Author Swag: Make it Meaningful

Make your Swag Meaningful
Have Fun Creating your Swag
One of the activities I've enjoyed most while publishing my first book, Secret in the Stars: An Abi Wunder Mystery, has been to create “swag”—little giveaway items to remind readers of my book. Author swag can come in many forms, from bookmarks, keychains, bags, to stickers, and more. The key is to think up items that you’re comfortable with, that are affordable, and most important, that reflect YOU and the subject matter of your books.

Get Started: Check Out What Fellow Authors Do
Let’s face it, we writers are voyeurs. We study people, events, situations, many times without even realizing it. So, attending book signings is a golden opportunity to study how authors conduct them and also, who their readers are. The two most recent book launches I attended, prior to covid-19 of course, took place in book stores, by successful, traditionally-published children’s authors. One had no hoopla. No poster, no candy, no business cards, no slides or polished presentation, and not enough books (much to her chagrin). But, being well-known in our community and also  across the U.S., she attracted a good crowd; she told us the history behind her latest book, her fifth, with vast knowledge and terrific wit. At the end, while attendees stood in line waiting for her to sign our books, I was impressed with how personable she was with each person. We left having had a fun, satisfying experience. I decided that most likely she had enough experience to know that much of what a new author might think you need at a book signing is just fluff, and what counts is that readers get to meet the author and obtain her signature in their books.

The other book signing was when YA author Ransom Riggs blew into town to promote his latest book, The Conference of the Birds (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children). No one could miss his visit--his van with art for this book displayed all over it, was parked in front of Barnes & Noble. The crowd was large, full of excited young adults, and only one not-so-young woman dressed in costume, I presumed, as Miss Peregrine, which I enjoyed seeing immensely. There was the Ransom Riggs Tour Sweepstakes that many participated in and got to go to a private room, which stirred up excitement in the crowd. There were tattoos you could have pressed on your cheek, your arm; there was a giant cardboard faรงade decorated with “peculiar” Riggs' lore that you could stand behind for photos. Ransom Riggs presented himself with little fanfare and spent time telling us about himself, his family, and answering questions. I enjoyed myself and learned a lot about the presentation of a book signing.

But What Do Book Signings have to do with Author Swag?
After studying articles about swag and giving some thought about how to present my platform, I came up with some ideas, buoyed by what I had learned from the book signings, and observing other authors. As I researched the feasibility of each type of swag, I decided against bookmarks and stickers almost immediately. I have bookmarks and stickers from other authors. They live in a place I pass by every day on my bulletin board, and which I haven’t noticed since I first got them. That gave me the idea that I wanted my swag to have more meaning. To be noticed. To be useful. And most important, for children to have fun with at my personal appearances. Children can stamp stamps, stick stickers, and wear tattoos. Here is what I came up with:

  • Business cards: I ordered 500 to begin, at Staples, and used the logo, “Linda Wilson: Children’s Mystery Writer,” and symbol of a dragonfly from Secret in the Stars, created by Danika Corrall, designer of my website and illustrator for my second book, Secret in the Mist.
  • Post cards: I had two types of post cards, twenty-five each, made at Staples; one of the book cover, and the other titled, “Bee’s Needs: 7 Ways You Can Help;” which is related to honey and beehives, which are part of the Secret in the Stars story.
  • Stickers: Stickers displaying the logo turned out to be expensive, especially custom cutout stickers. Instead, I purchased Mrs. Grossman’s stickers, mainly of animals that appear in my stories: dog paws, galloping horses, hummingbirds, dragonflies, crafty cats and bees, to name a few. Purchased from
  • Stamps: Stamps for my use in my promo materials and also for children to have fun with at my book signings. I purchased one 3”x3” stamp, which is the image for this post, a large stamp pad, and two smaller stamps and stamp pads for the fridge pads, which I put together myself.
  • Fridge pads: On my fridge are two fridge pads from two different companies, that consist of the companies’ business cards and “To Do” pads, stuck on the fridge with a magnetic. Purchasing these pads ready-made was out of the question—too cost prohibitive. So, I purchased a 50-pack of self-adhesive magnetic business cards from Amazon, and a pack of 3x3” post-its. I glue a business card to the magnetic card (using the self-adhesive side), split the post-it block in half, and attach the half post-it block to the magnetic business card with cross-weave or any kind of strong tape. I stamped the first post-it page with my special stamp, shown above.

