Think You Can't Build a Platform for Your Writing? Think Again.

Monday, October 18, 2021


If you’re a writer who wants to one day attract the interest of an agent or publishing house, or create products to sell on your own, creating a platform for yourself is a must. In essence, this platform is your visibility as an author. 

There are several different ways you can work on building your platform if you haven’t already. 

You can: 
  • Create a website or blog. 
  • Build an e-mail list where you can alert subscribers to upcoming projects, books for sale, and provide free content. 
  • Write guest blog posts or articles for online publications. 
  • Grow a social media following through sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. 
  • Become a public speaker on topics you write about. 
When I first started my freelance career, I looked at other authors with large followings and thought I’d never be able to emulate those types of platforms. For several years I fumbled around, worrying too much about having the necessary platform elements in place all at once. Then slowly, the puzzle pieces started coming together. I created a simple writing website for my clips. I found consistent work as a freelance writer and editor for regional magazines. I developed a specialty on writing about parenting topics, and then, one on human interest stories. I won my first magazine writing award, which helped solidify me as an expert in freelance writing. A local writing group invited me to speak to their members, an event which also offered me a free dinner and a small stipend. Then, I won a few awards for fiction writing, which gave me solid credentials for my bio when pitching literary agents. 

I began researching and writing regularly about true crime on my blog, then developed my own true crime podcast. The following for the podcast has continued to grow and not only am I producing regular content, but I’m networking with other true crime writers in the process. I’m almost at the point where I’ll be able to promote more of my products through this channel. I’m about to approach a few writers’ groups and the public library to see if they would like me to speak on the art of true crime writing and places to submit in this genre. 

WOW! also offers classes for anyone looking to begin the process of platform building. There’s a video course on “Online Clips for Freelance Writers: Websites vs. Portfolios” by Bernadette Geyer that begins upon ordering. Karen Cioffi has “Build Your Author/Writer Platform” beginning on Nov. 1. 

Now I want to hear about your platforms! What steps have you taken to solidify yourself as an expert? What are some easy ways you could build up your platform more? 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and magazine editor who also hosts the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas, which recently surpassed 30,000 downloads. Learn more about her at www.FinishedPages.com.
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Picking and Choosing, Or You Don’t Have to Do It All

Saturday, October 16, 2021

For the past six weeks, I’ve been working as a mentor in a program that helps prepare writers for the educational market. The goal is that by the time the program is over they will have all that they need to apply to any educational market, and there are many. 

One group of educational markets specializes in testing. The authors who write for these markets prepare passages. Some of them also write the actual test questions. Many write for state assessment tests. 

Another group writes books for the school and library market. Most of these jobs are work-for-hire with a vast range of topics. To write for this market you have to write fast and you have to be flexible. 

Then there are the curriculum markets. They write actual text and workbook pages. There is the explanation of the lesson, the lesson itself, and the challenge for the student to apply what they learned. Then there are the markets that prepare material for the teachers. 

How can one program prepare writers for all three areas? Really, we can’t. Writers with teaching experience will have an easier time getting curriculum jobs. Writers with no experience will have an easier time getting jobs writing test passages. Experience in either of these areas will help land a work-for-hire job. 

But there’s something else. Writers have to pick and choose what they are best suited to write. 

My friend Chris is a top notch question writer. Frequently she writes questions for her own passages and for those of other writers. Not everyone can see the nuances in the many requirements for question writing. Let me be honest – I am unbelievably bad at question writing. 

I write work-for-hire. I’m a good researcher who is interested in a ridiculous number of topics. And I write fast. In the last 10 days, I’ve written two elementary school books. Add to this the fact that I actually enjoying seeing the book change and grow. The finished product is always better than what I first turn in. But this means that I have to be willing to let go and follow my editor’s lead. 

I used to write test passages. This is another area that requires the ability to write fast and also an eye for detail. I’m good at this but I don’t want to do it. Let’s just say that I have philosophical issues with testing and leave it at that. 

And curriculum writing? I can write for the students but the teaching material is a challenge for me, and I don’t mean a good challenge. So I don’t accept those jobs. 

It doesn’t matter if you are writing educational material or essays, picture books or novels. You aren’t suited to do it all and you probably don’t want to anyway. There are things you like and things you are good at. You’ll have to pick and choose what is right for you. 

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try new things, but don’t feel bad when you just don’t get the appeal of a certain market. Leave that for someone else, someone who may not get what you enjoy doing. We all have to pick and choose. 

--SueBE

Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 30 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on November 1, 2021).  Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins November 1, 2021) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins November 1, 2021). 
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Friday Speak Out!: 6.5 Months to A Beginning that Worked

Friday, October 15, 2021
by Caitlin Hamilton Summie

I didn’t get it. I didn’t get it for 6 ½ months. But my editor, Marc Estrin, patiently stuck with me, nudging me, until I did: the opening to my novel was all wrong. The way my characters had met wasn’t “true.”

I’d set the scene with the couple meeting at a college football party. Al and Sarah ended up sharing space on a couch to view the game. Despite the team getting trounced and limping off the field, a slightly inebriated but always loyal Al rose to sing the Gopher fight song, and Sarah got a kick out of him. I loved that moment of Al’s, but I came to understand that I had trivialized my characters in this scene, perhaps made Al look silly, and so I wrote something new. It didn’t work. Nor did the next effort. Or the next. Marc kept nudging me away from the whole idea of a party, but every draft, it reappeared. It was just a different party or location. Then, at his suggestion, I wrote about their first date.

