Buzzing Your Book

by Shelby Patrick

I spent a week in New York City recently attending ThrillerFest. While there, I went to several workshops and my favorite was on "Buzzing Your Book". The presenters were very professional and full of knowledge. After providing an introduction, they asked for volunteers to stand up and tell everyone what their book was about in one sentence, then the presenter was asked a few questions, and afterward the workshop instructors brainstormed FREE ideas to market their book. I'd like to share a few with you here now.

M.J. Rose, one of the instructors, told us of how she got a new puppy and started frequenting an online forum for the breed of dog she had. At the end of every post, she would put in a simple tag line (M.J. Rose, author of Lip Service). She posted a lot and after about six months time, someone on the board finally asked her what Lip Service was. When she responded, 400 books were sold overnight. Wow! That would be nice, wouldn't it? Posting to forums is a tried and true method of getting the word out; however, don't go in there with the intent to advertise straight out. Do it subtly, in a small signature line.

Another idea, as pertains to fiction, is to create short stories centered around each of your characters. People will get more involved with the overall book if other stories use those characters. Popular books and movies do it all the time with their fan fiction. Readers love to see their favorite characters in other settings outside the original one.

Once you have tried that, or even if you prefer not to, then let's move on. Try picking five things from your book that catch your eye. For example, in my upcoming novel Behind the Masque, I might choose the following: University of Michigan, The Whitney Restaurant, Society of Former Special Agents of the F.B.I., Alcoholics Anonymous, art history majors. Then do a search online using those terms. Find places, organizations, forums, etc. where interest might lie in those subjects and get involved, once again subtly advertising your book.

Books don't get sold by themselves and most of us probably can't afford an expensive advertising budget or to hire a PR firm, so we have to find easy and cheap ways of getting the word out ourselves. It's not as hard as one would think. If you can write, you can come up with new and exciting ways to market yourself. Good luck!


Shelby Patrick, author of When Angels Sing and The Fear Within.

Follow me on FaceBook and Twitter (@shelbypatrick)


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My Brother the Frog: A Fun and Creative Approach to Sibling Rivalry

Today we welcome Kevin McNamee, who is thrilled to be talking abut his latest children’s book, My Brother the Frog.  This is Kevin’s sixth children’s book published with Guardian Angel Publishing.

Kevin, what is this story about?

This book focuses on sibling rivalry between two brothers.  Sibling rivalry can be a problem in any family.  But in this story, a little brother deals with this dilemma in a most unusual way.  He changes his brother into a frog.  He does have a bit of trouble changing him back though.  He manages to change his brother into a variety of animals until he finally gets it right.  Meanwhile, he starts to realize how much he cares for his brother, and how much his brother cares for him.

How did you come up with this story?

I wanted to come up with a wacky story that would be a lot of fun to read, and be something that boys would relate to.  In my humble opinion, there are not enough books for boys out there.  So I was happy to contribute one.  The basic idea was: What if a boy could change his brother into a frog?  What would happen then?  I was thinking about using animals, but I’m not sure why I chose a frog as the first animal.  Maybe it’s because frogs are funny and My Brother the Frog is an interesting title.  But even though this book was a lot of fun to write, I wanted it to have a serious message.

What was the hardest part about writing this book?

To me, the hardest part was the pacing.  In a picture book, every word counts.  So it was a particularly difficult challenge to keep the action moving along using a minimal amount of words, while still being able to tell a complete story.  Alexander Morris’s illustrations are top notch and really helped to tell the story.  So I think that together, we were able to put together a story that both kids and parents will love.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

Relationships with siblings may not always be perfect, but this book points out some very good reasons to love your family … warts and all, especially if your brother just happens to be a frog.

This book is available as a print book, an E-book, or a book on CD from the Guardian Angel Publishing Children's Bookstore.

Books are also available from,, or ask your local bookstore.

Kevin McNamee is a writer and poet living in Yonkers, N.Y., and has never, ever changed anyone into a frog, although there were times that he really wanted to. 

Kevin’s poetry has been published in the collection, An Eyeball in My Garden: And Other Spine-Tingling Poems. 

To find out more about Kevin, please visit his website at or his blog at 

Where Does One Begin in Creating a Media Kit?

Where Does One Begin in Creating a Media Kit?

By Donna McDine

Media Kit? Why would I need a media kit, I’m not even published yet? To be quite honest with you it’s never too soon to start. To begin now will make it much simpler to add to as you move forward in your writing career. The essential components in creating your media kit are:
About the Author or Writer (Bio): This one pager consists of your current bio, education, current work-in-progress, and contact information (email, blog and website addresses). After you become published update your bio to reflect each success.
Appearances: Appearances may include volunteer reader at your local library and/or school visits and later on as you become published you will be known as the local children’s author which then will open up doors to school visits.
Interviews (online and in-person): Before I became published - myself and fellow aspiring writers interviewed each other for our blogs to get our names out there. It’s fun and simple. Contact a fellow writer and exchange questions and there you have your first finished interview.
Awards and Publishing Credits: This may be blank for now, but create the page with this heading and you can fill in your information as you go along. Your publishing credits include no-pay, low-pay, and paying markets both online and print.