    Please note: As another reflection of Abi, the main character in my story, I had the words, “You are part of my world . . . forever,” the last words in the book, written below Abi’s image on the large stamp, to send the message to each of my readers that they are now part of Abi's world and she'll never forget them.

  • Tattoos: I plan to buy play tattoos so my readers can have fun putting them on.

Last and Most Fun of all: Giving Away Your Swag
I’ve had a lot of fun with my swag. When my book first came out, I knew everyone who bought it: my friends and family! I had an assembly line going. Each person who purchased my book received a fridge pad, a postage-stamped postcard, a thank you note, and the envelope decorated with a sticker or two. I’m looking forward to the day when I can have in-person book signings and make school visits, so my readers can have fun with my swag.

My main resource for learning about author swag:


Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 150 articles for adults and children, and several short stories for children. She has recently become editor of the New Mexico SCBWI chapter newsletter, and is working on several projects for children. Secret in the Stars: An Abi Wunder Mystery, Linda's first book, is available on Amazon, The next book in the Abi Wunder series, Secret in the Mist, will be available soon. Follow Linda on

Tips for Figurative Speech



Tips for Figurative Speech for Descriptive Writing

We strengthen our writing by using descriptive details that develop the topic; and
enhance with metaphors, similes, and comparisons, known as figures of speech. Today, let’s name figures of speech and consider how to use them in our writing.

We define a figure of speech as any intentional deviation from a literal statement or from common usage that emphasizes, clarifies, or embellishes. Poets use figurative language somewhat naturally. An associate of mine finds more insight into connections in poetry than I do.

What can we do to expand our repertoire to incorporate figures of speech in our writing if it does not come easy? Let’s review a few and get ideas popping.

Metaphors, similes, hyperbole, paradox, analogy, allegory, and symbols are a sampling, and are defined by Merriam-Webster’s below, with added comments. Strunk and White caution writers to use figures of speech sparingly, and always give the reader a chance to recognize comparisons before moving on to another.

Metaphors: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another, suggesting a likeness between them. It’s an imaginative transfer from one thing carried over to another. It’s an intuitive perception of similarity from items that are not.

Similes: a figure of speech comparing two unlike things, often introduced by like or as. It not only makes a definite comparison but explains it with simplicity.

Hyperbole: is an extravagant exaggeration, stating an outlandish comparison.

Paradox: is a statement that seems contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true. It can suggest complex emotion and provides mystery to our writing. It is the presentation of unlike ideas, which invites the reader to solve a puzzle.

Analogy: is a resemblance in some particulars between things otherwise unalike, a comparison based on such resemblance. Using analogies helps to clarify or reinforce our meaning, particularly for complex abstract or technical ideas.

Allegory: is the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations, about human existence in a story or art. It’s metaphorical in each element of person, place, thing or idea.

Symbols: are things that stand for or suggest something else because of relationship, association, convention or accidental resemblance. Not a meaning or a moral, but points to it. A symbol can be a symbolic gesture.

The challenge is the avoidance of sounding contrived.
Try figurative parts of speech and see what might work for you.

Added recommendation:
Keys To Great Writing, Revised and Expanded, by Stephen Wilbers

Earlier Post links in this series—Descriptive Writing for Fiction and Non-Fiction:
Make it with Specificity:
Write it with Research II:
Write it with Senses and POV Tips:

Deborah Lyn Stanley is an author of Creative Non-Fiction. She writes articles, essays and stories. She is passionate about caring for the mentally impaired through creative arts.
Visit her writer’s website at:  
Visit her caregiver’s website and read the Mom & Me memoir at:
Facebook: Deborah Lyn Stanley, Writer

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One Bite At A Time

By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin

How do you eat an elephant? It's an old joke and the answer is you eat an elephant one bite at a time.  It the same way to accomplish any huge task—one action at a time. Recently I began to write another book.  It doesn't matter that I've done it over and over through the years. Each time it looks daunting to write an entire book manuscript. No matter what others will tell you for everyone getting started is hard. The writing in the middle is hard and finishing is hard. Yes the task is difficult and looks impossible. So how do you get it done? One bite at a time.

What is the deadline for completing your book? If you don't have a deadline, then I suggest you set one. After you have a deadline, how many words a day are you going to write to complete the deadline? Make sure you build in some extra days for the unexpected (happens to everyone) but make sure you hit your deadline.

