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My walk this morning reminded me of the indie publishing journey I’ve been on for the past few years, as I saw tansy and thistle growing along the fence line.

After much research and many trials, I created Tansy & Thistle Press…faith, fiction, forum. I already had a website, but I wanted to use create my own logo, describing the content of the site and the blog.

The creation of the independent business was a steep learning curve for sure, but I expected the choice of a name to be fairly simple, to think of something that portrayed what I write, and to polish it.

It turned out to be an exercise in frustration, as every name I tried was already used by at least one of the millions of people who have websites. I like the thistle idea, because we have thistles here, but it needed something more. It must have been my husband who suggested tansy, another type of invasive weed that grows heartily in our area. The tansy is yellow, the thistle purple, and I liked the sound of them together: Tansy & Thistle Press.

For the subtitle, I wanted to include fiction, because that is mostly what I write, and my faith always seems to come out in it, whether I plan it or not, which is also what I want to offer. But I also have a blog, and how does that fit in? Again, it was my brilliant husband who suggested the word forum, as a place to discuss faith and fiction and other topics.

I registered the business name and logo January 6, 2016, using the image above that a business on Fiverr created, and have enjoyed using it since. I continue to write, working on the third book in my In Search of Freedom series, and hope to have it available either for Christmas or shortly afterward. If life would stop interrupting, it would be easier, but I am enjoying this summer with family and friends, so at times, the writing is pushed back. But I will pursue it in order to tie up this series with Far Side of the Sea, as soon as possible.

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JAN: Today, I have the pleasure of introducing a writer from Australia, Narelle Atkins, who I met (virtually) through International Christian Fiction Writers. Thank you, Narelle, for taking time to share about your writing life with me and my readers.

How long have you been writing and how did you come to it?

NARELLE: I’ve always been an avid reader and dreamed about writing and publishing a book. Twenty years ago, I started writing romance fiction. After a long writing apprenticeship, my debut book was published by Harlequin Heartsong Presents in 2014 as part of a six-book contract.

JAN: I suppose that could be exciting and frightening at the same time, to be offered such a deal, but you’ve obviously followed through and done well. What is your preferred genre?

NARELLE: Contemporary Christian Romance.

JAN: Why do you write?

NARELLE: Because I can’t not write, lol. I have characters in my head who won’t go away or shut up until their stories are written!

JAN: An active imagination is a great motivator. How and where do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

NARELLE: I can write a first draft anywhere. I wrote a large portion of Solo Tu, my latest release, using the Notes app on my phone. For the editing stage, I prefer to work at home where I can be left alone to focus on the story. I’m a plotter and I typically start my stories with a robust outline in place. The outline is fluid and I make minor adjustments as I write and learn more about the characters and the story.

JAN: Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?

NARELLE: Life inspires me. I feed my creativity by being out and about and meeting people.

JAN: What are some of the best methods of promoting your work?

NARELLE: An author newsletter has become an essential way to connect with readers. I also enjoy blogging on my group blogs and connecting with readers there and in the Facebook reader groups.

JAN: What are your favorite / most effective social media?

NARELLE: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are the social media platforms where I spend the most time.

JAN: How do you balance professional time with personal time?

NARELLE: It’s not easy. I have work-a-holic tendencies, and I find it’s always a struggle to balance family, day job, and writing responsibilities.

JAN: How is your faith reflected in your writing?

NARELLE: The faith element is an organic part of my stories. I like exploring the spiritual journey of my characters. This may be subtle or a bit more overt. I personally don’t like reading preachy Christian fiction books, but I do appreciate reading stories with a strong and compelling faith element.

JAN: Yes, it’s a fine line. What is your ultimate writing goal?

NARELLE: To keep learning and growing as a writer.

JAN: Good advice for any of us. What advice would you give a beginning writer?

NARELLE: Take the time to learn your craft and resist the temptation to publish too soon. Don’t give up. Enjoy the journey!

Narelle Atkins

A fun loving Aussie girl at heart, NARELLE ATKINS was born and raised on the beautiful northern beaches in Sydney, Australia. She has settled in Canberra with her husband and children. A lifelong romance reader, she found the perfect genre to write when she discovered inspirational romance. Narelle’s contemporary stories of faith and romance are set in Australia.