Media Releases: Even without publishing credits you can create a media release about upcoming interviews and book reviews on your blog and of course tying in with interviews make sure you write up a media release about your personal interviews. It’s important you send out your media release to your network and post on free media release sites such as For a more detailed list of the services I utilize visit:

Book Reviews: Yes, even if you don’t have a book published yet do not forget this important part for when you do so you can place excerpts of book reviews for easy reference.
Some of your pages will be blank for now, but you will be surprised how quickly they will fill up. All of my pages started out blank and are now filling up. My book review page is still blank and I’m eagerly awaiting reviews to fill in below the title. The saying from the movie The Field of Dreams… “Build it and they will come” is true for your media kit too. The intention and creation of blank titled pages will bring it to fruition. Oh and yes, working at your writing craft is essential too.

If you have any questions I’d be happy to help. Feel free to email me privately at You may also view my media kit at

Donna McDine is an award-winning children's author, Honorable Mention in the 77th and two Honorable Mentions in the 78th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competitions and Preditors & Editors Readers Poll 2010 – Top Ten - Children’s Books category – The Golden Pathway.

Her stories, articles, and book reviews have been published in over 100 print and online publications. Her interest in American History resulted in writing and publishing The Golden Pathway. Donna has two more books under contract with Guardian Angel Publishing, The Hockey Agony and Powder Monkey. She writes, moms and is the Editor-in-Chief for Guardian Angel Kids, Publicist for the Children’s Writers’ Coaching Club and owner of Dynamic Media Release Services from her home in the historical hamlet Tappan, NY. McDine is a member of the SCBWI and Musing Our Children.
The Golden Pathway ~ August 2010 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Global e-Book Awards Nominee
Donna’s Website:

Write What Inspires You Blog:

The Golden Pathway Blog:

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Don't have time to write and post your media releases? Contact: Dynamic Media Release Services:

That Dreaded Writer's Block

Many writers say that there is no such thing as writer's block. I disagree. There are many times when you sit down to write and nothing comes. There are no words. Not “crap” words, just nothing. Your brain is a blank, just like your sheet of paper. I know it to be true because it's happened to me often over the last year. How do you fix it? I'll share 10 ideas that have helped me get the words from my brain to the page.

  1. Try some music. Sometimes getting into a different medium will relax you and allow your words to start flowing.
  2. Use a writing prompt. Even though it might have nothing to do with what your work in progress, a prompt gets your creative juices flowing.
  3. Read a few pages of a book. You can choose one in your same genre or a totally different one. Reading another author's words can inspire your own.
  4. Change locations. Perhaps a change in scenery is what you need. If you're indoors, try heading outside for a bit. I find nature to be inspirational. If you're at home, head to the bookstore, library or coffee shop.
  5. Look at some pictures or create your own art. Art stimulates emotions. Emotions are part of what we communicate when we write. So get your emotions going and get the words flowing!
  6. Read some affirming quotes. Quotes that affirm your calling as a writer and your gift of creativity help unearth again your passion for this craft.
  7. Make a list. Make a list of other things on your mind. You might just be distracted. Putting those distractions on paper may free your mind to focus on the task at hand.
  8. Take a bubble bath. I know it sounds weird but bubble baths are relaxing. Sometimes when you sit down to write, you get stressed out when the words don't flow. So go enjoy some bubbles and then lets the words bubble out of you onto the page.
  9. Journal. Start writing the thoughts running through your mind. I've started doing this and then suddenly an idea directly related to my project crops up. When that happens, you have your starting point for the day!
  10. Read something else you wrote. Sometimes reading your own words will spark new ones, Give it a try and see what fresh idea appears.

There are many more things you can do to combat writer's block. These are just a starting point. My final piece of advice is to not get stressed. Writer's write. Even if all you can get on paper is one or two sentences, it's writing. That's what we do!


Marietta (Mari) Taylor
Author of “Surviving Unemployment: Devotions To Go

About Mari:
Marietta (Mari) Taylor is the author of Surviving Unemployment Devotions To Go and is a monthly blogger at the Go Ask Mom blog on Each month she blogs about parenting teenagers. Mari was also a contributor to the devotional anthology Penned From the Heart XV. Mari resides in Raleigh, NC with her husband of 18 years and her two teenage daughters. Mari has a bachelor's degree in Biology and currently works in Healthcare IT. She is also a small group leader for the women's ministry at her church and is the lead teacher for the toddler room in the church nursery. The most important thing about Mari's writing is that others would come to know, accept and adore the God who has created such a crazy jumble of things that make her who she is.

Preparing to Present

Curriculum fairs, teachers' conferences, librarians' conferences and other similar events are great ways to get yourself known by offering workshops and being an exhibitor. Who better to show what you know and get your books in the right hands than this group of folks.

I've been working on my children's workshops for about three years now. What happens when a conference geared for teachers and school librarians asks you to do a presentation? You rack your brain and try like crazy to come up with a workshop that works.