Suddenly, two things happened. In the new pages, the best of Sarah met the best of Al. One glimpses her strength and also his kindness. Right there, in the bright beginning I gave them, were the traits that would see them through what came next. No place else in the novel do they shine in quite the same way, with such hope and confidence. But that mix of hope and confidence becomes their anchor, as does their marriage, and gives them the ability to survive the bumps. More importantly, with this revised opening, readers would believe this couple had what it takes to endure. If they’d met in my original scene, would anyone have quite believed Sarah and Al could have the necessary grit?

This is an age in publishing when there are, in my opinion, too few editors. With respect, I can’t think of one who would have stuck with me, going over the same five pages for months on end. This short essay is about my revision, yes, but it is really about Marc. The best of Marc—his patience and keen eye—helped my story find the best of my characters. So thank you, Marc. 

* * *
Caitlin Hamilton Summie earned an MFA with Distinction from Colorado State University. Her story collection, TO LAY TO REST OUR GHOSTS, won the fourth annual Phillip H. McMath Book Award, Silver in the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award for Short Stories, and was a Pulpwood Queen Book Club Bonus Book. Her debut novel, GEOGRAPHIES OF THE HEART, was inspired by three stories in her collection and is due out from Fomite Press in January 2022. She spent many years in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Colorado before settling with her family in Knoxville, Tennessee. She co-owns the book marketing firm, Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, founded in 2003. Find her online at caitlinhamiltonsummie.com.
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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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Saving Your Sanity (In Five Easy Steps)

Thursday, October 14, 2021
It started with Halloween. 


Or rather, thinking about Halloween and a story I’d written years ago and how that story would be the perfect Halloween post on my personal blog. Yep, I’d share that story with the whole wide web world. Except for one teensy problem: I had no idea what the name of the story was. 

Okay, Cathy, I said to myself, no need to make yourself crazy. You can figure this out. So off I went to my website to search through the archives of the blog. Because back in the day, I had a feature called “Tooting My Horn” Tuesday and just a key word or two (in this case, fairy tales) would send me right to the story. So step one, I searched my blog and Eureka! There it was! A story called “Not Exactly Innocent” and I confidently clicked on the link to take me to the story. 

Except the link didn’t work. Okay, no problem. In fact, it confirmed that the story was no longer on the web which was necessary if I were to run the story on my blog. But just to be sure (and thanks to all the fine things I’d said about my story and such, I now knew the name of the webzine), I moved on to step two, and found the webzine. Yay! 

But all my searching on the webzine did not produce the story. It did, however, bring up my name and a poem I’d also written that had appeared in this webzine. And so step three, I had to read this lovely and erudite essay by a fine fellow who said all kinds of smart things about my poem. I had no idea I’d said all that in my simple poem but who am I to argue with a college professor? Except as smart as I now felt, I still did not have my story. 

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering why, with title in hand, I didn’t just search amongst my many files? And though I’m loathe to admit it, I will tell you the sad truth. Namely, that the story, along with hundreds of other stories, were on my old laptop, the laptop I called Precious. And back when I switched from Precious (who had seen far better days) to my shiny new laptop, I used a flash drive and downloaded all of the files from Precious. But here I was at step four, kicking myself and pulling out my hair, because I did not know where that precious (pun intended) flash drive was. And I had never quite got round to downloading all my stories on this laptop. 

Is there any worse feeling, dear writers, than to suddenly realize that your story may never be read again because you were such a nincompoop? My sanity was teetering until…was it possible? Would my brilliant idea work? 

I opened up my email—the same email that I have had for lo, these many years—and I clicked on my Sent folder. And step five, I searched for the webzine and the story title and thanks to the wonders of amazing technology, there it was! Way back in 2009, the story! Attached to the email when I’d submitted it! 

And I smiled, friends, as I read that story. It was truly a perfect story for Halloween and since it was no longer on the webzine, I could put it on my blog for a funny, creepy post. Except… 

It really was such a good story, and I thought, Cathy C. Hall, you know what? You could sell that story again. 

So I’ll let you know how that goes. And in the meantime, think long and hard before tossing away an old email. Laptops can fry, links can die, and flash drives can disappear. But an email is (thank goodness!) forever.


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One Foot in Front of the Other

Tuesday, October 12, 2021



I used this picture for my last article - which was quite a long time ago. In the meantime, I've missed several deadlines, dropped several balls, gotten sick, spent some time in the ER, and lost a crown on my tooth. There's actually much more - but those are the ones fresh in my mind. I'm using this picture  because it reminds me of a simpler time. A time I am eager to return to. 

I've spent so much of the last year (more if I'm being honest) feeling overwhelmed. I don't know if it's the stress of the pandemic, the volatility of farming, trying to juggle teenagers and toddlers, or being an only child with an aging mother. I really can't just pick one thing, but I keep straying away from things that bring me joy - and now my health is paying the price for it. 

I want to get back to writing. I want to read more books. I want to do more blog tours. I want to ride my horses more often. The list goes on - I just want to get back to my happy self. When I think of all the things I haven't done and all the things I should be doing or want to do, I feel absolutely overwhelmed and pretty horrible about myself. When I start thinking like that, I just want to pull the covers back up and take a nap. I mentioned this to a friend who shared some fabulous advice. She started by talking about something I love - running. She said "you didn't just wake up one morning and run a 5K, you started walking slowly, then increased your speed, then you'd run a bit and walk, run a bit more, walk some more, and eventually you worked your way into loving your daily run, right?"