Or maybe your goal is tied to your social media. You want to reach a certain number of followers on Twitter or a certain number of connections on LinkedIn. Are you actively working on these networks? Are you posting a number of times each day? Are you connecting with new people? Without your regular actions, then it will be hard to increase your presence and meet your goals.

Do you want to appear on more radio shows or podcasts and talk about your latest book? There are thousands of radio stations and podcasts  which use guests on their program. These bookings do not happen just sitting back and waiting for them to call. Your phone will be silent if you wait. Instead, you need to be actively pitching the producers of these programs.

Or maybe you want to write more magazine articles? Waiting for the phone to ring will likely not happen. What proactive steps are you taking to either go ahead and write the article then submit it to the publication? Or you can write a query letter and send it simultaneously to different publications and get an assignment?

Many are surprised that I have written over 60 books through the years. There are several keys in this process but one of the most important is consistent writing.  It is a matter of writing one paragraph, then another paragraph which becomes one page then another page. It is the same process as eating an elephant—doing it in bite-size pieces.

Do you break your writing into smaller pieces? I'd love to have your tips and insights in the comments below.


How do you eat an elephant? Learn the secret in this article from this prolific writer and editor. (ClickToTweet)

 W. Terry Whalin is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. His work contact information is on the bottom of the second page (follow this link).  His latest book for writers is 10 Publishing Myths, Insights Every Author Needs to SucceedOne of Terry's most popular free ebooks is Straight Talk From the Editor, 18 Keys to a Rejection-Proof Submission. He lives in Colorado and has over 200,000 twitter followers

Create Believable Characters and Conflict In Your Children's Story

Writing in general is a tough craft, although many may not think so. The writer has to take individual words and craft them together to create: interest, suspense, romance, humor, grief, fantasy, other worlds . . . the list goes on and on. And, it must be done with clarity and engagment.

While there is an abundance of information about writing and writing for children, it can easily become overwhelming, and even confusing. But, getting down to the nitty-gritty, there are two basic elements or rules to writing fiction for children you need to be aware of: creating believable characters and having conflict.

Characters Need to be Believable
Your characters, especially your protagonist, need to create a bond or connection with the reader. In order to create that connection you will need to care about your characters. If you don’t, you’ll never get a reader to care. Make your characters believable and interesting.

In addition to this, you need to know your characters and remember their traits, physical characteristics, temperament, and so on. I’m sure there are instances, if you’re writing by the seat-of-your-pants rather than from an outline, where your character may do something you didn’t plan, but usually it’s a good idea to know what makes him tick.

Even the choices your protagonist makes will help define him, and create a deeper bond with the reader. Does he take the high road to reach his goals, or does he sneak in under the wire? Does he create options to choose from, or is he sweep along by the current of the story, grabbing at lifelines for survival? Are his choices a struggle? 

You can keep track of your characters’ quirky telltale marks, expressions, behavior patterns, and physical features by noting them on a character sheet as these traits become unveiled.

You can also create a character interview for each character. The answers to the questions will help unveil each character’s personality, traits, history, family, and so on.

Conflict is a must

A story’s conflict is like a detour or obstacle in the road from point A to point B. The protagonist must figure out a way over, around, under, or through it.

Conflict will drive your story forward and give the reader a reason to stay involved. Conflict is basically an obstacle between your protagonist and her wants or needs. It may be a crisis, a desire, a relationship, a move, or other. It can be caused by internal or external factors. Does overcoming one obstacle/conflict lead to another? Does she have help, or are others thwarting her efforts?

Along with this, there should be more than one conflict. In writing fiction for children, there may be two or three conflicts; as one is overcome another takes its place. A good rule is to think in threes: three characters, three problems, and three solutions.

This is only the beginning and most basic of the tips that new writers of children’s fiction should be aware of. There are many more that we touch on at Writers on the Move.

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author. She runs a successful children’s ghostwriting and rewriting business and welcomes working with new clients.

For tips on writing for children OR if you need help with your project, contact her at Writing for Children with Karen Cioffi.

You can follow Karen at:

Check out Karen's newly revised How to Write a Children's Fiction Book.


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Tips for a Better Zoom Experience

Tips for a Better Zoom Experience
To Zoom or not to Zoom? It's not even a question. 

These days, Zoom is the primary platform for connecting people and events. Whether you are attending a virtual conference, workshop, or networking event, it helps to be comfortable with the platform.

