.

5) Show back story.
I mention this one with a bit of trepidation, because too many writers go, "Yippee! My purpose is to show back story!" and then we end up with long sections of info dumps, making the story stall and the reader fall asleep. Show back story in snippets and with a purpose. Never halt the story and then go into a 5-page history of a character. BORING.

6) Lay groundwork for later plot.
At times, you'll need to set-up a location, event, or something else that'll show up again or be relevant later. Same goes for foreshadowing. Just don't get too carried away here. Make sure you keep things interesting.

As a general rule of thumb, try to make every single scene accomplish at least two of the six purposes. If a scene isn't doing at least one of the six, delete it. It's fluff, and you don't need the scene.

If it's doing one of the six, see if you can add another one or two to punch it up.

Another good idea is to aim for the vast majority of your scenes to have at least one the purposes be either #1 or #2 (advance the plot or create conflict). Then add another one, say character or setting.

Don't try to cram all six purposes into a single scene. That's overload, and readers like that just as much as they like fluff (they don't).

As you read over your work-in-progress, note your scenes and the why. You might not have written the scene with a why in mind, but you can go back to see if there is one now. If not, revise and put one in.

Bottom line, every scene needs one of two things:
1) A purpose
2) The delete key.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Darkest Before the Dawn?

A popular post from February 2010

A friend of mine, J. Scott Savage, is doing a class on writing at a conference. I'm not exactly sure what his class will contain, but knowing him, the class will be twenty shades of amazing. I have an inkling of what he might say at this class because he posed a question to our online writer's group. The question was, "Could any of you who found success at the brink of giving up on writing e-mail me personally with your story or respond to the list?"

Finding success on the brink of giving up . . .

I know a lot of authors who've found success at nearly the same moment they decided to give up. Because at the same time they've given up, they also decided to give it one last push, to take one last step, to try one more time.

It's a strange place to be when you know you write well, you know you have talent, you've workshopped your manuscript and edited the thing until you could almost see your reflection in its polished shine, you know your story is sound, and yet the rejection letters keep rolling in. It's almost enough to make a writer more crazy than writers are prone to be naturally. It's almost enough to make us give up.

Madeleine L’Engle decided she was done writing. She had a couple of books published and then went nearly a decade of rejection after rejection. Throughout her thirties, no one seemed to want to publish what she wrote. She covered her typewriter and walked away in a huge show of renunciation. She wrung her hands and paced in circles and cried over her lost career. As she paced and cried, she realized that she already had a plot forming of a woman on the brink of giving up, but the story arc would be that the woman DIDN’T give up and finally succeeded. She realized that even the act of quitting brought plots and characters to her. She realized this wasn’t something she could just walk away from. She uncovered her typewriter, and went back to work. A couple of years later, she won the Newbery for A Wrinkle In Time.

Jessica Day George had many rejections. She had been to countless conferences and writing retreats and editor meetings in her attempts to break into a seemingly impossible market. The last conference she attended before getting a contract, she’d decided she’d had it. She told her husband that she was done—no more. He told her she had to finish the conference she was at because they’d already paid for it. The next day at the conference, she was at a critique group. Someone whispered over to her that they liked hers best and would she be interested in attending a by-invitation-only editor retreat. At that retreat, Jessica’s editor offered her a contract. Jessica had said that she was done and she’d meant it. She felt finished competing in a market she *knew* she was good enough to be part of, but that rejected her at every turn. If she hadn’t gone back to that conference, she wouldn’t have been invited to the editor’s retreat. If she hadn’t been at that retreat, she would have never been offered the contract that gave the rest of the world Jessica Day George. Jessica's newest book, Princess of Glass, comes out in May and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

For myself, it does seem that every time I think I’m done, something happens—even if it’s a little something. I think I’m done—I can’t go further in this maddening career choice, and I get a request for a partial manuscript. I think I’m done and I get a request for a full. I think I’m done and an agent says she’d like me to sign a contract. I think I’m done and my local publisher says they want another book. I think I’m done and SOMETHING happens to keep me in the game. Something happens that makes it impossible for me to walk away. And I finally realized that, like Madeleine, the stories won’t leave me alone just because I walk away from the computer. They’ll still be there, waiting for me to write them.