I sipped my coffee and sat back - she was right. So I asked "how do I apply that to all this other work and all this other stuff I've let slide?" 

She looked right at me and said:

"PUT ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER AND KEEP DOING THAT"

Sounds good in theory, but she was right. I don't have to sit down tonight and write the next great American Novel. I do however have to write this article. Once I'm done with this article, I can start working on the next one. I can grab a book off the shelf and start reading - not the entire thing in one night, but one page at a time. 

I'm here to tell you I'm going to be the person I want to be. Not all at once, but I'm going to get there. I want you to be part of that process. Will you help me please? 
 


**  If you have a favorite heartwarming book or author, share the name or title with me in a comment below!


**  If you've ever felt this way, tell me what you did to put one foot in front of the other - what worked for you? 


**  If you're an author, and you would be interested in doing a blog tour with me, drop me a note below or send an email: crystal@wow-womenonwriting.com - I'm eager to get back at things I enjoy - which is helping spread the word about amazing books and authors like YOU! 

And with that - hugs my dear friend and until next time! You know we love hearing from you - if you don't feel comfortable commenting on this post, feel free to drop us a note - we love that too! (crystal@wow-womenonwriting.com )

~Crystal

Today's blogger is Crystal J. Casavant-Otto who is a hot mess of a momma and dairy farmer enjoying her little corner of the cornfield in muddy Wisconsin this fall! 


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INTERVIEW WITH EMILY HAMPSON, SPRING 2021 FLASH FICTION CONTEST RUNNER UP

After attending the same high school as Ernest Hemingway (give or take 80 years), Emily Hampson studied psychology at Stanford University, battling imposter syndrome. Post-college, she abandoned California sun and date palms to return to her Midwestern deciduous roots and raise two daughters. For nearly two decades, she worked in hotels and hospitality before pivoting to the tech industry. A year later, she still boasts a robust collection of travel-size shampoo bottles. Emily is a member of the Chicago Writers Association, having published personal essays in Keystrokes, and serves as a class correspondent for Stanford Magazine. She is currently editing her debut historical novel in stolen twenty-minute increments.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Spring 2021 Flash Fiction competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Emily: Thanks so much for this honor! This particular piece was my first attempt at flash fiction after taking an online course through my ala mater. Honestly, it was meant as a distraction from the query trenches, to keep me writing and busy with something. I believe I happened about the contest after some late-night Google tinkering and I’m thrilled to have found this community of women writers.

WOW: We're glad to have you here! Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, “Suburban Warfare?”

Emily: I first wrote “Suburban Warfare” from a female perspective and then decided to challenge myself and flip the gender roles. I sought to explore the complexities of a marriage in peril but in a more covert fashion by focusing on what was unsaid, the miscommunications and misconnections. My goal was to have nature, or more specifically a suburban backyard setting, convey ominous energy and inform the idea of a battlefield at home. It wasn’t hard to capture some of those dismal and doleful undertones while staring out my window on a cloudy March afternoon in Chicago when I wrote it. I should also mention (for any PETA supporters especially) that no squirrels or furry rodents were harmed in the composing of this piece.

WOW: You’re also currently working on an historical novel. Can you tell us anything about it, and what your novel writing journey has been like so far? I appreciate that you said you’ve been editing it in twenty-minute increments.

Emily: Yes, this novel was my quarantine year passion project. I have another more contemporary novel gathering dust in a drawer and once I completed that first one, I thought, “Well, why not?” I suspect it’s not dissimilar to getting that first marathon under your belt, except I despise running. I’d much rather hit mile markers by tapping on a keyboard. Anyway, after seventeen years of working for the same hospitality company, I lost my job during the pandemic. With my kids both in remote school, I decided to stall my return to the workforce and dedicate my time to writing a fictionalized version of my grandparent’s immigration story out of post-war Czechoslovakia in 1945. My grandmother, Baba, is the most stubborn and plucky 96-year-old you’ll ever meet and boasts a far superior memory than most Jeopardy players. Last spring over tea and kolacky, we revisited all the microcassettes of personal interviews I’d done with her over the years, taking additional notes along the way. The novel centers around three generations of women, a daughter, a mother and a grandmother, who persevere in the face of forbidden love, family secrets, sudden loss, and domestic duty. I found it a privilege to write this book under the historical guidance of my Baba and while the editing process feels endless, I’m also determined to shepherd this story into the world in one form or another.

WOW: That sounds fascinating, best of luck with the project. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Emily: At any given time, I try to have two books in circulation. One print and one audio. I love to walk and the audiobook affords me the ability to get through my TBR pile that much faster. Although the fact that I bought a brand-new bookshelf during COVID to accommodate my insatiable novel-buying habit should tell you that I have a ways to go. I recently devoured The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller (along with legions of fellow Hello Sunshine book club fans) and was drawn in by the dual timelines, both set in present tense. For me, I’m at times less engaged with one particular timeline, but this story flowed and melded seamlessly. It was one of those books that I mourned when it ended. I’m also currently listening to V.E. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie Larue and it’s masterful. At times, the writing makes me stop, slack-jawed, on the sidewalk. Julia Whelan’s narration is flawless. Honestly, I’d listen to that woman read an instruction manual.

WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Emily. Before you go, do you have a favorite writing tip or piece of advice you can share?