My friend Steve Dotto, Dotto Tech, created a series of Zoom videos, and here are two to give you a nice background without too much overwhelm:

Zoom Basics:


And Zoom FAQs:

Beyond Zoom basics, here are a few things you need to know for a better Zoom experience:

1. Download Zoom. Before you attend a Zoom-hosted event, download the software on your computer. It'll make it much easier to join in when the event-time comes, so you are not scrambling to connect. You do not have to sign up for a paid account - a free account will enable you to personalize your Zoom experience, so your name and image will show up when you attend an event. 

Yes, you can use the Zoom app on your phone, but I think the computer - or tablet - makes for a better experience. It's much easier to watch, chat, and listen when you are not concerned about the position of your phone.

2. Use a Headset/Mic. You don't need to invest in a fancy microphone to Zoom. However, plugging in your hands-free earbuds - like the one on your smartphone - will reduce background noice, while making it easier for others to hear you. Keep your phone on mute unless you are talking. I also recommend turning off your video when someone else is presenting a workshop or seminar. Frequently the host will turn off the video and audio for all until the Q&A at the end. 

3. Clear the Clutter. Set up your computer in a place where the background is clean. You don't want your messy kitchen or office distracting others from the conversation. Zoom also has background options you can use with a green screen or clear background. However, those can tend to be distracting. My office setup has my book and my logo framed behind me. Simple, clean branding done the old-fashioned way.

4. Write Out Your Deets. Have your contact details ready to cut and paste into the Zoom chat box (usually in the bottom right of the screen). Keep a notepad doc with your website, email, and LinkedIn link. Use the https:// so it shows up as clickable. That way you don't have to retype it ever time you have a call. Oh, and be sure to save the chat toward the end of each meeting, so you have the info of others too. 

5. Avoid Zoom Overload. As easy as it may be to schedule several video conferences in one day - you're dressed. why not? - it's much better to pace yourself. Video calls take a lot of extra energy. Try to limit them to just a one or two a day and, if you have more, schedule downtime in between sessions. 

Bonus: Follow up: Like in an IRL event, if you make a new friend or business connection, be sure to follow up. Connect on LinkedIn, set up a coffee meet, and/or invite them to another event. 

The same rules to real-life events apply to virtual ones. Be polite (not salesy). Make new friends. Be genuine. And have fun. That's key for any event, live or virtual. Enjoy yourself and you will attrack like minds in the process.

* * *

What are your tips for Zoom? Please share in the comments.

* * *

Debra Eckerling is the author of Your Goal Guide: A Roadmap for Setting, Planning and Achieving Your Goals. A writer, editor and project catalyst, as well as founder of the D*E*B METHOD and Write On Online, Deb works with individuals and businesses to set goals and manage their projects through one-on-one coaching, workshops, and online support. She is also the author of Write On Blogging: 51 Tips to Create, Write & Promote Your Blog and Purple Pencil Adventures: Writing Prompts for Kids of All Ages, host of the #GoalChat Twitter Chat and #GoalChatLive on Facebook, and a speaker/moderator on the subjects of writing, networking, goal-setting, and social media.

Editing Skills Your High School Grammar Teacher Didn't Teach You

 Editing Skills for Do-It-Yourselfers or Those with Editors: Help Your Editor Avoid “Bad Breaks”

As a freelance editor of fiction, memoir, and poetry as well as the author of the HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers including the winningest book in the series The Frugal Editor, I know that I can give an author a better price on a per-page quotations if they have submitted a “clean” manuscript. As a writer who has published every which way I know that tricks like the one in this article will help authors produce much more professional hardcover or print copies no matter what platform an author chooses.

To put a fine point on it, authors benefit when they knows some of the things editors look for whether they work independently or with a big five publisher.  In fact, great editing (along with marketing skills) can help them convince an agent or publisher "this project" is the one they should invest in. MSNBC brands themselves with the quotation, “the more you know." It applies to authors, even when it comes to something they think they can turn over for someone else to do! 

One of those editing skills we weren't taught in our high school grammar class is what editors call bad breaks. Here is what they are talking about:
~Bad breaks can be widows (where the last line of a paragraph appears all by its little lonely self on the next page).

~ Bad breaks can be orphans (where a paragraph, title, subhead, title or section begins on one page and gets left dangling there with only one line until the reader gets to the next page).

~A bad break can be a hyphenated word at the end of line that appears as the very last thing a reader sees on any given page.

~A bad break can be a word that breaks incorrectly at the end of a line. Check your dictionary when you must break a word. Dictionaries tell you where syllable breaks are and we don’t break words anywhere but between syllables. Great publishers also don’t break a long word after the very first syllable or before the last one.