And *what if* the day you decide to quit, what if THAT day is like Jessica’s day—where there is only one more step to take to make it to the finish line?

You know you're good enough to compete, you've worked your manuscript, you've taken the pains and efforts to really learn how to write, you know you're good enough to play in the big sandbox called the national market. You just have to take one more step.

Well? What are you waiting for?

If anyone else has darkest before the dawn stories, feel free to leave them in the comments. We'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Pitching a Winner!

A popular post from February 2010.

By Josi S. Kilpack

You've written your book, you've revised it, and you've let your friends read it while chewing your fingernails to the quick. You then took their suggestions and made your book even better and realized it was time to face the facts--you are running out of excuses not to seek publication. You thought writing the book was intimidating--now it's time to send it out to the world and hope it finds a home with a publisher who will love it as much as you do. It's time to learn your market, it's time to query, and for many writers it's time to meet an agent face to face and pitch your book.  **FYI, if what you sign up for is a "Review," meaning you submitted your actual writing prior to the meeting,  all of the following information still applies.

So, what is a pitch exactly? And how can you use the time as efficiently as possible?

First, A pitch is basically a face to face meeting with an agent/editor who MIGHT want to read more. It's a powerful opportunity, but in order for it to be of greatest benefit to you, you need to look at it from all perspectives:

1--Author Development: We are writers, that means we love words, but we usually prefer them on a page. I'm convinced that one of the reasons I started to write was because I couldn't revise things I said out loud. In a book, I can sound like a genius and always say the right thing...not so much in real life. Still, if you want to become a published author you need to be able to talk about yourself and your book. Sitting across from a real live agent/editor forces you to do this. Practicing what you'll say before you sit across from said agent/editor (hereafter referred to as "agent' because I'm getting annoyed with agent/editor)  will help you do this well. If you're intimidated, remember that when you do get published, you're going to be put on the spot all the time to talk about your book--the days of the eccentric author hiding in the woods ended the day the Unibomber was arrested.

2--Name recognition: Getting a face to face with an agent/editor is your chance to rise out of the slush pile. IF they request your book, you can remind them that you met them at such-and-such conference. Agents receive thousands and thousands of queries, and request hundreds of partials, but you met them, they then have a connection and that sets you apart.

3--Knowing the agent: When an writer sits down to start researching agents it's an overwhelming prospect trying to find an agent that might be a good fit for your book. At any given time there are likely dozens of agents who could be the one--but a pitch gives you the excuse to study up on a particular agent. Learn about their clients, their history, the company they work for. Learn their submission guidelines, find out which publishing houses they seem to have a good relationship with, and learn about the books they've placed. You likely don't have the time to do this type of research for every agent you'll query, but it's worth your time to really dig into this one. The process will also benefit you if you need to research agents in the future because you'll know best how to go about it.

4--Insider info: Agents eat, breathe, and sleep books. They know what sells and what doesn't sell. They know what imprints are the best fit for certain genres. They know what's hot, they know what was hot 6 months ago, and even if they aren't interested in your book, they will know who might be. Sitting across from them is like having the chance to discuss reduction sauces with Julie Child or Chimpanzees with Jane Goodall--they are experts and their industry knowledge is priceless. I think this is the area of a pitch most writers don't take advantage of the way they should. They are so eager to convince the agent their book is great (not that it isn't) they forget to listen to what the agent has to say. Not every author who meets with an agent is going to get their book requested, but every single one of them has the chance to learn details of their market they might never learn otherwise. Because of this, having questions you want to ask will ensure you will leave the pitch smarter than you went in.

A couple other tips:

1-Be respectful to their time and their status. These are industry professionals. Even if they say something you don't necessarily agree with, arguing is not going to reflect well on you.
2-Be Prepared. Know how to verbalize your book and your long term writing goals, come with questions you want answers to, and know the agent your meeting with.
3-Play nice. Don't defame other authors, books, or agents. Writers quick to put down someone else are often attempting to make themselves look better in the process, and that's rarely the result. You don't need to make someone else look small in order to make yourself look good.
4-Have realistic expectations. Every writer wants to submit to the agent they pitch to, but the fact is agents request less than 10%. Usually it's because the book isn't ready or they know they're not the best fit. Because of those two things, you shouldn't feel offended or hurt if they don't want to read more. Please, please, please view your pitch as an opportunity, not a guarantee.
5-Evaluate. After the pitch is over, evaluate how it went. Did you say what you wanted to say the way you wanted to say it? Could you have done better? Did you learn any tidbits of information that could improve your book or your agent focus or your next pitch?
6-Deliver. If you were lucky enough to have your book requested, be sure to submit it quickly, when the memory of your meeting is fresh in the agent's mind. Most agents will not take submissions at the conference--they don't want to haul manuscripts back home with them, so find out how best to send it to them and then follow their instructions to the letter.