Emily: Often the difference of me powering off my laptop and feeling as though I had a productive writing session is simply the result of sitting in my chair in the first place. Given that I’m a mom of two young girls with a full-time job and a perpetually churning washer and dryer, I started instituting a thirty-minute rule in an attempt to improve my self-discipline. When I was knee-deep writing my novel, I would intentionally carve out a half hour to write every night. (I’m come to embrace the fact that I’m not a morning person). If I felt like stopping after that, I could move on guilt-free to watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel or prep school lunches, but most nights, once I got in the groove, I didn’t want to stop. It was a great way to trick my brain with seemingly short commitments and get words on the page.

****

For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.

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Time to Give Yourself a Fresh Start

Monday, October 11, 2021
Fresh squeeze? Fresh start!


Have you ever needed a fresh start? 

As I see the end of the year drawing closer, I usually have a habit of looking back at the goals that I had at the start of the year and the intentions that I set for myself. I realized most of these goals have changed. At first, things changed when I started a new job in January, and they changed again when I lost that very job over the summer. Now that we're in October, I'm eager for a fresh start. 

The question is: how can I do that? 

 Seasons changing always lead me to a stage of transition, and as the summer ends and cooler weather begins, I'm kind of in a slump. I thought I'd share some of the ways I'm hitting that restart button, and maybe it will inspire you. 

Limit social media. 
Recently, I took a major step back from social media and it's been almost two weeks since I really took an active approach. Frankly, I don't miss it at all. The problem with social media is that I get the "why not me?" disease, which isn't all that easy to overcome. I get it when I realize someone gets way more likes than I do on a post, or more followers, or better news to share, or more clever things to say. I don't deal with that all the time, but if I'm in a slump, I'm more inclined to get there in that mind frame. So, taking a step away from it all has been a great feeling. I know social media is important for an author's platform, but if you are in a slump, consider taking a step away from it. 

 Stop adding to your to-do list. 

I have a horrible habit of committing to things I later regret. For example, I started reading regularly again and with that brought back my habit of accepting books to read and review for authors. As a result, I overcommitted myself. I'm nearly caught up now, and I've even updated my blog page to announce that I'm not taking any more feature requests. So, I've learned a lesson: stop adding to your to-do list. 

If you are in a slump, it may be a sign you are stressed. So, do a self-check and figure out what you can cut out of your to-do list. Yes, this means you may have to use the word that I personally struggle to say in these circumstances: no. 

With that said though, make sure you actually complete the stuff on your to-do list. If I have tasks looming over my head that I had agreed to, and I'm putting off, that stresses me out. Lately, I've been finishing up various commitments, and it's helped me feel a lot better (with each checkmark of completion, I'm reminding myself to not add to that to-do list). I'm also leaving room for the fact that I may need to tell some people I don't have time for something anymore. 

Get rid of clutter. 

Did you know that decluttering can help relieve anxiety or stress? I also find it incredibly invigorating. I love organizing closets, my notebooks, and other spaces that tend to attract clutter. However, even if you don't have physical items to get rid of or organize, try your digital world. As a result of cleaning up some digital files, I discovered a story I thought I lost, and I created a new system for keeping things organized. 

Also, and while this may shock some of you, but I've also gotten rid of many of the e-books I had downloaded. Many of them were books I thought I would read and after some careful skimming, I now realize I probably won't. Now my "to be read" digital folder is emptier, and I'm promising myself that the next time I download a book, I'll actually read it (or won't buy it until I know for sure that I will enjoy it). And for some reason, this made me feel better and relieved at the same time.

 So far, that's the approach I'm taking, and I'm also planning to tackle some of my previous short stories that have collected digital dust this year. Also, with a slump, consider the fact that your reading, writing, and creative tastes of changed. I find that's the case for me lately, and I'm largely uninterested in some of the things I found so fascinating earlier this year. Take that into consideration and venture off into the unknown. See what you discover.
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Be Wary of Marketing Offers for Your Books

Sunday, October 10, 2021
 
You know that saying, "If it's too good to be true, it's probably too good to be true"? I was reminded of it recently when checking my email, and I thought: This subject would make a good WOW! blog post. Probably other writers are receiving emails like this or will be soon, and so let's discuss...

These are the kinds of emails I'm talking about:

Dear Ms. Dill:
We want to market Finding My Place for you. It is such an excellent book! We will put your book in front of thousands and thousands of our followers on Twitter by tweeting about your book every day for XX days for $XXXXX dollars. Don't wait. 

Sincerely,
Book Marketer Extraordinaire

#eyeroll

I'm not trying to be mean or condescending. I know that there are some legit marketing firms out there, including services that help authors promote books. But I also know that if someone is contacting you to promote a book that is not famous and where you recently promoted it yourself through a legit eNewsletter, most likely, this is not a good deal. And I also know that tweeting your book title with a link to a bunch of people who may have no interest in your type of book will not sell books. It just won't.

Even if the above email came and the person said they would do it for $1 or $5, I wouldn't do it. Most likely, here's what happened. This person subscribes to a newsletter for children's books that are being offered for free or a discount. They saw that I ran a promotion on Finding My Place. They Googled my name, and they found my website, where I have my email address. Then they emailed me and made me feel "special", so that they can send out tweets that no one will care about, and they can take my money. 

My point? If someone is emailing you and asking you to market something for you for $XXXX, I wouldn't do it. In 999 cases out of 1000 (or maybe even 1000 out of 1000), this won't be a good ROI for you. They may even do what they say they're going to do, and Twitter may show you that they have 200,000 followers, but you have no idea if those followers are mostly bots or readers of a completely different genere you write. 

So my advice--delete those emails--send them to spam. Don't waste your time.