How to get in touch with Narelle:

 

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Some time ago a guest attended our local writers’ group meeting. She hadn’t come seeking editing or opinion for her life-changing book, but a fast track to publication. However, she couldn’t seem to tell us what her book was actually about.

Later, I talked with her on the phone and suggested she write up a two-sentence summary for the next meeting. I told her, as gently as I could, that if she couldn’t tell us what it was about, how would she tell and editor. And if she couldn’t tell an editor, the book would not be published. She never returned to our group.

The point of my anecdote is that we need to be able to condense our stories to the bare bones in order to interest an editor, and, I would add, our potential readers.

There are several levels of summary required in marketing our stories.

  1. I discussed synopsis in a previous post. Quick review: a synopsis is a concise overview of the story from beginning to end, as a selling tool for an editor. (My book synopses are usually two pages single-spaced.)
  2. Another level is a summary of the main characters and story question for the back cover of the book. Length can vary, but it usually consists of a couple of brief paragraphs.
  3. A third level of summary is the pitch. Boil down the essence of the story into one or two strong sentences. Reduce it to its essential flavors. What does your book promise to deliver? What is the story question? What is at risk? Why should I care? These are all questions to ask ourselves as we craft our pitch.file000595720150

The pitch must first of all be brief and concise. It should also stir emotion, and it should throw out a question that begs to be answered in the course of the story.

I’m currently reading a book called Thorns of Rosewood by G.M. Barlean. I’m at about the halfway point in the story, and would say the essence is this: “Journalist Gloria Larsen interviews four elderly women in hopes of finding the truth about a 40-year old, unsolved murder. Could these octogenarians really be guilty of murder, and could one of them be her biological mother?”

I just now looked it up on amazon, and the one-liner is: “Gloria Larsen knows only three things about her birth mother: she was over forty, she lived in Rosewood, Nebraska, and she was accused of murder in 1974.”

Examples work well for me, so I’ll share a couple more with you:

The amazon product description for Angela Hunt’s biblical story, Esther, Royal Beauty, says, “When an ambitious tyrant threatens genocide against the Jews, an inexperienced young queen must take a stand for her people.”

Here’s the product description pitch for When Sparrows Fall by Meg Moseley: “Freedom. Safety. Love. Miranda vows to reclaim them—for herself and for her children.”

As you can see, amazon product descriptions offer some good pitches (remember you’re aiming at one or two sentences). A book catalogue is another great way to study pitches, since by necessity they must be brief.

So set aside some time to analyze your story and come up with a riveting pitch. I guarantee it will prove to be a great marketing tool.

 

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When I wrote my first book, I didn’t have an agent. I didn’t even know if I could write enough of a story to warrant a book with actual covers. However, as time progressed, I realized I’d have not one book but two, and eventually three, in the series.

I was an absolute newbie when I submitted the manuscript for my first book, and the smaller press I contracted with didn’t always use the pattern I’d heard about from other royalty published authors. It was a learning experience, but we managed it.

Then, through a series of events that would sound like coincidence if I didn’t believe in the leading of God, I emailed an agent and he agreed to look over my second book contract, for a reasonable fee. I received some good advice, as well as his willingness to represent me to my publisher.shaking hands

One result of this alliance was a somewhat better contract for books two and three, but another was the fact that I can always contact him when I need advice, or an intermediary between my current publisher and me. The world of book publishing is changing so quickly I can’t keep up, but my agent is in the thick of it and gives me information as well as advice and support. Over the years, I’ve been most thankful that I have an agent, and that he is approachable and willing to share.

So back to the question: Do I need an agent?

I suggest the benefits are very good. Many of the existing publishing houses do not accept un-agented author submissions, so that cuts out quite a number of options. Also, having someone “in the know” offers protection and confidence. He or she may also know the reputation of smaller, newer publishers and be able to advise.