It's an exciting opportunity to meet with people who have made bestsellers out of a writer who was once just like you--use your time wisely and take full advantage of the information available.

Here are some additional links for information on how to pitch:

Julie Wright's blog Post The Perfect Pitch
Nathan Bransford's Post How to Maximize Pitch Sessions
LDStorymakers 2010 Agent/Editor Information

Monday, August 15, 2016

Close vs. Distant POV

A popular post from March 2010. 

by Annette Lyon

It's come to my attention that in all our posts about point of view, that we've never covered the concept of close third person versus distant third person.

Time to remedy the oversight!

Most contemporary fiction written in third person (he said this; she did that) is written in a pretty close point of view. It's probably what you're used to reading. For that matter, if you look at the Writing on the Wall archives, close third and first person are the two points of view that generally apply.

But what is close third?

To start defining the term, let's first describe distant third person.

Distant Third Person
Point of view, of course, is the lens through which the writer (or the narrator voice) tells the story. For a moment, think of that lens as a movie camera standing back from the action but hanging in the air over a character's head.

The camera captures what the POV character sees, and perhaps what the POV character hears. However, for the most part, the narrative is separate and apart from the character and what he or she is feeling or experiencing. It's objective, not making interpretations.

The camera can certainly show an amazing fight sequence. We won't be privy to the POV character's thoughts, feelings, and so forth about it, but we'll see a great movie in our heads.

It's almost like a journalist reporting the events in vivid detail, sitting perched on that camera.

The camera can get more distant, pulling back to the point that we can't even tell much about the POV character at all, or it can get a bit closer, perhaps letting us in on gestures and other behaviors.

But there's always a barrier; the reader stays outside the POV character's head.

Close Third Person
Just as with distant third, close third has degrees of closeness. A very close (or tight) third person POV will be so entrenched in the POV character's head that the reader knows their every thought, feeling, smell, taste, sound, touch, reaction, facial expression, motivation, and more.

A slightly less tight POV will show emotions and senses, but might not get so tightly ingrained in the character's psyche. Again, it's a matter of degrees. Just how close are you to the character, emotionally, psychologically, and otherwise?

In a sense, all variations of third person are about degrees of closeness, and the same book could have varying degrees.

For example, an opening paragraph of a chapter could be very distant as the reader is introduced to a location, say a snowy mountain scape. Then the "camera" pans closer to the POV character huddled a cave trying to stay warm. The closer we get, the more we know about what that character is thinking, feeling, doing, planning.

Some people argue that if you're going for an extremely tight third person, then you might as well be writing in first person, since that POV is just as tight, if not tighter. (If the character is telling the story, you're totally in their head, right?)

The problem with that argument is that a story in first person has limitations of its own, among them this biggie: your first person POV character must be present in every single scene, and you can never, ever, show anything from anyone else's POV.

That said, first person is a popular POV, and many fantastic books have been written in it. Just be certain it's the right one for your story before you commit to it. (Rewriting a book with a new POV is as big a task as writing an entirely new book. Trust me on this one; been there, done that.)

Ask yourself whether your book would be stronger if you could show a scene from another POV, such as the antagonist's, a parent's, or a friend's.

If so, opt for a tight third instead of first. That way, you get most of the benefits of first person (you're right in their head) without the restrictions.

Another caveat:
Don't cheat with first person. Readers will be seriously annoyed if something the POV character knows isn't revealed to them as well. After all, they're in the POV character's head, so they should know everything that character does.