Recently I made contact with the SC Independent Schools Association (SCISA) inquiring about being an exhibitor at the upcoming teachers' conference. After explaining what my books were about and how they would be perfect in schools and/or classes, the lady on the other end of the phone stated, "We would love to have you as a presenter in addition to being an exhibitor." My reply? It was something on the lines of "Well, I usually do workshops for kids and don't really feel I have anythng to offer teachers." No, it doesn't end there. She assured me that teachers love having authors do presentations since they are always looking for creative ways to teach the students writing. So I thought about it a few minutes (or maybe it was an hour or two) and then went on one of my social networks and posted a comment something like this Elysabeth42 wonders what she has to offer teachers when she is but a writer herself?. The replies I received from the teachers in my network were amazing. That one plurk (like twitter but to me much more enjoyable and easier to follow the postings) went on my FB page as well as my twitter page. I received a direct comment from a twitter follower @SCASL about doing presentations for librarians as well. So, now I'm in the process of coming up with workshops or presentations geared for librarians and teachers.

The process will take a little time for me since I have to switch my mindset. I know what I have to offer but it's a matter of putting it into action.

I also may be doing a short presentation to a group of teachers at a curriculum fair but right now that isn't definite.

My question to all those writers who do workshops for groups of adults is what is your process? What kind of workshops have worked for you in the past? Do you do the same workshops at every opportunity you are asked to present or do you switch them out every so often? How do you go about getting the opportunities to be a presenter? I think I will come up with several different workshops geared for different groups - one or two for teachers and one or two for librarians - but on similar lines. This way, if I present to groups in the same area and there are some repeat people, they won't be bored.

Remember, it is all about making the right connections - the ones who will benefit from your books, and the ones who have the buying power to make sure your books get in the right places. - E :)

Ma America, The Travelin' Maven (Elysabeth Eldering)
Author of the JGDS, 50-state, mystery, trivia series
Where will the adventure take you next?

Author of "Finally Home", a YA paranormal mystery coming soon

About Elysabeth:
Elysabeth Eldering is a traveler from birth. She has traveled with her family due to her father being in the military. She has lived in several states and overseas during her childhood. Ms. Eldering calls South Carolina home these days with a mindset of "Southern by choice, not by birth." She entered her first writing contest at the age of 41 and took second place for a children's mystery story, which has inspired her to take that story and write a series for children, the premise being that each state would be the mystery. Her series has a Jeopardy!® like style to it but for guessing the state in the form of a question. Each book concentrates on one state and there are supplemental study guides available, which take the series cross curriculum. For more information on the series, please visit the JGDS website. Elysabeth may be reached at with any questions or to place an order.

Relating to Your Reader with Tal Yanai

You sit down to write a book when you feel passionate about something, having the desire to share it with others. So writing a book, in part, is the art of building relationships with people you don’t know, and who have no idea you even exist. Well, it’s not that bad, just makes the process a bit more challenging, and in the long run, makes you a better writer.

The process of relating to your readers starts with understanding your audience. After deciding on a targeted audience, ask yourself what do you know about them? For example, you decided to write a self help book for teens (hi, just like me….), what do you know about them? What do their daily activities look like and what motivates them to do or not to do things? What problems do teens face and what make them feel exposed and vulnerable? Once you have a good understanding of the issues, you positioned yourself as someone who can provide good answers.

Based on your understanding of the audience, you will be able to connect on issues that matter to them most. For example, showing you understand the emotional and moral dilemma teens experience when feeling obligated to do something as a result of peer pressure, will build your credibility and help the young readers stay open minded as they continue reading. In general, connecting with readers on the emotional level is a good way of bringing them into the story. You can bring back memories by providing details most readers would find easy to relate to. Most readers will be able to relate to your story when they read about what a teenager feels being in a summer camp and away from home. The images you will create in this part of the story will trigger an emotional memory for most of them. Almost anyone will think, “Oh yeah, I remember….” The period time of uncertainty, being away from the parents but still having a wonderful time with old or new friends can be used to open many emotional doors. If you write a Self Help book, for example, you can use this background to show that the character in the book, despite hesitations at first, was able to experience something new and exciting, and the same is possible for the readers, if they only gave it a chance.

Details bring your story alive; however, sometimes you are better off staying with more general descriptions, so not to lose a large part of the audience. Let’s say you decide to write a book about sport fans and spend too much time focusing on baseball, you might lose readers who like basketball better. Instead, you could describe in details experiences all fans have in comment, such as the excitement driving into the game, entering the stadium and the electricity in the air when the home team enters the field. Everyone who ever went to a ballgame would relate to your story, even if the background is a baseball field and not a basketball court.

Finally, be yourself! Your readers already read books about sport, self help, cooking, or home decorating. And they don’t mind reading another one! Let your creative inner voice lead your writing and find interesting angles to the story. This inner voice is there wanting to express itself for quite some time now. Find it, listen to it, create with it, and the readers will relate to it.

Meet Tal Yanai: During his formative years, Tal Yanai was not happy with his reality. What he was creating in his life was not in alignment with what he wanted in his heart or what he knew and deeply felt was possible.

For two years he worked as an historical analyst at the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, established by Steven Spielberg after the filming of Schindler’s List. As part of his job, he listened every day to testimonies of Holocaust survivors. Many were children or teenagers during WWII and their stories greatly influenced Tal’s decision to become involved with educating youth, so he proceeded to get his Teaching Credential in Social Studies.

Bringing two wonderful children into the world gave him a new sense of urgency to share and teach everything he’s learned about God and spirituality. Today, Tal teaches Hebrew and Judaic Studies in Temple Beth Hillel in the San Fernando Valley as he continues his quest to explore the meaning of soul and achieve his full potential as a spiritual teacher.