What does work? 

I think offering the first book in your series for free still works. I don't think it works as well as it used to because there are so many free books out there. But if you offer your ebook for free and advertise it in a newsletter for people who love that genre and free ebooks, you will get a lot of downloads, and some of those people will read the book. Some of those people will review it for you, and some of those people will buy book two. 

What are some good newsletters?

My two favorites are Free Booksy and The Fussy Librarian. There are more, I'm sure, but those are the two I always use. As for Twitter, we tweet at WOW!, and we get some love on there, but none of our book packages for authors are just for Twitter. We use our blog, our eNewsletter, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter--plus sometimes banner ads on our website. It's a combination of strategies that works to sell books.


If you want help with marketing, it works much better if you find someone to help you. You are in charge. You find the service or the person, and you tell them what you want. This October, in the season of Halloween, you don't want a bad and wasteful book marketing service/package to scare you away from your writing career! 

Margo L. Dill is a children's author, editor, publisher, and writing coach and instructor, living in St. Louis, MO, with her fifth-grader and almost three-year-old rescue dog. You can find out more at https://www.margoldill.com. 




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Tips for Finding Unique Article Ideas

Saturday, October 09, 2021



 

A conversation with a historian in my area netted an article about an unsolved murder.


As a magazine editor, I’m responsible for planning the content each month that fits in well with our departments and themes. While I accept pitches from writers and columnists, the job of scouting out timely story ideas mostly falls on me. So where do I find these ideas that we turn into content for our magazine? 

I use press releases if they feature a local person, place, or angle, but I also find a lot of ideas on social media. I’ve pulled numerous ideas for our food and dining section from a Facebook group called Lake Norman Eats, and this past month, we profiled the Facebook group, since it had a unique story behind it (a local realtor started it up during the early months of the pandemic so residents would know which restaurants were serving curbside and carry out). I follow a lot of other area publications and blogs, and bookmark interesting story ideas when I see them for future use. I scout out the calendar pages of the town websites. I try to keep up with small business owners, interior designers, entrepreneurs, etc. because inevitably, I will come across an idea from them that will pique my interest. For example, my favorite independent bookstore shared a post one day talking about their youngest employee, a 17-year-old classmate of my daughter’s who is on track to read 200 books this year. I sent the bookstore a message, they connected me with the employee, and I interviewed her for my monthly column that runs in our magazine called “Renee Wants to Know.” 

You also never know when a simple conversation will lead to an article idea. Last year a city magazine featured an interview with a local historian about some haunted places in the greater Charlotte, N.C. area. I saved a copy of the magazine. Recently, I reached out to that historian to see if he had any ideas I could use for our monthly history column. He saw that I had a missing persons podcast from my e-mail signature, and we set up a call to talk about an unsolved murder of a young bride in a nearby town from 1937. From that conversation, I wrote an article for our most recent issue titled “Who Killed Lue Cree Overcash Westmoreland?” and am sure I can take deeper dive into this topic and others from future conversations with this historian and author. 

Longtime writers are also phenomenal about pitching good stories, too, for which I’m grateful. One of my writers sent me an e-mail a few months ago about a chance meeting she had while visiting a popular coffee shop designed specifically for veterans. She told me the woman, who is the spouse of a Vietnam vet who volunteers at the shop frequently, is known as the unofficial “Sweetheart” of the café. She suggested a profile of the woman for our November issue, as it ties in nicely with Veterans Day. The article is set to run soon and I’m sure it will be a popular piece. 

Ideas for articles and blog posts really are everywhere, you just have to know where to look and keep an organized list in one safe place, like a spreadsheet, notebook, or document on your computer. 

For the freelance writers out there, where do you find a lot of your ideas? 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor for Lake Norman CURRENTS, and also hosts the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas.
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A Cover is a Cover is a Cover...

Thursday, October 07, 2021

If you saw this cover, would you buy the book?


photo by Sue B. Edwards


I imagine not. However, what if the title didn't look like it was written in blood? And what if the blurb said something like, "Two men form an unlikely friendship, as they team up to fight the battle of their lives" instead of "Across the twilight of fear, the red-drenched, terrifying dream begins..."? Might the book at least prompt you to pick it up and give it a second glance?


(By the way, Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin is one of my favorites. And bonus: it's not long enough to serve as a doorstop, unlike his Game of Thrones books.)


The cover of a book is huge. I've not bought books because the cover didn't hook me. They might have been incredible books that I passed on... And yet I did exactly that. I passed on the books because either the cover didn't hook me or it turned me off.


A cover that I love is Pat Wahler's book I am Mrs. Jesse James. It's simple, classy, and gives you (what ends up being) an accurate idea of what the novel is about.




Pat's publisher designed the cover. She was lucky. Pat liked the design. If your publisher chooses one you don't like, you might not have any say in the matter.


I was even more fortunate. Margo Dill (my publisher) let me use an artist of my choice, and when the cover was finished,  Margo finalized it with different colors and borders/text placement. I really love it. It's striking, and the black, white and gray color scheme represents the fact that this is a story about racism--what the White people did to the Black people in 1921 Tulsa... and all the gray details in-between.




It also solved a huge problem: I had no idea what the main character--Henry--looked like. The silhoutte the artist cut out of the 1921 newspaper headlines allows the reader to form their own impression of Henry.


Authors--if they're self-publishing--hope their research and getting feedback from writing friends results in a great cover. Authors who are working with their publisher hope that either their input is considered or their publisher makes a wise decision when it comes to what goes on the (front and back) cover of the book.