Some rules of thumb with point of view:
  • Don't have too many POV characters per book. A common number is between two and five. Some genres lean toward fewer POVs (such as romance), while others can handle more (such as epic fantasy). Know your genre and its expectations. Avoid too many if you can, simply because keeping track of them and readjusting to a new POV can be taxing on the reader.
  • Maintain ONE point of view per scene. Don't be tightly in Jane's head and then flip to a John's head (tight or otherwise) mid-scene. That's disorienting and unnerving to the reader, who is trying to keep track of who is thinking and feeling what, and exactly which lens to interpret the story through.
  • Separate point of view shifts with scene shifts (and visual markers like asterisks) and/or chapter breaks.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Is Self-Publishing for You?

A popular post from March 2010. 

by Heather Moore

I invited Sarah Eden to share her journey of deciding to self-publish nine novels and her recent decision to go with a traditional publisher.

Her first book launch for her “traditionally published” book will be on Friday, March 12 at the Deseret Book in Orem, Utah, 6:00–8:00 p.m., 1076 S. 750 E. (Along with two other authors, our own Annette Lyon, and Julie Bellon)

Thanks, Sarah!


In the words of the immortal William Shakespeare, “The course of getting published never did run smooth.” I may have paraphrased a little.

Ask any serious writer about getting published and the reaction you get will invariably go something like this: "Well...” (Shudders/cringes/twitches) “It's tough. I get a lot of...” (muscles back a groan/sob/word-the-author's-mother-would-blush-to-hear) “rejections.” (a tell-tale muscle tic begins somewhere on author's face)

This is a brutal industry. I'm twitching just writing about it.

I write “sweet” historical romance. The sweet part has a double meaning: suh-weet, as in insurmountably cool and sweet, as in not smutty. Believe it or not, the second kind of sweetness got in the way of the first kind of sweetness during my course toward publication.

A few years back I jumped feet first into the shark-infested waters of the national romance market. The responses I received began to blur together. “I love your writing. Your characters are enjoyable. Your plot is intriguing, etc., etc., etc.” Sounds great, right? Not entirely. After these encouraging evaluations came the same phrase: “but I don't represent/am not interested in 'sweet' romances.” Trying to get published began to feel a lot like exercise—no matter how hard I tried I was always left with a big but.

After finishing off my third carton of self-medicating ice cream in as many days, I began investigating the black sheep of the book industry: Self-publishing.

I discovered some very interesting things.

*Self-publishing comes in 3 basic flavors: traditional, print-on-demand and the vanity press

*Traditional: Author takes manuscript to a printer, negotiates the price to have a set number of books printed, takes books home to store in garage and sell via website/appearances/the occasional negotiation with a bookstore

* Print-on-demand: Author formats manuscript according to POD company's specifications, a price-per-book is determined based on book measurements & length, books are printed by company when a purchase is made, book is shipped to customer

*Vanity press: “publishing” company agrees to publish author's book if author provides a portion of the publishing cost

*Self-published authors don't get a lot of props from the industry at large. “Wannabe,” “not a real author,” “not talented enough to get published 'for real'” are among the nicer things I've heard.

* Self-publishing is not a good way to earn money as an author. The profit margin is exceptionally small and a self-published author doesn't sell a lot of books.

Over the next three years, I self-published nine titles using POD self-publishing. I chose CreateSpace, the print-on-demand arm of Amazon. I sold books on Amazon and at writer's conferences, but otherwise had very little exposure—a common problem for a self-published author.

For me, self-publishing was always a step in the journey and never the final destination. With each book I put out, I hoped that it would somehow find its way into the hands of someone who could help me find a publisher who was interested in the kind of book I wrote.

My novel, Seeking Persephone, was a finalist for a 2008 Whitney Award—one of the few competitions that allows self-published works. As a result of this bit of good fortune, I met a fellow-writer (you know who you are) who suggested I give a certain small press a try that was known for publishing books with my brand of sweetness.

The rest, as they say, is history. Looking back on this journey, I realize I've collected a few nuggets of wisdom that just might guide an author thinking of trying their hand at self-publishing.

* Have realistic expectations. Most self-published authors will barely break even.

* Believe in yourself and your work. Self-published authors enter the industry at a disadvantage—they are disregarded, overlooked and, at times, never given a chance to prove themselves. If you are willing to put your work out there and endure the ups and downs, some amazing things can happen.