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Self Publishing Your Poetry – A Brief Primer (and a few pitfalls)

Self-publishing is an option open to everyone and it’s becoming easier and more powerful with different software and online options becoming available all the time.  Why would you want to self-publish?  Here are a few reasons:
There are no entry barriers. You don’t need a list of publications or any kind of awards to be considered, and your work can be on any topic. You retain complete control over the look, quality, and promotion of your work.

You retain a far greater profit for your book.  

You learn a lot and it can be quite fun if you enjoy playing around with your computer and trying out new things.  Although the learning curve is steep (more about that soon), your learning belongs to you - you can apply it immediately and improve what's already out there.

But self-publishing isn’t all roses.  You’ve got to do everything yourself and it’s hard work.  You’ll have to learn about formatting, about graphics, about designing a cover, about ‘bleeds’, about document conversions, about distribution channels, about Amazon and other online stores and the list goes on and on.  If all you want to do is write, then self-publishing is probably not for you (and believe me, it will take time that you would otherwise have been spent writing).  

The biggest pitfall in self-publishing is that you don't automatically get a professional editor like you do with traditional publishing.  Because this is an area that should never be skimped on, if you do decide to save money by not bringing in a professional, you may end up producing a sub-standard quality book.  A book full of mistakes is not only unprofessional, it can render a book almost unreadable, and will tarnish your name as a writer in general.  There is already a bias against self-published books and this is the key reason.  So if you do decide to self-publish, obtaining a high-quality editor has got to be the first priority and that may require some outlay upfront.  If you really can't afford a professional then you must bring in someone else - someone picky and meticulous.  This isn't an option.

How do you self-publish? The easiest way is to just add a cover and copyright information to your book and save as a .pdf file.  Lo’ and behold you’ve now got an ebook which you can sell from a website or blog.  When you do this, 100% of your sales are profits, but you may not get many sales!  

Or you can send your digital book to one of the big copy houses like Snap printing or Qwikcopy and have them print out what you need when you need it.  You can hand print and staple your work too, although it won’t be very professional looking. 

You can also go with one of the print on demand companies, who will produce a professional looking product for nothing, but take a cut of each sale.  Many of them will also provide you with a barcode and ISBN.  You probably won’t make much, but the book will be attractive, and often you can buy copies inexpensively and hand sell, which is probably the best way to sell poetry.  Some of the more well known print companies include:

Deeper Into the Pond: A Celebration of Femininity (Volume 1)CreateSpace:  this is Amazon’s own publishing house and to my mind, it’s one of the best.  It will take you a while to learn their particular formatting requirements, but everything is .pdf based, fairly straightforward, and they’ll give you all the templates you need.  The one key advantage this one has over the others is that your book will be sold on Amazon once it’s complete.  Also their prices are pretty reasonably, and I suspect will set a trend that others will quickly follow. 

Lulu: Self publishing / print on demand publisher. Very popular. You can sell your book directly from their website. 

Cafe Press - Self publishing / print on demand publisher. Also popular. 

There are plenty of others out there and new opportunities opening all the time, but bear in mind that none of them will edit your work, and few of them will help you design and develop a professional cover, not to mention helping ensure that your poetry is pulled together in a manner best suited to it.  

You probably won't get rich selling poetry no matter what you do, which is part of the reason why it's hard to find a traditional publisher, especially if your work is unusual, experimental, or controversial.  But self-publishing your work is not difficult and it can be a fun way to begin learning about and developing your author platform - getting your name and your words out to the public.  

Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, the novel Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. Find out more about Magdalena at

Get to Know Your Character

By Dallas Woodburn

Once upon a time, Peter Pan was just a faceless name. Before The Lord of the Rings, Frodo was merely an image inside Tolkien’s mind. When I was in elementary school, nobody had heard of Harry Potter.

Kind of hard to believe, isn’t it? As readers, we often get so attached to our favorite characters that it can be difficult to remember they aren’t real beings but rather figments of an author’s wonderful imagination brought to life on the page. Indeed, I believe one of the most important aspects – if not the most important aspect – of a good story is its characters. The characters are the ones who bring the reader inside the story – and keep her turning the pages to the final sentence. Characters are the ones who make the reader feel like he has a stake in what happens.

How can you create interesting, memorable characters who feel like real people? Get to know them yourself! YA author Joan Bauer once told me she writes 30-page biographies of all her main characters before she even starts writing the book. Now, I’m not saying you need to write a 30-page biography, but you can at least spend a few minutes interviewing your character and getting to know him or her better.

Below are some possible questions to answer in the “voice” of your character. These are just to give you ideas – feel free to jump off into answering your own questions! See where the “voice” of your character takes you!

My name is …
I am ___ years old. My birthday is ____.
I live in …
I like to …
My favorite color is …
My favorite food is …
My favorite type of music is …
My favorite movie is …
My favorite animal is …
My best friend is …
My secret hideout is …
I dream about …
I am obsessed with…
My greatest fear is …
My greatest wish is …
If I had a super power, it would be …
I love …
Something that makes me really angry is …
I worry about …
One day, I hope …

As you get to know your character better, you might find a story developing. Some ideas to get you started:

My happiest memory is …
My saddest memory is …
My most embarrassing moment is…
My favorite holiday has always been…
Last summer, I …
I was terrified when …
My life changed forever when …
The last time I cried was …
One time, I lied about …
I couldn’t believe my eyes when …
I never, ever thought I would …
I knew I was in trouble when …

Do you have any other questions you ask your characters? Share them with other writers! Email them to me at and they might be posted on my blog,

Bio: Dallas Woodburn is the author of two award-winning collections of short stories and editor of Dancing With The Pen: a collection of today’s best youth writing. She has written more than 80 articles and essays for national publications including Family Circle, Writer’s Digest, The Los Angeles Times, and the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. She graduated from the University of Southern California with a B.A. in Creative Writing and is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Fiction Writing at Purdue University, where she also teaches undergraduate writing courses.