Even if you don’t need an agent, it’s helpful to have one, and very beneficial for most authors. Remember, although you will be sharing a percentage of the royalties from the book sales (usually about 15%), you don’t pay an agent until he or she sells your book. A bona fide agent will never require fees for services outside of your royalty agreement.

The acquisition of an agent is another matter. As I said earlier, it was a series of God-nudges that brought me to my agent. The usual process is to submit a request for representation, much like submitting a manuscript, and find out which agents are seeking/accepting clients, and if you would be a good fit. I can’t say too much on this because I haven’t experienced it, but check the world wide web, make a list of agencies that appeal to you, and write up your agent-query email. Then send it out and see what comes up. Nothing will happen unless you step out and make the first move. Here are a few suggestions…

All the best in your search.

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Evaluation. Assessment, appraisal, judgment. In literary work it is known as critique. “A systematic determination of a subject’s merit, worth and significance, using criteria governed by a set of standards.” (Wikipedia)

During my nine years as an active member of Toastmasters, I had many opportunities to evaluate presentations given by my fellow Toastmasters, since evaluation is a regular part of the meeting agenda. I also attended workshops specifically designed to teach effective evaluation.

The method we used boiled down to noting both positives and negatives. The positives affirm the speaker. The negatives, limited to one or two, and not overpowering the positives, are communicated in the form of practical suggestions for improvement.

In my writing career, I have learned to appreciate constructive criticism. In fact, I have come to welcome it. Without feedback, I have no idea which direction to move. With thoughtful evaluation, every affirmation builds my confidence, and every suggestion motivates me to improve.file0001564894818

What standards do we use to critique someone’s writing? I would suggest that these standards develop and evolve as we learn more about writing, but I have a couple of simple suggestions for learning this highly effective tool.

Step One: Read. A lot. Then practice evaluating what you read. Since we’re talking fiction here, ask yourself why you liked or did not like the story. Trace your instinctive feelings, rather than shrugging and saying, “I liked it. I can’t really tell you why.”

Questions to ask yourself as you read:

* Do the characters come across as real people?

* Does the dialogue sound realistic; does it affect the characters or the storyline?

* Do the characters behave consistently?

* Has the author created a professional piece of writing? (grammar, punctuation, polish)

* Do you forget you are reading and get lost in the story?

* Does the plot offer enough tension to keep you turning pages?

* Can you “see” the world of the story?

* Does the story evoke strong emotions as you read?

Step Two: Ask yourself these same questions as you write and review your own writing.

When we evaluate someone else’s writing and give them an overview of our impressions, it reminds us to follow the same guidelines in our own writing.

Not only do we help others when we learn to effectively critique their work, we also pick up tips on what to emulate and what to avoid in our own work.

Evaluation, or the art of critique, is an invaluable tool for writers because it teaches us to look at our own work in new ways. It’s a win-win situation.

P.S. Someone asked me if mentally evaluating everything I read robs me of the joy of reading. Not at all. It takes time to form the habit of evaluation, but it also teaches me discernment, and saves me from wasting my time on unworthy books (and there are many out there in this age where anyone can publish a book). I’ve become more aware of what makes a story work or not work, so when I find a book that’s well-written, I thoroughly enjoy it. And there are also many of these great stories out there.

 

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Why do you write what you write? Read what you read? How do you sort your ideas and decide what your focus will be?

Each of us has a set of filters through which we see the world. It depends where we come from, what our childhood was like, pleasant or traumatic experiences we may have lived through and what we have learned of life. This is called our worldview.

KNOW THYSELF

Our worldview also affects our voice, our style of writing, even the mood of our story. Our personality shows through our characters, through their responses to obstacles and challenges in their fictitious lives. Life-experiences color our composition.

Wikipedia says “A comprehensive worldview is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society’s knowledge and point of view.”

When we identify what we believe and why, our writing will reflect this understanding of the world around us. Who am I? What do I believe? What difference has my set of beliefs made in my life?

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As writers, we put ourselves out there for the world to see, in fact, we want as many people as possible to read our work. If we look at writers who have had a major impact on society, they are people who have /had strong beliefs (not necessarily positive or uplifting but personally affirmed).