* Do your homework. Find out what you need from a self-publisher in terms of budget, product, an ISBN, an online purchasing option, etc. Choose the self-publishing method and company that fits your needs best.

* Keep an open mind. Perhaps self-publishing will prove ideal for you and your book. Perhaps it is only part of the journey. Know what your goals are and work toward them.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Satisfaction in Self Editing

A popular post from March 2010. 

By Julie Wright

Many years ago, I met Carole Thayne Warburton. It was her first book signing and she was the author scheduled to sign after me at the bookstore. She seemed shy and nervous, so I stayed a little while longer and chatted with her. She was wonderful and I was glad to get to know her. She told me a little story about her path to publication. She'd spent a long time in the editorial process. Her editor kept sending back her manuscript and saying, "Good, but now we need this changed . . ."

I'm sure my eyes were huge and I felt angry on her behalf. And I asked her, "Weren't you furious having to rewrite that many times?"

Her response has stayed with me and kept me company on many a long night of editing: "I was at first. But every time they sent it back to me, I took it as a challenge to make the manuscript better. And now I know the finished product is as good as it can be."

Carole taught me the most valuable lesson I've ever learned in my writing career. She took it as a challenge to make it better. She didn't sit down and start rocking back and forth while wailing. She stepped up and faced the challenge directly. She may have inadvertently saved me from myself. Because not too long after that, I encountered a very bumpy publishing road.

Without her words echoing in my brain, I would have quit writing. I would have cast aside my pen and declared the venture not worth it. But by her calling it a challenge she had to meet, I recognized that bumpy road for what it was--a challenge. And who turns their back on the opportunity to make their manuscript better?

Certainly not me.

Today I am editing my own book so I can send it off to my agent. I've received edits back from editors I trust and decided to dive in. And already--the manuscript is better. Already the scenes are more clear, motivations are solidified, and characters are nailed firmly in place. It usually takes me a week after getting edits before I can be objective. My natural response is to want to defend my writing. But then I grumble, settle myself into my chair, and start fixing.

And it feels good to fix, to adjust, to clarify--to know that the things I am fixing now will not come back to haunt me in reviews on Goodreads later.

You are not obligated to do everything an editor tells you to do, suggestions remain merely suggestions, and sometimes editors are wrong (I know I am on occasion). There a million right ways to tell a story, and just because an editor gives you one path to follow doesn't mean it's the only path.

But you should take satisfaction in your opportunities to self edit down whichever path you choose, because each thing you fix makes the manuscript that much more worthy for publication. Then you can sit at your book signing, like Carole, and know the book in front of you is as shiny and polished as it can possibly be.

Monday, August 8, 2016

How not to use Adjectives

A popular post from March 2010. 

by Josi S. Kilpack

We all know that adjectives are words that modify a noun, right? Beyond that there don't seem to be too many rules about how to use them, or so we think. Imagine, however, reading a book with the following description:

The moon was so beautiful tonight, lighting up the fragrant, wet, green foliage so that it practically glowed, casting a bright, white, translucent shadow across all the crisp, straight lines surrounding me as I stood within the wonderful woods I have always loved.

Let's not get into how lame this sentence is overall, lets just focus on the adjectives--the modifiers used in this one horribly run on sentence. There are two basic types of adjectives, broad and specific--this sentance uses both.

Broad: beautiful, wonderful
Specific: wet, green, bright, white, translucent, crisp, straight

Broad means that the definition is, well, broad. Beautiful can relate to so many things and is very subjective; what I think is beautiful might not be beautiful to you. Same with wonderful, pleasant, dumb, awful and other modifiers that have such a large range of use, that it really doesn't define a noun all that well. Because of their ambiguous nature, they 'tell' rather than show. They work well in dialogue, but when broad adjectives are used too often in the actual narrative of the story, it comes across as poor writing, showing the author's lack of vocabulary. The reader easily disconnects with the story because broad adjectives tend to keep them at a distance, not allowing them to hone in on the details of the story.

Specific means that the definition is, well, specific (I know, I'm so helpful). When I say 'wet paint' you understand what I mean, there is nothing broad about that word and it 'shows' what I'm trying to say. Typically a specific adjective is better than a broad one because the reader can better determine exactly what you mean. However, too many of ANY kind of adjective comes across as clumsy and descriptive overkill. "...a bright, white, translucent shadow" is too much and makes it look as though I don't know the right word, so I'm using all of them. It's relatively rare to need more than one adjective when modifying anything.

