Sunday, June 28, 2015

Setting: It's Not Just Background

Winter Landscape, Photo by Linda Wilson

Creating a setting for your story is easy, right? According to Taylor, a member of the Men with Pens team, in his article, "Special Fiction Writing Week: Creating a Setting," creating a setting is easier than creating a character. I agree. But, giving your setting authenticity and weaving it into the action through insights of your POV character requires special consideration.

The setting helps make your character come alive. Mere description won't achieve this. According to the article, "Author's Craft--Narrative Elements: Setting," on the Universal Design for Learning website, "Setting is not just factual information, but an essential part of a story's mood and emotional input. Careful portrayal of setting can convey meaning through interaction with the characters and the plot."

What is the mood of your story? Romantic? Mysterious? Humorous? Your opening needs to establish what type of story it is and stick with the mood throughout the book. Your reader will then be prepared to laugh, cry, seek adventure, etc., and will be emotionally engaged to continue reading. In her book, Writing for Children & Teenagers, Lee Wyndam writes "All story effects must be preplanned for that overall effect you want. Nothing can be left to chance, not even the weather."

Three Types of Setting
  • A Real Setting: The setting is in a place that can be found on a map, with the buildings, streets, stores, etc. intact. The time is close to the present. The best part is that nothing has to be made up. The tricky part is that you must be accurate. Taylor suggests picking a place you know well, especially if you've actually lived there awhile.
  • A Setting Created from the Real World: The setting is made up but fashioned from the real world. A Bed & Breakfast is the setting for one of my stories, a place down the street from where I lived for five years. My first visit there actually gave me the idea for my book. After moving away I stayed there during a visit while working on my book in order to experience it. Yet despite the area's familiarity, I still researched the kinds of trees, plants, wildlife, weather, etc., to make the setting as accurate as possible.
  • A Fantasy Setting: The creation of a make-believe world is not simply imagining how it looks and feels. It also needs to have a history. The danger with this type of setting is to be careful not to get lost in this new world you've created, but to stick to your plot and how your characters relate to their world.
Creating a Setting that Works
Utmost is creating a setting so vivid that your readers feel immersed in it. At the beginning of each chapter, provide brief information of the time and place to help ground your reader; use descriptive language, invoke the senses and any other sensations you can think of.

In the following excerpt from The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, Cormier reveals a great deal about his character Jerry's present situation with Jerry's observations of his surroundings:

Out at the bus stop, Jerry leaned against a telephone pole, body weary, echoing the assault of the football practices. For three days his body had absorbed punishment. But he was still on the roster, luckily. Idly, he watched the people in the Common across the street. He saw them every day. They were not part of the scenery like the Civil War Cannon and the World War Monuments, the flagpole. Hippies. Flower Children. Street People. Drifters. Drop-Outs.. . . [He]  . . . sometimes envied their old clothes, their sloppiness, the way they didn't seem to give a damn about anything. Trinity was one of the last schools to retain a dress code--shirt and tie. He watched a cloud of smoke swirl around a girl in a floppy hat. Grass? He didn't know. A lot of things he didn't know.

In one paragraph, the reader learns that Jerry:
  • Goes to high school and is a football player.
  • Is sore from three days of practice, implying that football season just started, a subtle way to place the story in early fall.
  • Feels like a marginal player on the team, feeling lucky that he's still made the roster.
  • Recognizes traits in the people he observes in the Common, contrasts them with people the war memorials there represent, but is impressed that these people don't have to follow a dress code like he does. But, he recognizes that he has a lot to learn.
Self-Check
While creating your setting ask yourself  these questions:
  • Where is it?   At the bus stop near a park.
  • When is it?    After school.
  • What is the weather like?  Probably a warm day in the fall.
  • What are the social conditions?  Jerry wishes he could be as carefree as the "hippies" he observes lounging in the Common, but he has to wear a uniform to school. He's never smoked pot before.
  • What is the landscape or environment like? His bus most likely picks him up from the center of town. 
  • What special details make the setting vivid? The names hippies, flower children, street people drifters, all conjure up a picture of what these people look like. The park holds war memorials, which show a well organized and thoughtful town. Pot smoking contrasts with Jerry, who seems straight-laced in his school uniform, and how different the street people are from the people who fought in the wars.     
                                                                                                                        