Shore-Up Your Sagging Middle

The ABCs of Writing - Tips for New Writers

The Best Writing Advice - 9 Tips

Shore Up Your Sagging Middle

Writing is a lot like building a bridge. Each scene serves as scaffolding or supports for your entire story to rest on without sagging.

Maybe you’ve made a great start. You have a dynamite hook (some of my favorites: “The last camel collapsed at noon.” Ken Follet, and “The man with ten minutes to live was laughing.” Frederick Forsyth). You’ve gotten off to a good strong start. Maybe you know how your book is going to end, and even have the final scene written.
Now, how do you get through the middle part without it sagging and possibly collapsing?

First of all, you don’t need to write chronologically. You can write scenes out of order. Pick out some highlights and write those scenes, then see if you can figure out what you might be able to fill in between A and G.

Now, send your inner “nice guy” out for ice cream and figure out just how mean you can be to your character. Conflict is the key to keeping a story moving, to shoring it up. You’ve introduced your character and the problem she has to solve. You know what the goal is at the end.

Let’s say Cathy Character wants to be the first teenage girl to climb Mount Huge. What are her obstacles? Her parents are against the idea. It’s too expensive, too dangerous, she’s not in shape, who else is going, etc. Cathy has to overcome each objection, solve each problem.

Maybe her neighbor is a banker, so she approaches him for a loan. If he smiles and says,” Sure, Cathy, anything for you,” the problem is solved too quickly. The story can get boring and the reader’s interest will sag quickly.

But what if he says no? Now Cathy has to figure out another way to raise money. What should she do – a bake sale, a part-time job, rob the local drive-in? (You can see the various paths this story could take.) There are all kinds of ideas and none of them should be easy.

Every time your character figures out a way over, around or through a problem, throw up another obstacle, within reason, of course. You don’t want her to fail at everything.

But when she solves the money part of the problem, there should be another one waiting. Who, besides her parents, are going to oppose her? Does she have a rival? Or is there a friend who is supposedly helping her, but is actually sabotaging Cathy’s efforts?

Building a story is like constructing a bridge. You need conflict as the pillars that shore up the middle.

For each scene you write, ask yourself:
• What is the purpose of this scene?
• Does it move the story forward? (What if I take it out? Does the story flow well without it?)
• Can the reader identify with the character’s problem and struggles?
• Have you created suspense? (Will the reader want to keep reading to find out how your character solves this one? What’s at stake for him/her?)
Have fun being mean to your character and building your bridge!

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild and Pacific Northwest Writers Association. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series. Please visit her website and blog at

Personality Tests for Character Development?

Character development has always been difficult.  If readers cannot fall in love with, feel empathy for, identify with or, on the other hand, hate, be repulsed by, or fear your characters there is little investment for finishing your work. Who couldn’t identify with Harry, Ron and Hermione? I the strength of their personalities that attract readers young and old, male and female, from all socioeconomic groups and all ethnicities. 

One of the best tools for creating interesting, believable and multi dimensional characters is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).  Taking the time to learn how to effectively use this tool can be invaluable. 

Do you want your character to have an “out there” personality or one that is more introspective and reserved?  Do you want him to be an idea man or the realistic, this is the way it is kind of guy?  Is your heroine the strong, no nonsense, take charge type like J. D. Robb’s character Eve Dallas or more stereotypical female?  Do you want a character that is goal oriented, time sensitive and orderly or more fly by the seat of the pants, flexible and spontaneous? 

When you have an understanding of personality type and how it influences everything from how a person socializes to how she makes decisions, the possibilities for creating believable, intriguing characters that readers want to get to know are endless.

So check out, or, contact a local mental health professional, or go to the library. 
First learn about yourself, then apply that knowledge to your characters.   

Good Luck!

By: Dr. Anita Tieman

Dr. Tieman worked with Martha Swirzinski to write 3 children's books. 


One Last Edit? Rethink Before Submitting

Helping Children Find the Main Story Idea

Writing for Children – Finding Story Ideas

Are You a Pantser?

You're a pantser if you use seat of the pants story telling, or writing without benefit of an outline. The real question is whether this is a good trait, or whether you should immediately abandon the practice.

There are two schools of thought on the issue. On one side you have Chris Baty's No Plot, No Problem. This philosophy drives the concept of Nanowrimo with it's thousands of writers working to finish a novel each November. Stephen King in On Writing suggests something similar. If you have a great idea, just start writing and see where it takes you. One could argue that much of what happens in Nanowrimo, while good for the individual isn't publishable. However, no once can argue that King isn't a great story teller.

The other side of the argument states that you're basically wasting your time if you don't structure your story and use at least a rudimentary outline. Larry Brooks in Story Engineering states that you need to structure your story in a series of plot points, basically conforming to the quarters of the story, so that you continually draw the reader forward. This is essentially the format used in screen writing.