Mark Twain had this to say:

When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them - then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.

Back to my lame sentence--do we need, bright, white, or translucent when we already said the moon glowed? Do we need crisp and straight to describe the lines? Do we need to be told the moon is beautiful when we're describing the glow? Can we get a sense of how wonderful the woods are without saying they're wonderful? Most of the time, we can. For instance:

The moon lit up the foliage so that it practically glowed, casting a translucent shadow across the lines surrounding me as I stood within the woods I have always loved.

Still a relatively lame sentence, but with only one of the adjectives used in the original. Whenever you go to modify a noun, make sure it needs to be modified. If it does, work hard to get the best word to do the work.

A few other tips:

  • Get a Thesaurus and use it
  • Beware of using words that are too obscure
  • Pay attention to words already pre-modified, like Mountain (we know it's big, large, huge), ant (we know it's small, tiny), Tree (we know it's green), Flower (we know it's fragrant and beautiful)
  • Whenever tempted to use more than one adjective, look harder to find one adjective that says both things
In the case of adjectives, less really is more, so choose wisely.

Friday, August 5, 2016

When Present Tense Works

A popular post from March 2010.

by Annette Lyon

Some time ago, I ranted about many aspiring writers I'd recently come across who insisted on using first person, present tense in their work. More specifically, I ranted about how it's not that great of an idea to do unless:

A) you know how to handle all the other aspects of writing a good story


B) you know why you're using present tense instead of regular past. (Why and how will present tense make the story stronger?)

Since I recently came across a great book that uses first person present, I'm thinking it's time to revisit the topic and show why it worked in that book.

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams is a young adult novel about thirteen-year-old Kyra, who lives in a polygamist compound and is promised to her 60-year-old uncle as his seventh wife. It's a complex, rich story, and it's told with Kyra's voice in present tense, as if it's happening right now.

One thing that present tense has going for in this book is that it provides a solid way to flash back to intense, important moments from the past.

When the rest of the story is happening NOW, we get a clear cue as to when we're in a flashback by the simple use of past tense. One moment Kyra IS DOING THIS, and the next, we're remembers that SUCH AND SUCH HAPPENED.

There's no need to transition with past perfect (I had gone, he had said) to alert the reader that we're going into or out of a flashback.

In many of the cases I ranted about, the beginning writers were relying on flashbacks in a bad way; it was often a clue that they were either starting in the wrong place or including information the reader didn't really need.

In the case of The Chosen One, we need all that information. And starting earlier and showing those scenes in real time would have weakened the impact of those scenes, because they're shown in an important sequence and as Kyra herself is reflecting on them and how they impact her next moves and decisions.

Big caveat here: Flashbacks are much like present tense: HANDLE WITH CARE.

Sloppy writers rely on lots of flashbacks to explain back story and provide exposition. If you're flashing back too often (or even in the first chapter), stand back to see if you're starting in the wrong place or whether that back story is really necessary to the whole. You might be able to cut it altogether.

As my previous rant (ahem . . post) warned, be careful about maintaining your tenses. Since we're all most familiar with regular past tense, it's all to easy to slide into past tense when you don't mean it to be a flashback. It's equally easy to revert to present tense in what should be a past-tense flashback. You'll need eagle eyes during revision to make sure you're consistent.

First-person present can be done well, and The Chosen One is a great example of that. (Another is Good Grief, by Lolli Winston.) But don't choose it willy-nilly.

Know why it will strengthen your story (or will it?) and how to do it well. If you're still trying to learn the basics of writing (dialogue, characterization, plotting, and so much more), stick with past tense for now.

It was plenty good for just about all the old greats in the literary cannon; it's good enough for you, too.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Tips From an Agent...With my two Cents

A popular post from March 2010.