In reading about what makes an effective book cover, I came across this article that highlights various books and what covers were rejected. I was fascinated with why some didn't make the final cut.


If you have a book (or two or three or more), I'd love to hear about your choices and decisions when creating a cover. If you're a fan of Fevre Dream, I'd love to hear from you (it's a little-known book). And if you're a fan of my book, I'd really love to hear from you...


Sioux Roslawski is the author of Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story, which is the first book she has birthed. Most of her time is spent teaching middle-schoolers (a true labor of love) and taking her dog, Radar, on walks. You can check out her work by checking out her blog.












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Interview with Louise Mangos, 2nd Place Winner in the WOW! Spring 2021 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

 

Louise writes novels, short stories and flash fiction, which have won prizes, placed on shortlists, and have been read out on BBC radio. She has published two suspense novels with another on the way in spring 2022 and her short fiction appears in more than twenty print anthologies. You can connect with Louise on Facebook, Twitter @LouiseMangos, and Instagram @louisemangos, or visit her website, www.LouiseMangos.com where there are links to some more of her work. Louise holds an MA in crime writing from UEA and lives in Switzerland with her Kiwi husband and two sons. 

 








----------Interview by Renee Roberson 

WOW: Louise, congratulations on your win and welcome! We're looking forward to learning more and you and your published work. Your website mentions your love of exploring the world, and this is apparent in “Halfway to Guayaquil I Fall in Love.” Why do you think it’s important for writers to explore new places whenever they can? 

Louise: Not everyone has the luxury or capacity to travel. I have been very lucky to do so over the years. It is what generated my desire to write stories with a strong sense of location way back when I began studying creative writing at CU in Boulder 30 years ago. I’ve always kept travel journals, and when the spark for stories was first ignited, I simply referred to them when the ideas for fictional stories in real settings began to emerge. I believe the settings in novels or short stories are as important as each of the characters. I’d also like to think that I’m bringing that sense of place to people who can only travel between the pages of a book from the comfort of their armchair . 

WOW: I love the idea of keeping travel journals if possible. You have published two suspense/thriller novels through an imprint of Harper Collins UK (with a third scheduled for next spring) that I now want to add to my TBR pile. Where did you get your ideas for your first two books? 

Louise: The premise for my debut novel “Strangers on a Bridge” was inspired when running with a friend near a notorious suicide bridge one day in central Switzerland where I live. We looked up at the huge arches of the bridge and imagined what it might be like to see someone standing up there contemplating their fate. It was the catalyst I needed to start a novel, having already penned many short stories. The second novel takes place in two vastly different settings: The first a women’s prison and the second a ski resort in the Swiss Alps. The village where my protagonist lives is a place I spent many years when I first arrived in Switzerland. It’s easy to pull details from your memory when you know a place intimately, like a character. The women’s prison is a place that exists near Bern. However, it was (fortunately) a location I initially knew little about. I visited the prison several times, interviewing the director and wardens to get a sense of the place, and even met some of the inmates. My third upcoming novel “The Beaten Track” is a fictional psychological thriller set in several locations I travelled on a round-the-world trip in the eighties. The easiest part was transposing each of the many settings, taking ideas from my journals. The fictional characters then fit into their roles throughout the narrative. 

WOW: I love hearing about your research process for "Her Husband's Secrets," and how the premise for "The Beaten Track" came together. What was your path to publishing your first novel like? Did you go the traditional route and query literary agents or did you approach publishers first? What advice would you give to aspiring novelists who are nervous about querying their work? 



Louise: I finished writing the first draft of my debut novel in 2013. I then went through the traditional route of querying literary agents. A few showed interest, calling in the full manuscript, and a couple even gave useful editing tips and suggestions for improvement. But the novel was turned down again and again. A few years passed, the narrative had been re-written a couple of times and I was growing impatient. I wanted to see my novel in print, as I had almost finished writing my second. One day in 2017 I saw a call-out for a one-line pitch on Twitter from HQStories for their digital-first imprint. I tweeted my pitch and an editor called in my query letter and first three chapters. Within 12 hours she requested the full manuscript and within another 48 hours I had signed a contract for a two-book deal. After waiting so long, it happened so quickly. After publication I was delighted to learn that both my books would also be going into print. My advice to aspiring novelists takes two parts: Never give up, and exercise patience. I still believe it is best for an author to have an agent to champion their work, to find the best home and garner deals for foreign and media rights. I’m lucky to have many contacts in the publishing industry, but the book world can be a confusing place for creatives starting their journey to publication. 

WOW: Great advice, and you just never know where the right connection will be made! Kudos to your for holding onto faith with that first novel while working on your second. Regarding this contest win, flash fiction is fun to read, but can be difficult to write with the limited word count. What are some of the fundamental elements you feel are necessary in crafting a solid piece of flash? 

Louise: Of all the genres and lengths I write, flash fiction is the most challenging of them all. Condensing an entire story into 500 words or fewer requires an immense amount of discipline. Sometimes work comes out fully formed, sometimes it takes weeks of editing. It’s important to put a piece of writing away for a time and come back to it with fresh eyes. It’s only then that you can see where (if) the piece needs improvement. Read the flash fiction of other experts. Kathy Fish, Tania Hershman, Elisabeth Ingram-Wallace are favourites of mine who come to mind. See how they structure their pieces, making the title work with the narrative, having that all important stunning opening line. The arc of their stories never loses pace, every word counts to build to a satisfying conclusion. 