So what's right. Recognizing that few of us can compete with Stephen King, should we outline before we write? Personally, I think a writer should use whatever method makes him or her comfortable. I can see drawbacks with either mode. If you're a pantser, you may end up rewriting to make your story conform to a plot line. On the other hand, if you plot too tight, you may miss character interactions that would make your story special.

So what's the advice? If you have a good feel for story arc (and Stephen King is apparently one of those writers.) you may do your best work by having the idea and letting your characters tell the story. If you find yourself muddled about a third of the way through the story, not sure of where to go, I'd suggest outlining and trying to fit your story to major plot points.

Whatever kind of writer you are pantser, outliner, or a combination, keep writing. You will find the mode that's most comfortable for you and find that what you write is salable.

Nancy Famolari
Winner's Circle available from 

Internal and External Conflict

By Stephen Tremp

"The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph” - Thomas Paine

Authors love to incorporate conflict not only into their stories, but into the very fabric of their characters. It is conflict that drives the plot forward and engages the reader. The more adverse the conflict is, or a state of opposition, the more rewarding the victory is to the overcomers.

According to Gillian Roberts in You Can Write A Mystery, the fundamental element of all drama is conflict, a clash between good an evil. Life vs. death. Law vs. disorder. There are internal and external conflicts and personality conflicts with people of different goals, hostile witnesses, uncooperative employees, or frustrating red tape. Murder is often the “crime of choice” as it is the ultimate offense and “therefore produces the most absolute and unequivocal conflicts.” But conflict can manifest in numerous other less-violent forms, as long as it wrongs the accepted norms of a society or individuals. Gillain suggests the two sides of conflict be equally weighted (easier said than done). The protagonist should be the mental equal of the antagonist. Otherwise, it’s an unfair fight or a rout rather than a difficult quest and the tension would be reduced.

Internal conflict, or the conflict that takes place within the mind if a character, and external conflict, the struggle against some outside force, can be deciding factors as to what separates a good story from a great story. The protagonist has to meet a challenge and conquer it. But it’s hard if not seemingly impossible. He’s repeatedly foiled time and again along his journey, but must press forward. There is also conflict between individuals and their interactions, whether they are friend or foe. Characters can have differing goals. There can be hostile witnesses or frustrating beaurocracy and red tape.

Conflict also offers the author the opportunity to weave into the plot twists and turns that will keep the reader up late at night, turning the pages. When the protagonist, antagonist, or other characters overcome a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, the author can take advantage of the opportunity to bamboozle the reader by shifting the plot and make an unexpected sharp left or right turn.

Utilitarianism, or conduct directed toward promoting the greatest good for the greatest number of people, provides an excellent opportunity for an author to implement the element of internal and eternal conflict. Throughout history, men and women in positions of authority, during exceedingly excruciating circumstances, have had to make utilitarian decisions that affect countless lives and history itself. During World War II, Allied decision makers had to sacrifice entire towns and cities in order to take one more step toward winning the war. Dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to save literally millions of American and Japanese casualties would be another extreme example.

In my book Breakthrough, Chase Manhattan’s utilitarian decisions may seem to be on a much smaller scale. However, as the Breakthrough trilogy progresses, we see a Pandora’s Box that is opened and the key is the discovery of wormholes. Indeed, a seemingly innocent breakthrough that can benefit mankind can instead threaten life as we know it and send us back to the dark ages. The protagonist must overcome his own internal and external conflict if he is to stop the madness and destroy this breakthrough discovery.


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Writing the Blues

by Margaret Fieland

I've been a fan of the blues, the musical genre for years. But there's a lot I don't know about the it, as I found out when I took a quick peek online in Wikipedia That hasn't stopped me from writing a series of poems I've labeled blues. They're rhymed, rhythmic, and, well, see for yourself.

The first one I'm sharing is called Street Corner Blues. I'm a native New Yorker, born and raised in Manhattan. When I was in my 20s, the first apartment I rented without a roommate was on third avenue south of Fourteenth street, just above the East Village. Hookers, prostitutes, junkies, and drug dealers hung out on the corner. Local law enforcement had their hands full, and often, as far as I could tell, looked the other way.

One day last summer I was in down town Osterville, a very upscale town on Cape Cod, when I spied a couple of young men, underwear clearly visible above their low hanging pants, hanging around on a corner, and I flashed on the story in this poem. Who knows what the pair were actually doing – probably nothing more sinister than waiting for their mother to finish her shopping.

Street Corner Blues

Waiting on cracked sidewalk,
want to cadge a ride,
my ears catch rough, tough talk,
full of macho pride.

Two, three  brothers talking.
One guy pulls his gun.
I  start out slowly walking,
turn around, then run.

Hear three shots behind me,
next a sudden scream.
I’m done for if they find me,
knowing everything I seen.

Sitting on my sofa,
someone’s at my door,
pounding, kicks it open.
Don’t remember nothing more.

Cops come by to see me
in my hospital bed.
say, “Talk, man, or he goes free.”
But if I do, I’m dead.

Don’t remember nothing,
ain’t seen nobody fight.
I ain’t heard no gunshots
ringing through dark night.