By Josi S. Kilpack

I was not familiar with Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary until I followed a link to his blog this morning where he listed a "Laundry List" of 30 tips for writers. I found myself nodding and nodding over the points he made and since I couldn't come up with a blog topic of my own, I'm shamelessly borrowing a few of his points I'd like to expand on. Feel free to check out the whole list, however, at his blog at

10. Understand what makes superb writing (great themes, the deep questions, wrestling with morality, decision making, choices that may not be correct)

 There are a lot of great books out there, and there are a lot of mediocre books and there is a great deal of poorly written fiction. As I read the elements Chip listed here I was impressed with how he honed in on those points that really do make a book 'impactful' to me. Now, not every book is written to change lives, but by having these types of elements in your story you can make even an 'entertaining' read an edifying one. Think about your favorite books; the ones you bought copies of even though you initially checked them out from the library. The ones you read ten years ago but still find yourself thinking about. What made them great? Can you break it down? Can you hone in on what it was that captured your attention? Take that piece, that little filigree of greatness and hold it up against your book. Can you do the same thing within the world you are creating on paper? 

28. Politeness counts (express appreciation to others -- success should be matched by grace)

When someone makes a difference, be sure they know that. Whether it's a blogger who reviewed your book or a friend who gave you feedback, or a newspaper editor that ran an announcement for your upcoming event. I love how he said "Success should be matched by grace" therefore as your career grows, you should be more and more gracious to those who played a part in that growth. I once set a goal for myself to write one thank you card a week--whether it was to the 14 year old who obviously worked hard on the two minute talk she gave at church, or the person who just spent 20 hours editing my manuscript. I kept it up for awhile but after reading this I think I need to move it higher up on my priority list. I love getting validation that the time I spent helping someone else was appreciated--and I notice when I have made a sacrifice that has gone unnoticed. Each time someone thanks me for something I've done, big or small, it encourages me to do it again, as opposed to thanklessness which makes me pull into myself, not wanting to take the time or risk the exposure of helping someone along. I was really glad he included this as it's one I definitely need to put some focus into. It reminded me of the parable of the ten lepers, only one came back--I want to be that one who goes back and expresses gratitude.

30. Keep perspective on your life and work (publishing doesn't make you smart or pretty or holy; getting your name in print doesn't validate your life)

I'm the last one to say that getting published isn't a BIG deal, it is. If it weren't, then it wouldn't be worth pursuing. But Chip is exactly right in that it doesn't make up for what you might be lacking in other ways. Publishing hasn't made me more spiritual--but it has helped me tap into the 'plan' I believe I was sent here to fulfill. It hasn't made me a better mother--in fact it has made me a worse one at times when I've let it overwhelm my family time. It hasn't made me a better friend or neighbor or wife either. The success I have in literature, does not fill up the voids I have in other areas of my life. While writing is definitely worthy of your time, never do it at the expense of the other people in your life, the other areas of development you need. There are, of course, times when other things needs to sacrifice for writing, but those should be infrequent and when they pass you should try to make up for the effect left on the other things you put aside. I have had many, many times when I have lost this perspective and the memory of those moments is painful for me to look at. As you move forward, do what you need to do to keep your perspective. Setting a regular time to evaluate how you are spending your time can be helpful--maybe once a month. Getting to know other writers and how they balance their lives can help you see how their tricks might apply to your life. Set realistic goals and make sure that YOU are the person making the biggest sacrifices to acheive them. Don't sacrifice everything that matters to you personally, but if it means giving up your Bunco night for writing time, or not getting your nails done so that you're not paying for postage on your 150 queries from the grocery money, do those things that in the long run preserve your family and keeps your priorities straight. Someone once told me that perception IS your reality. I might not think that my writing is more important than my children, but if they see me chatting on facebook more than chatting with them, what is their perception? What is their reality?

There were many more excellent points on Chip's blog and I encourage you to read through them and find one or two you can bless your writing, and your life, with.

Happy writing!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Managing Social Media

A popular post from April 2010

By Josi S. Kilpack

Some people love it, some people hate it, but everyone can agree that when it comes to marketing and connecting with people, Social Media is a powerful tool. But how do you keep it managable and not end up spending all your writing time trying to keep up? I have a few tricks that work for me, but would love your suggestions as well. This post is not a "How to" or a "Why you should" it's simply a "How to use your time wisely." I am also not technical by any stretch, each of these things I have learned from someone else and have eventually become comfortable with it.