WOW: You are also an accomplished artist. How do you balance the time between creating art and fiction? What is your creative process like for both? 

Louise: Since publication of my novels, painting has taken a bit of a back seat in my creative life. But the two art-forms are inextricably linked, and for me it’s once again all about the setting. Most of my paintings are landscapes. When I study a scene with the bare eye, I envisage how it will look on the canvas. I might be trying to catch a moment in time, when a ray of sun bursts from behind a cloud or an eddy in the lake forms a special pattern on the water. Rather than painting in-situ, I use my camera and take several shots to capture that moment. Back in the studio, I try to convey the feeling of the moment in that place with paint, hoping to replicate and enhance the vision so the observer can feel, smell, hear what is portrayed on the canvas. I endeavour to do the same when writing setting. I like to think I’m painting with words.

WOW: Louise, this interview has been full of valuable advice and useful tips. Thank you. We're looking forward to checking out your novels and hope to see you back here again soon!
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Halloway Hills Middle School Blog Tour & Giveaway

Monday, October 04, 2021
I'm excited to announce a blog tour with author A.J. Kormon. We're going to be touring with her books, Hiding Out on HalloweenCreeping Up on Christmas, and Veering Off on Valentine’s. These books are perfect for resistant readers who enjoy fast-paced, short mysteries featuring seventh graders and their cats.  

Join us today as we share more about these adorable books, interview the author, A.J. Kormon, and give away an Amazon gift card and copies of these books for our lucky readers.

First, a little bit about the books:

Three short, page-turning mysteries for ages 9-11 featuring mischievous cats and their middle-grade owners.

In Hiding Out on Halloween, Avery Mcintosh borrows the Super Ultimate Minecraft Hacks book from the school library, much to the dismay of the school bully, Becky. When Avery accidentally splashes Becky with an invisibility potion that he learned from the book, she not only disappears from Minecraft, but from the real world, too.

Trying to ease his guilt about Becky’s disappearance, with the help of his friend Jordan and a black cat who appears to be stalking him, Avery sets out to find Becky.

In Creeping Up on Christmas, it’s time for the Halloway Hills Middle School Christmas fair and Violet Sidhu and her friends have planned to sell crocheted hats to raise money for charity. There’s just one problem—the hats are missing!

When Violet discovers what’s happened to her hats, thanks to the new guy at school, getting them back turns out to be harder than she thought.

In Veering Off on Valentine’s, Jordan Cartwright learns the meaning of true love . . . from her cat! After feeling rejected by her best friend Avery because of Valentine’s Day, Jordan wonders if she can still be friends with him.

As she tries to avoid Avery, Jordan witnesses some strange behaviour from her cat Blizzard. When Blizzard goes missing during a snowstorm, Jordan enlists Avery’s help to find him and learns an important lesson in the process.

Includes bonus cookie recipe and word search!

Purchase all three books for Kindle on Amazon.com and make sure to add these books to your GoodReads reading list.

About the Author, A.J. Kormon

AJ Kormon started out writing books about money to help explain the concept to her kids. As her kids got older, they showed signs of not wanting to read, so she enlisted their help creating a series for resistant readers. This is how the Halloway Hills Middle School Mysteries were born. When AJ isn't writing and cartooning, you'll find her losing to her kids at Uno.

Find A.J. Kormon at: 


--- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: First, congratulations on your book! I loved reading that you write this with your family. How do you all work together to write these stories? 

AJ: My boys help me come up with characters and story ideas. They are also the ultimate beta readers. I read the books out loud to them and judge by their reactions what I need to edit. Hopefully, they laugh at the funny parts! For books with illustrations, I also ask for their opinions on things like colour or poses of the characters. They are nine and eleven, which is the same age as the kids I write for. 

WOW: How wonderful you get them involved like that. What led you to write middle-grade fiction? 

AJ: Until the pandemic hit, my kids were in French immersion. That was no longer an option during the pandemic and because they'd been learning to read and write in French, it was like starting over for them with reading English. We read a lot of books together, but when it came to getting them to read on their own, it was a challenge, because most of the books at their reading level felt too young for them. The Halloway Hills Middle School Mysteries are simple stories that are short and easily digestible, but there are no illustrations like books for younger kids might have. 

WOW: I love that you turned a challenge into a positive. What was your path to publishing like? 

AJ: The first children's book I wrote was a picture book. I sent it to two publishers that, at the time, accepted unagented submissions. It's a fairly niche book with a story that focuses on taking care of your money, so I wasn't sure there would be a market for it, and I decided to self-publish it so my kids could see it in print. With the Halloway Hills books, I decided to do the same since they are so short and not a typical middle-grade book. I liked the idea of being able to do what I wanted with the font in the paperbacks to make it easier for some children to read. I'm not against traditional publishing. I have other stories I'd like to try and get published through the traditional route. 

WOW: I think that's an awesome route you took! What does your regular writing habit look like? 

AJ: That I am regularly irregular! I've tried to set the same time aside to write every day, but it never seems to work out. I've accepted that it's okay not to have a regular schedule as long as I keep moving forward on my projects. I do most of my writing on the weekends and the rest I sneak in here and there.

WOW: I struggle with keeping to my own writing schedule, too. How did COVID impact your writing (and/or publishing plans)? 

AJ: When COVID hit, I was teaching adult special education at my local college. Everyone had to work from home, and my students didn't have access to the technology required to continue in an online learning environment. I thought about looking for other teaching jobs, but everything seemed so uncertain that I decided to focus on my writing instead. That being said, I've just started teaching online and back to juggling all the things. 