This next poem has at its heart a true incident. I used to study ballet, and continued into my 20's. One night in class, I stepped wrong when making a pique turn, and twisted my knee. Not realizing how bad it was, I took the subway home, and by the time I hobbled up the subway stairs onto 14th street, I could barely walk. One of the many junkies hanging out offered to help me home. This man made polite conversation about the merits of Tae Kwan Do, and what he thought of Chuck Norris (a good friend was a martial arts devotee) all the way back to my apartment building. I have never forgotten this stranger's kindness to me.

The Help Me, Someone, Blues

I slip, slide on a banana,
a sudden fall. I twist my knee,
grab the lamp post, pull to standing,
no one spares a glance at me.
Not one single person's stopping,
but, hey, it's New York City.
I'm calling out the help me, someone, blues.

My knee's twisted, my knee's throbbing,
and I'm in a lot of pain.
I don't know what is going on
but something's wrong, it's plain.
I pick up the darn banana,
and I toss it down the drain.
I'm still hoping for the help me, someone, blues.

I take a few steps, slowly
limp and stumble down the street.
My whole left leg is ballooning.
I sit down on the concrete.
No way I can stagger home.
I must admit defeat.
I'm yelling out the help me, someone, blues.

I spot someone approaching,
had a bit too much to drink.
From five feet away the liquor
oozes off him. What a stink.
He comes right over to me,
says, "You need a hand, I think.
You're calling out the help me, someone, blues."

He loops my arm around his shoulder,
walks me right up to my door.
Murmurs, "Maam, it's been my pleasure,
not in any way a chore."
His head's stuck in a bottle,
but he was my savior,
the answer to the help me, someone, blues.

And here's one final poem, inspired by a quick dash down the stairs to the T in Boston one rainy night.

A Token for the Train

I clatter down the stairway,
buy a token for the train,
have no special destination,
seeking shelter from the rain.
Then I'm standing on the platform,
wondering why I'm here again.

In the station, sudden darkness,
hear the rattle of the train.
People screaming on the platform
echoes, drumming in my brain.
We can't see where we're going,
I turn round and round again.

I wonder why this havoc's happening,
wonder how we're getting out.
We're stumbling, bumbling in this darkness
turning, churning round about.
Someone's fallen on the train tracks,
all around folks scream and shout.

There's a whistle in the tunnel
and the clacking of the train,
then the screech and scream of metal
that's protesting from its pain,
squeals and squeaks of brakes engaging
as they work to stop the train.

I hear footsteps running over,
someone's jumping to the track,
followed by their grunts and groaning
as they pull the jumper back,
feel some thumping on platform.
My head's spinning, things go black.

Someone helps me back to standing
as the lights are coming on,
train doors close, it leaves the station.
Now the crowds of folks have gone.
I figure I'd be better walking
after all that has gone wrong.

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How to Write a Press Release

If you're promoting a newsletter, book or even yourself, a good press release is an essential tool. A well constructed press release can get your name out quickly.

1. A good release should get you exposure on the community calendar or the FYI sidebar in newsprint.

2. It should get you a response by phone or by email. Often the newspaper, radio station or website will contact you for clarification or sometimes an interview.

3. Your release should be ready to print. If you do the work for them, they are more likely to use it in print. They can just plug it in and go. That saves them time and money.

Things to include:

For immediate release or the start date
Your Phone and email address
Several spaces below that: THE TITLE IN ALL CAPS
You need to keep it brief, but eye catching!


Subtitle in upper and lower case:

Example: Mount Airy Author Reads at the Cornelia Library

Put the WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN in the first paragraph in an exciting and refreshing way.

Boring: Kathy Stemke will be reading her book at the Cornelia Library on Thursday, August 4, 2011.

Creative way to give the same information: Story telling is a lost art. Children learn about relationships, their community and how things work through stories. Retired teacher and author, Kathy Stemke, showcases her craft Thursday, August 4th at the Cornelia Library.

The rest of the release should show why people should attend and why they should be interested in Kathy Stemke.

Example: Kathy Stemke has a B.S. from Southern Connecticut State University and Covenant Life Seminary, as well as graduate coursework from New York Institute of Technology and Columbia University. Hanging her hat in the North Georgia mountains, she has been a dancer, choreographer, teacher, tutor, writer and antiques dealer for many years. As a freelance writer and ghostwriter, Kathy has published hundreds of articles in directories, websites and magazines. She is a reviewer for Sylvan Dell Publishing. As a retired teacher, Kathy has several activities published with Gryphon House Publishing.

Kathy’s first e-book, Moving Through All Seven Days, is now available on Lulu. Trouble on Earth Day, a picture book about recycling and Sh Sh Sh Let the baby Sleep a picture book that deals with sibling relationships and consonant blends are also available.

The closing of your press release should be specifically about who the release represents. If it represents the library, you want to give the specific address and phone information so people can contact them with questions. If the release is from Kathy Stemke, she should add a phone number, email address and website address.

Example: For more information contact Ms. Stemke at 678 234-5151, or You can sign up for Kathy’s free monthly newsletter, Movement and Rhythm, on her blog:

Keep it to one page! Just remember, if they want more, they will ask for it. Fill the space at the bottom of the page with contact numbers. Edit well and submit a clean copy.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Every medium loves photos. If you are submitting a photo please identify everyone in it, left to right, front row, back row. You must have photo releases available. If you submit a photo by email, make sure it is very high resolution. If you submit a snapshot by mail, make sure it is not your one and only copy, because with some newsrooms you will never see it again.