~We also don’t break a name (use a hyphen) after an initial in a name. So, we should leave a name like “J. R. Turner” on one line with no attempt to break it even if avoiding the break screws with the spacing a tad.

You’ll find many other tips on “Avoiding Humiliation and Ensuring Success” (which happens to be the second subtitle for my The Frugal Editor) in the paper or ebook edition on Amazon at

Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers and the many classes she taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. The books in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers have won multiple awards. That series includes  The Frugal Book Promoter and The Frugal Editor which won awards from USA Book
News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books and others including the coveted Irwin award. How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically launched to rave reviews from Jim Cox, Editor-in-Chief of Midwest Book Reviews and others:

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Become an Author - 5 Basic Rules

It may seem like becoming an author today is a no-brainer. You just write something, get it up on Kindle, and you’re an author.

Well, that’s true, but I wouldn’t consider you an author. And, neither would any other experienced author. And, chances are, if you get any readers, they wouldn’t call you an author either.

To be an author, you need to create a quality book.

You need to write a story that’s well written, that’s engaging, and that you can be proud to have your name on. Before this can happen, you need to have some knowledge of what you’re doing.

Below are five fundamental rules for ‘new to the arena’ authors.
1. Learn the craft of writing.

Even seasoned writers are always honing their skills.

You can take online courses or classes. You can enroll in college classes. You can read, read, read books on writing. And, just as important, you should read books in the genre you want to write.

Tip: Don’t read exclusively in that genre, read in a number of genres, but focus on the genre you want to write in.

In addition, there are many writing blogs that offer great tips on the craft of writing. Take advantage of them.

Tip2: Learning the craft of writing includes learning how to self-edit your work.

2. Join a critique group and writing groups with new and experienced writers.

Even seasoned writers have trouble finding the trouble spots in their own stories. For this reason, you must belong to a writing group and critique group.

Critique groups see what you don’t. They spot: holes in your story, areas where you’re lacking clarity, grammatical errors, and so much more.

It’s essential to have your story critiqued or edited before you submit it for publication. This includes self-publishing. Just because you’re by-passing the publishing house gatekeepers, doesn’t mean you can forego having a polished story.

3. If you can afford it, work with a writing coach.

This really does make a difference. You get answers to all your questions, along with guidance and advice. Just be sure the coach knows her business.

There are lots and lots of people claiming to have the ability to teach you the ropes. Check them out first, before paying them. A good way to find reputable writing coaches is to ask other experienced writers.

4 Learn about marketing and book promotion.

Yep, this is a requirement of being an author. Even if you’re traditionally published, you’ll need to know the book marketing ropes. Look at heavy-hitter James Patterson’s TV commercials. He knows he has to market his own books.

Obviously, most of us can’t afford TV commercials, but if do online searches, you'll find many free articles, webinars, online classes, and avenues for instruction on how to promote and market your books. Take advantage of them.

The internet is severely overcrowded. There are thousands, more likely millions, of authors trying to sell their books. This means you need an edge. You need knowledge. You need something that will bring you to the forefront, or at least close to it.

Tip: If you’re thinking of hiring a service to help with your book marketing, be sure they’re reputable and know what they’re doing. Ask questions, such as:

- What’s the total cost?
- What distribution outlets will they use?
- Are press releases included? If so, which ones will be used?
- How long will the campaign last?
- What type of social media promotion do they use?

In other words, find out exactly what you’re paying for. And, ask around if anyone knows of them and if they’re reputable.

5. Pay it forward.

Help other writers who are starting out. Okay, I know this isn't a prerequisite to becoming an author, but it should be.

Established authors have always taken the time to help other writers. I’ve benefited from this and now I do the same. I even created a blog with other experienced authors and we share writing and marketing tips. You can check it out at Writers on the Move,

Then, what you learn, pass along.

These are five of the basic elements of becoming an author. I hope they help you reach your writing goals.

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children's author and a working children’s ghostwriter as well as the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move. You can find out more about writing for children and her services at: Karen Cioffi Writing for Children. Check out the DIY Page!

And, check out my new picture book: The Case of the Plastic Rings – The Adventures of Planetman


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Tips for Creating Subplots in Middle Grade Novels

by Suzanne Lieurance   If you’re writing a middle grade novel, you want to include at least one or two subplots. Subplots in fiction are sec...