More Tips on Creating Setting
  • Wherever you go, take "setting notes." Note unusual details, how each of your senses is affected, and "record textures and small 'markers.'" (Jan Fields, my first writing instructor during a short story course at the Institute of Children's Literature, W. Redding, Connecticut.)
  • Setting can include geographical location, historical era, social conditions, weather, immediate surroundings and time of day. Often an overall setting is established in the beginning of a novel and then within it, scenes occur in different specific places (at the inn itself, at Abi's new friend's house). (Taylor from the Men with Pens article mentions J.R.R. Tolkien's and Ursula LeGuin's novels, such as A Wizard of Earthsea, as masters of "making up whole new worlds.")
  • At https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fictional_towns_and_villages there is a terrific list of fictional towns, villages and cities, separated by categories such as comics, films, television, etc.
  • In a Children's Writer article by Veda Boyd Jones, Christopher Paul Curtis's Newbery Medal Award winner, Bud, Not Buddy, is mentioned because Jones uses this book as an example: "What makes a setting work is its full development." Jones also discusses the importance of the fictional name of a place, and points out author Vicki Grove's novel, The Starplace. "The place Grove created, Quiver, Oklahoma, is not real. The name, meant to be literal and ironic, is also a function of setting. Quiver is an Indian word and a description of some of the fear-ruled people in the town."
  • A helpful article, "The Fundamental Elements of Setting," can be found at http://www.writersdigest.com/tip-of-the-day/discover-the-basic-elements-of-setting-in-a-story, by Courtney Carpenter.
Setting can not only be a subtle way to bring out your character's personality and motives, it can also be challenging and fun to create. The part I enjoy the most is immersing myself in places I love even after I've left, and learning things about them that I didn't know while living or visiting there. Your love of "place" will shine through, too, and can be an effective way to make your character come alive.

Sources: http://menwithpens.ca/fiction-writing-creating-a-setting; http://udleditions.cast.org/craft_elm_setting.html. Please note that the self-check idea came from this UDL article.


Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 40 articles for adults and children and six short stories for children. Recently she completed Joyce Sweeney's online fiction and picture book courses. She is currently working on several projects for children. Follow Linda on  Facebook.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Preserving the Old in a Digital World

Reblogged from Monday, May 27, 2013


The sophistication of our technological world has caught me between a rock and a hard place.

Who doesn't love the ease of the digital world?  Building a freelance writing career is a click away. The ease of networking with other writers provides a myriad of information, mentoring, and visibility. Contacting publishers and editors is instant with email. Blogs, social sites, and online courses abound. Uploading your manuscript is almost as easy as 1-2-3 and all over the world people are reading your book with the convenience of their e-reader.

While these advancements are certainly a plus, it makes me wonder what could be lost. Will the printed book be a thing of the past? Will there be a generation who will never experience taking in the earthy smell of a library, perusing its shelves, and soaking in the solitude? Will sharing ideas and critiques over coffee be replaced with online meetings? 

Sounds unlikely but the more we rely on the digital world, the less we give attention to some tried and true old-fashioned ways.

 
Photo credit: Kamil PorembiƄski / Foter / CC BY-SA


Maryanne Wolf, developmental psychologist and cognitive scientist of Tufts University states: "There is physicality in reading, maybe even more than we want to think about as we lurch into digital reading—as we move forward perhaps with too little reflection. I would like to preserve the absolute best of older forms, but know when to use the new."

It's possible we could be losing more than just the memory of the good old days. 