Better still, offer the paper a photo opportunity - you with your award, you accepting your award, or you signing your books for your fans.

If you have published a new book, suggest a giveaway--a write-in competition with a couple of copies of your book as prizes.


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Self-Editing: 10 Tips Checklist for Children’s Writers

You’ve been working on your story for a while now and you think it’s just about done. It’s been critiqued numerous times and you revised it numerous times. Now, it’s time to proofread and self-edit. You don’t want to short-change yourself on the last stretch, so get ready to put the final layers of polish on your manuscript.

Here are 10 tips to you can use to help fine-tune your children’s manuscript:

1. Check for clarity

Check each sentence for clarity. It’s important to remember that you may know what you intend to convey, but your readers may not. It’d be a good idea to have someone else read the manuscript for you. This is where a good critique group comes in handy.

2. Check for “telling” and lackluster sentences

Check each sentence for telling. While you will need some effective telling, you want to have more showing.

Example: Joe hit his head and was dazed.
Alternative: Joe banged his head against the tree. He wobbled a moment and fell to the ground.

Show, don’t tell. Use your imagination and picture your character going through motions—maybe he’s turning his lip up, or he’s cocking his head. Try to visualize it; this will help in showing rather than telling.

A good way to add more showing is to add more sensory details. Use the five senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste) to create a living character; this will help breathe life into your story.

Example: Joe felt cold.
Alternative: A chill ran through Joe’s body.

Example: Joe was frightened.
Alternative: Joe’s breath stopped. Goosebumps made the hair on his arms stand at attention.

3. Point of View: Watch for head hopping
Checking for head hopping is especially important for children’s writers since their stories should be told from the protagonist’s point of view or perspective.

If the story is being told from your main character’s point of view (POV) make sure it stays there.

If my POV character Joe is sad and wearing a frown, it wouldn’t be advisable to say: Noticing his sad face Fran immediately knew Joe was distraught. This is bringing Fran’s POV into the picture.

You might say: Joe knew Fran would immediately notice his despair; they were friends for so long.

 Or, you can just use dialogue: “Joe, what’s wrong?”

4. Watch for story consistency, conflict, clarity, and flow

Checking for consistency, conflict, clarity, and flow is another must for all writers of fiction. If you’re a children’s writer it’s even more important. Children need a structured story that’s consistent. The story also needs to provide conflict and action to keep the child engaged, along with clarity to help with comprehension. It should also flow smoothly with one paragraph, chapter moving seamlessly into the next.

5. Use spell-check

Make sure you write with spell-check on or use your word processor’s spell-check when you’re finished with your manuscript. I like writing with it on.

Just be careful here because while spell-check will catch misspelled words it won’t catch words that are spelled correct, but are the incorrect word in regard to meaning.

Example: He was to tired.
Correct: He was too tired.

These words are called homonyms and spell-check will not catch them.

A homonym is a word that sounds like another word, but is spelled different and has a different meaning. Examples of homonyms are: hare/here/hair; bare/bear/; stationary/stationery; peek/peak; principle/principal; capital/capitol; compliments/complements; cite/site/sight.

6. Use your Find function on your word processor

This is a great tool to check for “ly” words, “ing” words, weak verbs, and over used words such as “was.”

7. Watch for redundancy

Check the story for repeated phrasing and even paragraph beginnings. You don’t want several paragraphs in a row beginning with “the” or other repetitive wording. When editing your manuscript use the Find function in your word program and look for overused words.

Another aspect of redundancy is using unnecessary words.

Example: Sit down on the chair.
The word ‘down’ is redundant; ‘sit’ implies down.

Example: She whispered quietly.
The word ‘quiety’ is redundant.

8. Check for tight writing

In today’s market, tight writing is important—readers have a shorter attention span. So, get rid of unnecessary words and text.

Example: Joe had a really hard time lifting the very heavy and big trunk.
Alternative: Joe struggled to lift the huge trunk.

Also, watch for words such as “began” and “started.”

Example: He began to lift the trunk.
Alternative: He lifted the trunk.

9. Check for punctuation and grammar

There are a number of great books and even online articles that will help you learn proper punctuation and grammar. Two books that I use are: The Frugal Editor by Carolyn Howard Johnson and The Great Grammar Book by Marsha Sramek.

You can also do a Google search.

10. Children’s writers: Take illustrations into account

When writing a picture book you need to allow for illustrations. Picture books are a marriage between content and illustrations—a 50/50 deal. So, watch for text that an illustration can handle. With picture books your content doesn’t have to describe every little detail—the illustrations will embellish the story.

Well, this completes the 10 tips, but please know that self-editing is a tricky business and this is not an all inclusive list. Even knowing all the obstacles to watch out for, self-editing is still tricky. It's almost impossible for us writers to catch all our own errors; we're much too close to our work. We know every nook and cranny of the story and that makes it difficult to read it in a fresh manner. Even if we think we're reading every word, our mind is way ahead of us, that's why it's advisable to look into hiring an editor.

Karen Cioffi is a children's ghostwriter and rewriter. Have a children's book manuscript, outline, or idea? Check out: Writing for Children.


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