For example, study this quote by Ernest Hemingway [1929 – A Farewell to Arms. New York: Scribner’s]: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.” Hemingway’s words give us a good idea of what he believed based on his experiences as a war correspondent.

Mark Twain wrote humorous stories colored increasingly by sarcasm and satire. One of his famous quotes is: “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”

TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE

Besides having your own worldview set in your mind, you must also make sure your characters know what they stand for. This will strongly affect their development. I recently forced myself to read more than half a light romance before giving it up for lost. The problem: the characters’ actions and responses were inconsistent. Why? Because, in my opinion, the author didn’t know them well enough to guide them in consistent behavior in the world she had created for them.

Whatever your experiences in life, make sure you contemplate how they affect your worldview and that of your characters. It may make the difference between being read or being set aside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CASE STUDY #1

Geoffrey Deschambeau* is the author of a recently published children’s book that the teacher of a dance class discovered and used to encourage and inspire her young students. However, when parents asked where they could buy the book, no one knew. They couldn’t trace the author or the book title.

CASE STUDY #2

Rebeka McElroy* has written a riveting historical novel set during World War II. It’s titled The Cost of Courage*. Apparently, it’s a great read and well-written. But how would you know that if I hadn’t told you, or if you didn’t believe me?

(*names have been changed)

Case in point: if we want people to read our books, we must make them available through whatever means of promotion are within our reach.

How can we do this?

My short answer: through social media.

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Yes, there may be a steep learning curve involved. If you’re tempted to skip this blog because you don’t want to put the effort into learning social media, please don’t. My expertise is also limited, but I can learn. My age might well be against me, but I can learn. And if I can learn and benefit from social media, so can you.

Step One — Who Are You?

* Create an author bio –where you were born/lived, early writing inspiration, education/professional experience, publishing credits if any, genre, etc. Write it in third person.

– Begin with a longer version, about 250 words (for website, interviews, social media profiles)

– Whittle it down to 30-50 words (for back cover book bio)

– Edit out everything but the essential facts, to 140 characters (for Twitter)

Step Two — What do you have?

* What is your book about? Write a summary (this is not a synopsis) in three lengths (short, medium, long) for various posting purposes. Check back covers of other books, especially those in the same genre as yours. Try the template in Appendix B of Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell if you need a more structured approach.

Step Three — Where Are You?

You must be traceable. How can people find you?

* Join writing groups, both locally and online

* Attend writing workshops, conferences, readings, launches

* Network with other writers and readers whenever possible

* Create an online presence for you and your books. This is what Social Media is for.

Step Four — Website, etc.

* Ask for help from friends who already have an online presence. Google to learn more.

* Create a website using WordPress or Blogger (my preferences). They provide easy-to-use templates for setting up a simple website. If you have the extra cash, you can hire someone to do this for you.

* Create accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Amazon Author Page, and any others you hear about. Take it one step at a time and practice using each site before moving to another

* Use the book summaries and author bios you prepared earlier for your profile on these sites. Here’s an example from the back cover of my most recent novel:

back cover copy

 

CASE STUDIES

In CASE STUDY #1, Deschambeau’s book found an extremely limited audience willing to buy if the buying was simple. However, at the time of this writing, the author has no website, and the book has not found a home on any social media sites. If we don’t know about it, we can’t buy it.

In CASE STUDY #2, I’m happy to say the author did her legwork and sent out emails, Facebook ads and tweets. She also hosted a book launch to spread the word of her newly released novel. She requested, received and posted positive reviews that followed the book’s appearance on the major bookselling sites. I believe it’s selling well and the actual title and author are Threaten to Undo Us by Rose Seiler Scott.

To conclude, our writing careers require balance. We must be traceable. Our product must be available for purchase. BUT, if we spend all our time on social media, we won’t have time to write. Many prolific authors have people to tend their social media sites, but those of us who can’t afford that must maximize our online time. The matter of greatest importance is to keep producing quality fiction. Otherwise, we will have nothing to promote.

I recently discovered an article online that offers a strong note of caution regarding social media book promotion. I will leave it to you to read and consider HERE. Go for balance.

 

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