When it comes to pen and paper, studies have shown there is more to it than we think. According to the 
WallStreet Journal, "Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, says handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key. She says pictures of the brain have illustrated that sequential finger movements activated massive regions involved in thinking, language and working memory—the system for temporarily storing and managing information."
Photo credit: kpwerker / Foter / CC BY-SA
So, how do we preserve the old in a digital world?
  • Print it. For several years I had a personal blog. I took the time to print and compile the pagesI wanted a history for my children and grandchildren to read someday. Computers crash. Journals, letters, and books are forever.
  • Write longhand. Try writing your manuscript longhand and see if you feel a difference. Write a letter now and then. Finding a box of old, hand-written letters tucked away in an attic is a treasure! I recently read a letter from my grandmother written 40 years ago. I found myself studying her handwriting and remembering her in ways a computer font would not do. 
  • Go to the library. There is something special about a library. It offers an aesthetic experience and a respite from the busy world. If  you have children or grandchildren, by all means take them! But don't you forget to go there, too.
The new way we read, write, and communicate is fascinating. But we must wisely find ways to preserve our heritage. It's helped make us who we are today and we cannot lose it.

~~~




Kathleen Moulton is a freelance writer.  You can find her passion to bring encouragement and hope to people of all ages at When It Hurts -http://kathleenmoulton.com/


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Understanding The Connection Between Writing And Research

Guest post by Lesley Vos

To many people, the term “research” seems intimidating, scientific, time-consuming and all together a big, pointless headache. However, research is an essential part of the writing process.

What is research?

Research is the systematic investigation of a particular topic. It involves the study of various materials and sources. The ultimate purpose of research is to unearth facts, reach new conclusions, and revise preconceived notions.

Being a writer or a blogger, you need to understand the connection between research and writing process itself, as it's impossible to create any outstanding and really awesome writings without facts behind them.

Let’s take the definition of research and break it down into three important parts.

1. Systematic investigation

When writers engage in research, there must be some method to the madness. The process must be systematic, organized, and logical.

This is especially important when it comes to citation. All research must be properly cited. This helps prevent accusations of plagiarism. It also lends a much needed element of credibility. Without proper organization throughout the research process, citations will be difficult to come by.

2. Materials and sources study

The research process involves the use of various materials and sources. These sources could be:

•    Professional journals
•    Magazines
•    Newspapers
•    Books
•    Websites
•    TV
•    Radio
•    Podcasts

One of the most important aspects of research is credibility. It should be noted that not all sources are created equally. Writers won’t be able to establish credibility if the source isn’t reliable. Peer reviewed professional journals, for example, are more reliable than a personal blog.

This portion of the research definition is probably the one that provokes the most phobic reaction. Writers dread the prospect of pouring over dusty books in a dark, dank portion of the library hoping to unearth a nugget of valuable information.

Fortunately, not all research requires such methods—or even printed materials. Research comes in various forms. For example, it might include personal observations. Sitting on a park bench, “people watching,” might provide the information you need.

The research a fiction writer embarks on might simply be market research. What do fans in this genre want to read?

3. Taking facts, reaching new conclusions, revising preconceived notions

Research does not simply involve gathering information. It also involves analysis and interpretation. The information must be constructed into meaning. Facts alone won’t make a logical argument.

For example, it is a fact that each Major League Baseball team plays 162 games in roughly 180 days. But if the writer doesn’t interpret those facts into relevant supporting date, it means nothing.

Does the writer want to express the idea that each team will need a variety of pitchers to survive such a grueling schedule? Does the writer want to point out that the baseball team owners stand to earn a lot of money off ticket sales?

To be effective, research must involve analysis.

Why is research important?

In the world of academic writing, research is often conducted for the sole purpose of learning to do research. Students must show they understand the process and are evaluated on their effectiveness.

Many writers assume the art of research ends once the tassel has been moved to the other side of the mortarboard. However, they couldn’t be more wrong!

Personal experience lends quite a bit of validity to an author’s writing. However, nothing can replace quality research—regardless of the writing style.

There are many reasons why research is important; here are just a few.

Credibility

Unless you have a whole bunch of alphabet soup behind your name referencing all the degrees and professional distinctions you’ve earned, you’re going to need the help of people who have earned those recognitions.

If your ideas align with those of industry leaders, your points suddenly seem valid. Without credibility lent from other people, your argument will fall flat.

Education

Reading is one of the greatest ways to learn new information. It has a significant impact on not only your writing, but on life overall. Reading is often encouraged as a way to improve writing. But when you incorporate research into the act of reading, it becomes even more significant.

Research helps the writer better understand the topic at hand. The writer probably already has a general understanding of one aspect of the issue; research helps the writer understand all sides of the argument. Research unearths the contributing factors that the writer would otherwise be ignorant of.
Once the writer has become more educated about the topic, he or she is able to speak as an authority. The writer’s voice will be more informed and influential.

Publication Expectations

In order to get your writing published in credible, noteworthy publications, you’ll need to conduct research and cite your sources. This is an industry standard that must be adhered to.

Many professions rely on published works. Doctors strive to get published in medical journals. Bloggers hope their ideas can get shared on more noteworthy sites. It doesn’t matter the type of writing or the final source of publication, the process is quite significant.

Plagiarism Prevention

It is possible to set out on a writing project with opinions and ideas that seem groundbreaking. You might think your ideas are totally unique and will cause quite a stir among the readers.

However, it is possible that your idea really isn’t all that new. Perhaps someone else has already thought of it—and had it published. If you take credit for that person’s ideas—even if it was unintentional—it’s considered plagiarism.

Research will reveal all pertinent information about a particular topic. It will help prevent the writer from claiming someone else’s work as their own.

It doesn’t matter the topic or type of writing; research is an essential part of the writing process. Researching data and interpreting the findings should be a standard for all writing projects.

***

Lesley Vos is a blogger. She creates content on the topic of writing, education, student life, and digital marketing. Lesley contributes to many authoritative websites and writes her e-book now. More works of hers are available on Google+.

REFERENCES:

establish credibility - https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/588/02/
analysis and interpretation -  http://managementhelp.org/businessresearch/analysis.htm

Image Copyright 2013 Karen Cioffi