1--Schedule blogs. I have found it very helpful to set up specific times to post my blog. I know many people blog daily or multiple times a week. I have been unable to keep up with this both due to time and to content--I'm just not that clever. But I like to put my thoughts down. Fridays are a good day for me, but I rarely write anything on Friday. Instead, I write sometime during the week and schedule the blog through the 'post options' link at the bottom of my blog post. I assume other blogging programs have the same option. If I for some reason have a lot of ideas, I write several posts but schedule them to post on Fridays so that if I end up brain dead three weeks from now, I'm covered. I can always go in and change the posting times if I want to but at least I know the content is there. I am working on setting aside a specific time to write blogs during the week but so far haven't found that extra hour so I just take the time when I can.

2--Management programs. The one I use is Tweetdeck, but there are several others. Since I'm only familiar with Tweetdeck, however, it's the only one I can relate experience for. What Tweetdeck does is combine social media like Twitter, My Space, Facebook, etc. You basically have Tweetdeck sign you in to all those programs and it keeps a column for each one. It opens a window that hangs out behind everything else I'm working on and I get alerts when people update their statuses, send me a message etc. I don't have to log into Twitter through a browser window or keep facebook up--they are always open unless I close Tweetdeck. When I first downloaded the program I was overwhelmed and felt sure I would hate it. I made myself use it through the weekend and fell in love. I'm often the first person who posts on someones update because I spend a lot of time on the computer and I get updated immediately. I can pop over, post a comment, and get back to work in mere seconds. You can get more info at TWEETDECK and if you want more information on some of the other programs as well as Twitter info check out Jaime Theler's blog, BOOKMOM'S MUSINGS she's a twitter pro, but uses small words.

3--Linking media. I have my twitter linked to facebook so if I post to twitter it automatically posts to facebook. I can text from my phone to twitter too, which, again, posts to facebook. I also linked my blog so that it automatically posts to my twitter... which posts to my facebook. I know it sounds all technical, but it really isn't. As to how to do these things, I went to google and typed in what I wanted to do and someone far smarter than myself told me how to do it. Saves me a lot of time. Additionally, in Tweetdeck I can choose if I want to just post to facebook. Twitter is limited to 140 spaces so if I want to say something longer, I can choose just facebook for that update and twitter isn't affected. I can also google how to undo this if I want to. In regard to blogging you can also set up your blog so that you can write it as an e-mail and send it to your 'blog' e-mail address and have it post automatically.

4--Google Reader. Google Reader is web based, so you have to have a browser window open, however what it allows you to do is 'follow' blogs without having to go to them individually. It keeps a 'roll' of all the blogs you follow and you can scroll through them at leisure. If there's one you want to comment on you click on it and it takes you right there. Very handy way to keep and eye on blogs. Granted I haven't logged in for about 3 months so I probably have 2,000 blog posts but you can click on 'mark all as read' and you get back to zero. I can't imagine following blogs any other way--it really brings it all to a 'glance'.

5--Delicious. Delicious is a kind of online bookmark. Similar to the 'bookmark' option on your toolbar it allows you to enter websites into 'folders'. Then you simply put it in your toolbar and it acts as a drop down menu, allowing you to quickly go to some of your favorite sites. I use it for banking, online shopping, and social media sites so that I can get to them fast. The other benefit is that it's online, so if your on a different computer, you can log in and have your favorite sites at your fingertips. You can find out more about it at their WEBSITE

6--E-mail folders. This is elementary for some people, but many people don't realize how to best utilize this feature of their e-mail program. I have about 40 files in my e-mail and recieve well over 200 e-mails a day. I set up 'rules' that sends e-mails to their folder. for instance I have a folder for "Blogger" anytime an e-mail comes through that says 'blogger' in the 'from' field, it goes to my blogger folder. I belong to about 18 yahoo groups, each of them have their own 'folder' and rule so that they also go directly to the right place. I might not have time to read all my e-mail, but I can check in on specific folders that might have more pressing information than others. Take a little time to poke around, consider making some of your folders into sub-folders of a larger one (such as I have GROUPS, which all my yahoo groups fall underneath) and really streamline your e-mail. Consider setting up an e-mail for "Facebook" and one for "Registration Information". You'll not only get things organized, but you'll save yourself a lot of time when you go looking for something specific.

So these are my tricks, what are yours?