~~~~~
MORE ON WRITING AND MARKETING

Think Like a Publisher
How Much Emphasis Should We Use?
Goal Setting – It’s Not About Ideas, It’s About Making Ideas Happen




Sunday, June 21, 2015

Creating Variety in Sentence Structure


Monotony is a writer's enemy. One great way to provide variety for your reader is through some techniques that can change up sentence structure. 

1. End with a punch. Sometimes we have a great sentence, but we begin with what could be a powerful ending. Switch it around and see if you add a surprise that your reader will appreciate.

2. Use an occasional short sentence for emphasis. Too many short sentences, just like too many long sentences can turn your readers off, but using a short sentence every once in a while can draw your reader's attention.

3. Use parallels. Often we work to make sure that our word choices vary, but sometimes using parallel ideas can create a more powerful sentence. 

Other ideas:
1. Invert sentences. Consistently following the norm: subject, verb, then object structure can become boring for readers. Inverting doesn't always sound natural, so be sure to read it out loud, but when it works it creates exactly what may keep your reader interested.

2. Vary sentences. Long and short, simple and compound. Mix it up for your reader.

3. Watch what you begin with. Often habits form and sentences begin to sound repetitive. Also look at the beginnings of paragraphs for the same monotony. 

Mixing things up and spending time reworking your sentences is all part of the editing process that can make your work stand out. 

_____________________________________
D. Jean Quarles is a writer of Women's Fiction and a co-author of a Young Adult Science Fiction Series. Her latest book, House of Glass, Book 2 of The Exodus Series was written with coauthor, Austine Etcheverry.

D. Jean loves to tell stories of personal growth – where success has nothing to do with money or fame, but of living life to the fullest. She is also the author of the novels: Rocky's Mountains, Fire in the Hole, and Perception. The Mermaid, an award winning short story was published in the anthology, Tales from a Sweltering City.

She is a wife, mother, grandmother and business coach. In her free time . . . ha! ha! ha! Anyway, you can find more about D. Jean Quarles, her writing and her books at her website at www.djeanquarles.com

You can also follower her at www.djeanquarles.blogspot.com or on Facebook. 
  

Saturday, June 20, 2015

26 Reasons a Writer Should Blog - Part 3



Is it possible that writing a blog can improve your health?

By the time you have read all 26 reasons why writers need to blog, you will know the answer to this question is another

Yes! 

According to the experts, blogging can help you 


  • emotionally, 
  • mentally, and 
  • physically.


Let's take a closer look at that statement as we move on to our next four letters in the series.

8.       H is for Healthy Habits

  • Regular journaling is good for your health. Many psychologists and other health professionals tell how journaling helps you process traumatic and stressful events. It is a means of dealing with emotions and thoughts without having to work through another person.
  • Blogging works the same way. After all, that’s what blogging is—a Web log. It requires a commitment of time, devotion, and discipline, all healthy habits to develop in this crazy lifestyle many of us seem to follow today. 
  • Blogging keep your mind working, and many believe when we write about emotional topics, it increases the effectiveness of our immune systems*. A well-working immune system will keep you physically healthier.
  • We can also write about health topics. These would make an excellent theme for a month of posts. Following a month’s dieting habits might encourage us to be more disciplined ourselves as well as encourage others to follow our examples.
* Pennebaker, J.W. (1997). Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process.
 [Electronic version]. Psychological Science, 8 (3), pp. 162-166.



9.       I is for Inspiration
  • We need to be inspired so we can create a post that will benefit others. As we write, we need to give thought to those who will read our words. Will this encourage them? Will they be inspired to read more on the topic? Will what we write improve their day? 
  • There are many ways to find inspiration for your next blog post or series, however, one that really makes sense is to look at your blog comments. Remember to ask relevant questions at the end of each post and then see what your readers come up with. If you don’t get enough helpful comments, try going to another blog that is following a similar theme. Read their questions, and then use them as a kicking-off point for your next blog or series. (Don’t copy their answers though!) 
  • A blog post should not attempt to cover a subject. After all, how could I possibly have told everything there is to know about the Serengeti National Park in one post? People have written books on that topic alone. All I wanted to achieve for that post is an article to titillate the senses of my readers. Maybe they will want to read more. Maybe they’ll get a book out of the library or spend their morning on Google. Or maybe one person somewhere in the world will be inspired to add the Serengeti to their bucket list! If you want to cover a topic, then you definitely need to turn it into a series of posts.

10.     J is for Journal

  • Your blog could become a personal journal. Until recently, I thought this was the most common purpose for a blog. But doing the A-Z challenge I became impressed with the creativity people show in choosing themes they can follow for a month, one alphabet letter at a time. 
  • A Travelblog can cover a journey. One writer was traveling across the States with her husband. She wrote a daily blog on a new place she’d seen, following the letters of the alphabet. What if there wasn’t a suitable town for that letter? She would come up with a creative title. e.g. H is for Horse Statue in City Centre. (My own suggestion as we have one in Port Elizabeth where I live.) Even as I write this, my brother and sister-in-law are preparing for an overland trip to East Africa which will take them four months. They have built a blog for the family and their friends to follow their adventures.
  • Blog a life’s journal. This could be public, or you may choose to make it a Family and Friends Only blog, where people join by invitation only. This could be done chronologically, but if you’re anywhere near my age that could take an awfully long time to write! If I were to do this, I would probably go for an A to Z theme, and choose places or events or people to write about for each letter. 
    • Imagine the surprise I had one day when I learned my 30-year-old son believed he was born in the city where his brother had been born. He had gone through his life believing that was his birthplace. His true place of birth only came out by accident! 
    • Ask yourself, how much do your children know about your life? Do they know your place of birth? Were there unusual circumstances to your birth? In today’s global society more than ever before, families are fragmented, and a Life’s Blog could be a great way to bridge the gap between the generations. 

11.     K is for Kindle or other e-books

  • Blog a Book: Nina Amir has written a book and has a website devoted to this topic. Once a year during November, at the same time as NaNoWriMo, she encourages other writers to join her in a commitment to write a complete book on their blog. I did this one year, but I didn’t prepare adequately in advance. I plan to do this again, but next time I will spend some time before kick-off choosing 26 (perhaps) chapter headings on the proposed theme. 
    • Each day I will write one chapter of the book and post it on my blog. At the end of the month, provided I have kept to schedule, I will have the draft copy of an e-book
    • The technique to convert the writing into an e-book, or even a pdf book, is straightforward. Numerous books are available to help. Just Google the topic. I did a course with Val Waldeck a couple of years ago, and I felt a real sense of achievement when the book opened beautifully on my Kindle. 
    • I have considered turning Out of Africa into an e-book, but I will have to do it in pdf format as I have used many pictures in this theme. Something to consider for future ideas. 
  • Collect books and information on blogging. Go to Amazon and you will be amazed at the e-Books available on the topic. There is just no reason for us to remain in the cyber-darkness, wishing we could build a blog.
  • Get yourself a Kindle today! If you don't have a Kindle or other e-reader, go to Amazon and download a Kindle app for free. There is one available for your PC, your laptop, most smart-phones and your tablet. 
    • Early in the days of Kindle a friend suggested to me that, although neither of us could afford to buy Kindles especially as we both live in South Africa, we should nevertheless download the app to our computers and start to collect books that came up on special or even free. I followed her advice, and when I eventually received and registered my Kindle, it immediately had all the books I had collected during the preceding year.  

Have you learned anything new today? Or is there something you would like me to cover in this series? Can you think of ways you can use your blog material in other ways? Share your ideas in a comment below. 

MORE ON THIS TOPIC: 

26 Reasons to blog - part 1: A - C
26 Reasons to blog - part 2: D - G

    SHIRLEY CORDER lives on the coast in South Africa with her husband, Rob. Her book, Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer, has brought encouragement and inspiration to a multitude of friends and contacts across the world.

    Visit Shirley through ShirleyCorder.com/?blog where she encourages writers, or at RiseAndSoar.com where she encourages those in the cancer valley. You can also meet with her on Twitter or Facebook.


    Sign up to receive a short devotional message from Shirley in your inbox once a week. 

    Wednesday, June 17, 2015

    The Value of Finishing Your Writing Projects

    by Suzanne Lieurance, the Working Writer's Coach

    If you’re struggling to become a published writer, there’s probably one thing separating you from your goal – a finished manuscript.



    I was reading through the current edition of the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market the other day when I came across an interview with Laura Resau, the award-winning author of seven YA (Young Adult) and middle grade books. When asked what has been the biggest key to her success, Resau said, “A lot of it has to do with actually finishing stuff. I know many extremely talented writers who, for whatever reason, don’t take that step of fully realizing their creative vision.” She went on to explain that often perfectionism, self-doubt, and external criticism hold these writers back.

    The Real Reason Writers Don’t Finish Things

    While I agree that perfectionism, self-doubt, and external criticism are often contributing factors to the abandonment of a particular writing project, I think there is one more important factor – writing to the finish line is just plain hard work. It usually involves sitting at a computer, or with a pad of paper, for hours, days, weeks, or even months. Many times it involves several false starts. It may also take several writing sessions before the work on any particular project starts to flow. Many writers just aren’t willing to suffer through this part of the process. If the writing doesn’t flow from the start, they move on to something else. But they usually don’t finish that project either (for the same reasons as before) and end up with a mound of unfinished manuscripts. What’s worse, these writers never improve their writing skills very much.

    The Value of Finishing What You Start

    If you’re one of those writers who very rarely finish a project, you need to get out of this habit. Besides publication, here some additional benefits to finishing what you start:

    1. You’ll learn the complete process of writing the type of piece you’re working on.

    Anyone can start writing a novel. It takes knowledge and skill to finish writing one. The same goes for a magazine article or any other type of writing.

    2. You’ll have something you can polish to perfection so it will be ready for publication.

    Without a complete first draft, you can’t move forward to the next stage of writing, which is the revision process.

    3. You’ll feel a deep sense of completion and satisfaction you’ll never feel with an unfinished manuscript.

    This feeling of completion also builds confidence. When you’ve finished a particular piece of writing – a novel or a magazine article, for example – you will now know you can write this type of thing from start to finish. You did it once, so you can do it again.

    Okay...so what does all this mean?

    It seems pretty obvious.

    Don't just START writing something, FINISH writing it!

    Try it!

    Suzanne Lieurance is an author, freelance writer, certified professional life coach and writing coach, speaker and workshop presenter. She has written over two dozen published books and hundreds of articles for newspapers, magazines, and other publications. Subscribe to her free newsletter for writers at www.morningnudge.com.

    Wednesday, June 10, 2015

    June Blogging Prompts

    Don't let June gloom get you down. Do something to lift your spirits. For example, do some blogging. 

    Summer is rapidly approaching and it won't be long til those beautiful summer days start calling your name. If you want extra summer fun time, plan ahead and stockpile some blog posts. 

    Here are some topics to write about in June.

    Father's Day (third Sunday): Dads like toys and gadgets. What are some great gifts for Dad that are related to your niche. See what you can come up with that's out of the ordinary. You can also so an advice post.

    Summer Camp: Kids heading off to camp mean a few things. Parents may have a little extra downtime. Give them advice of how they can spend it. Also, kids at overnight camp will require some fun letters from the parents. Do you have a crazy letter writing idea that adds spark and sizzle to an ordinary letter? Share that with your readers too.

    Plus:

    June Holidays: In addition to Father's Day, June is Aquarium Month, Gay Pride Month, National Accordion Awareness Month, National Adopt a Cat Month, and Rose Month. June 14 is Flag Day, June 15 is Smile Power Day, and June 18 is International Panic Day (it's also International Picnic Day). Summer solstice is June 21, Forgiveness Day is June 26, and Camera Day is June 29.

    June Food Holidays: June is National Candy Month, National Dairy Month, National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month, National Iced Tea Month, National Papaya Month, National Seafood Month, National Steakhouse Month, National Turkey Lover. (Covered all the bases, didn't they?) Also June 13 is Kitchen Klutzes of America Day, June 17 is Eat All Your Veggies Day, and June 22 is National Onion Rings Day.

    Bonus: Fiction writers, it's time for a beach party. What do your characters do when they let loose on the beach? What do they eat? What games do they play? Do they tell stories around a bonfire? Give your characters space to have some fun. They may give you some fun adventures to include in your prose or they could be involved in something that they must keep secret. Either way, it'll sure be fun to see what happens. And then use that as inspiration for your writing.

    ***


    Debra Eckerling is the author of Purple Pencil Adventures: Writing Prompts for Kids of All Ages. She's a writer, editor and project manager/goal coach, as well as founder of Guided Goals and Write On Online, a live and online writers’ support group. She is an editor at Social Media Examiner. Debra is also a speaker/moderator on the subjects of writing, networking, goal-setting and social media.


    Saturday, June 6, 2015

    Author-Reader Engagement

    How to Serve Your Niche Audience

     by Debra Toor



    STEP 1 Research your niche readers and create their profiles.

    Readers' Profiles

    1. Professions:
    2. Education:
    3. Lifestyles:
    4. What do your readers care about?
    5. What motivates them?
    6. What information, tools and resources do they need, but can't find?
    7. Do they need to do more with less time?
    8. Where do readers go to network, collaborate, find info, and get assistance?
         Examples of online sites
         - professional association blogs
         - trade e-zines
         - Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, Yahoo groups, Google+
         - Twitter Chats, etc.

         Examples of offline sites: 

         - conferences
         - meetings
         - trade shows
         - professional trade print magazines

    STEP 2  Research your niche competitors and create their profiles.

    Competitors' Profiles


    1. How do your competitors fill readers' needs?  

    2. Do they provide solutions to obstacles?
    3. What service do they fail to provide readers?  How can you fill this void?  Can you provide specific professional expertise?

    STEP 3  Combine profile details.  Create a plan and a reader survey.

     1. Design your survey to be brief and easy to complete. 

     2. Ask a select few to provide feedback on your plan.
     3. Focus on tools, resources, and information that they would like to see:

     Some ideas:

     - downloadable worksheets
     - tip sheets
     - checklists
     - handy resource lists 
     - networking venues and resources
     - expertise on specific subjects
     - informative slideshows, infographics, fact sheets, charts, videos, podcasts

    Offer an incentive, such as a free copy of your book or a free downloadable resource.


    Remember, your blog is your primary forum to engage your readers:

    - Make it welcoming, accessible, informative, and entertaining.
    - Offer posts that have value and are sharable.
    Encourage readers to share their suggestions, opinions and stories.  
    - Offer contests with prizes that are on your niche audience's wish list.

    How do you connect with your readers?  Inspire other writers by sharing your story in the comments section.


    Helpful Links


    "Crawling Inside your Customer's Head" by Copyblogger: www.copyblogger.com/empathy-maps/


    "Author Platforms: How to Use a Time Machine to Create Your Author Platform," by Katie Davis, Huff Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/author-platforms/ 

    ________________________________________________________________
    Debra Toor is the author of Survival Secrets of Turkey Vultures, an adventure story for grades 4 to 6 that's based on peer-reviewed science. She's also a ghostwriter for a health blog.


    Wednesday, June 3, 2015

    Preventing Distractions the Low-Tech Way

    Distraction can be the number one enemy of a writer.  And when you sit down on the computer to write, distractions are plenty.  Check Facebook.  Check e-mail.  Do some marketing.  Surf.  Play a game.  Organize photos.  Defrag your hard drive.  Do research for your piece.  The list goes on.  All these have their place, but when you’re really trying to write—just write—they can cause problems.

    My solution, when this happens?  Paper.  Remember paper?  And pens?  And pencils?  Yes, that old technology really helps when I’m having trouble concentrating.  There are programs to black out all the but your writing screen or prevent you from accessing the internet for a certain time.  But paper is a low-tech solution. 

    It’s also ultra portable.  Paper works in a park, in bright sunshine, on a bus, all with no worries about electricity or battery life.  It works on a beach with no worries of sand or water damaging it.  It’s permitted during airplane take-off.  And it’s very user-friendly.


    The downside of paper is that you later have to transfer all your scribbling to computer.  You can’t click and drag, cut and paste.  It takes time.  But if can easily make up for that in pure, distraction-free writing time to begin with.  

    Try it.  You may like it.  

    Melinda Brasher's short fantasy story, "Chaos Rises" is now FREE on Amazon (and everywhere else).  Her microfiction (38 words) recently won honorable mention in On the Premises' Mini Contest #25.  Read "Dusk" for free here.  Or visit her online at www.melindabrasher.com

    Monday, June 1, 2015

    SEO and Website Ranking - Inside Website Traffic ‘Visit Lengths’

    Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a key element in driving website traffic to your site and ranking in the search engines. But, simply getting traffic isn’t enough. Along with getting that traffic, there are other factors that search engines look at when ranking your site. One of those elements is ‘visit lengths.’

    According to Statcounter.com, visit lengths are considered “the time between when a visitor accesses your first webpage of their visit, and when they access the last.” While this particular measure isn’t 100 percent accurate, it’s pretty close and provides important information about your visitors and what they’re doing.

    This information allows you to see “just how much ‘pull’ and ‘interest’ your website is generating for your visitors.”

    So, why is this SEO information important?

    Put simply, the longer a visitor stays, the better standing you’ll have with the search engines.

    If you were to check your statistics, chances are the majority of your site’s traffic stays for less than five seconds. Google and the other search engines take note of this. It can be considered that your website or its content isn’t valuable enough to hold visitors. Your lower rated ‘pull’ and ‘interest,’ will cause a lower website ranking.

    As a measuring stick, Statcounter measures ‘visit lengths’ in increments of:

    • Less than 5 seconds
    • From 5 seconds to 30 seconds
    • From 30 seconds to 5 minutes
    • From 5 minutes to 20 minutes
    • From 20 minutes to an hours
    • Longer than an hour

    If you can hold a visitor for over 30 seconds you’re doing pretty good. Each increment beyond that demonstrates a rise is your website’s ‘pull’ and ‘interest’ capabilities.

    At this point, you may be wondering how you can get traffic to stay on your site beyond 5 minutes, which will give your rankings a boost.

    Well, how long does it take you to read one article?

    If that article is informative, a visitor will want to know what else of value you have on your site. This leads the visitor further and deeper into your site. She’ll look at older titles and read more articles of interest. I’ve been on sites where I’ve read three or four articles, causing me to go deeper and deeper into those sites.

    This is how ‘pull’ and ‘interest’ work. A visitor is pulled in by the informative and interesting content. The easier it is to find additional relevant quality content, the longer you’ll hold that visitor’s attention  . .  and viewing time.

    There are two basic and easy ways to hold a visitor’s attention and increase your website ranking:

    1. Create embedded links within your content. For example: if you have the word ‘marketing’ in your article, link that word to another article on marketing within your site.

    2. At the end of your article include three or four additional article titles and link them directly to the articles.

    So, the next time you’re posting an article to your site, take the extra few minutes to include links to other articles within your site. This is a proven method of engaging and holding your visitors, thereby increasing your site’s ranking.

    Originally published at:
    http://www.karencioffiwritingandmarketing.com/2012/08/seo-and-website-ranking-inside-website.html


    ~~~~~
    More on Marketing

    Are Your Writing and Marketing Efforts Really Productive?
    Selling Your Book - 2 Steps Toward Success
    5 Tips to Writing Your Author Bio