WOW: That must be a challenge! So, what is your revision process like? 

AJ: I love revising! When the words aren't flowing in the writing, I start editing. This means my process can change depending on the book I'm working on, but mostly I start by reading through what I've written in Google Docs and making changes as I go. This can happen at any point I feel I'm stuck in the writing, but for sure once the whole draft is finished. Then I go through a checklist I have with the common errors I make. Some are things I discovered on my own, and others were tips from editors. Once I feel like I've made the necessary corrections in Google Docs, then I download the manuscript as a Word document and email it to my ereader. I read ebooks on my phone, so the screen is really small and it helps me catch even more things, especially typos and word repetition. Once I'm reading on my ereader, I try to read the whole thing in one day. I use the highlight and notes functions to mark any further edits. Then once I've read the whole story, I go back to my notes and highlights and start correcting things in the Word doc. 

WOW: You have great process! What's next for you? 

AJ: I write books for adults as myself (Michelle Cornish) and I have promised my readers the next thriller in one of my series, so I need to make sure I deliver on that promise! For AJ, though, I have a series planned based on Daniel from Creeping Up on Christmas. It will be another mystery series, but geared more toward the older middle grade reader, so it will be longer with a more involved plot.

WOW: Best of luck to you and I can't wait to see what you come out with next! 


--- Blog Tour Calendar

October 4th @ The Muffin
Join us as we celebrate the launch of the Halloway Middle School series. Read our interview with author AJ Kormon, and enter to win the giveaway too. One winner will receive all three copies of the books and a gift card. Three winners will receive one book from the series. Join us today!

October 8th @ Madeline Sharples' Blog
Join Madeline as she shares a guest post by AJ Kormon about things kids learn from entrepreneurial parents.

October 10th @ What is That Book About
Visit Michelle's blog where she shares a guest post written by AJ Kormon that talks about the best books for kids who don't like to read.

October 12th @ Lisa Haselton's Book Reviews and Interviews
Visit Lisa's blog where she interviews AJ Kormon, author of the Halloway Hills Middle School mystery series.

October 14th @ Cover 2 Cover Blog
Join Stephanie as she shares her thoughts about the charming Halloway Hills Middle School mystery series.

October 16th @ Reading in the Wildwood
Join Megan as she shares a guest post by author AJ Kormon featuring must-have Halloween books to read with your kids.

October 20th @ Lisa's Reading
Join Lisa as she reviews the Halloway Hills series on her blog today.

October 22nd @ Quill and Books
Visit Kathryn's blog where she reviews Hiding Out on Halloween by AJ Kormon.

October 22nd @ The Frugalista Mom
Join Rozelyn as she features a guest post by author AJ Kormon about navigating first crushes. She's also giving away a copy of the Halloway Hills Middle School series as an e-book to one lucky reader.

October 25th @ World of My Imagination
Visit Nicole's blog today as she reviews AJ Kormon's Halloway Hills Middle School series books and gives away a copy of the books for one lucky reader.

October 28th @ Knotty Needle
Judy delights us today with her and her granddaughter's review of AJ Kormon's Halloway Hills Middle School series books.

October 31st @ Look to the Western Sky
Join Margo as she reads and reviews AJ Kormon's delightful middle-grade book Hiding Out on Halloween part of the Halloway Hills Middle School series.

November 3rd @ Fiona Ingram's Blog
Join Fiona as she shares AJ Kormon's guest post about why your child should read to their pet.

November 4th @ CK Sorens
Visit CK Sorens' blog today and read her review of AJ Kormon's Halloway Hills Middle School series books.

November 5th @ Quill and Books
Join Kathryn again as she publishes a guest post by AJ Kormon about fun Christmas books to read with your kids.

November 5th @ Bookworm for Kids
Join Tonja as she reviews Creeping Up on Christmas over at her blog today. A perfect book for the holidays!

November 7th @ Jill Sheets' Blog
Visit Jill's blog today where she shares AJ Kormon's guest post about how to help your child deal with a bully.




***** GIFT CARD & BOOKS GIVEAWAY *****

Enter to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card and copies of Hiding Out on Halloween, Creeping Up on Christmas, and Veering Off on Valentine’s by AJ Kormon. Enter the Rafflecopter form by October 17th for your chance to win! We will choose two lucky winners and follow up via email. Good luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Interview with Vanessa G. Foster, 2021 Q3 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest Runner Up with "Broken Hearts and Broken Dishes"

Saturday, October 02, 2021

 

Congratulations to Vanessa G. Foster and Broken Hearts and Broken Dishes and all the winners of our 2021 Quarter 3 Creative Non-Fiction Essay Contest!




Vanessa's Bio: Vanessa was a child of the sixties, came of age in the seventies, and lost everything in the eighties when she found herself married to a drug dealer and on the run from the FBI. Her harrowing story is fearlessly told in the compelling memoir, More Than Everything, published in 2013. An excerpt was featured in the Panther City Review literary journal in 2018.

 She participated in a Moth Story Slam shortly before the pandemic, and is ready for more on-stage storytelling opportunities. She recently started writing personal essays, and this is the first one she has let anyone but her critique partners read. It will be part of a new memoir. 

 Vanessa lives in Texas with her trophy husband and two rescue dogs. She is a licensed financial professional and helps clients with their investments by day. An unapologetic eavesdropper, she sometimes blogs (www.vgfoster.com) flash fiction stories based on something interesting she’s overheard.  
 

 If you haven't done so already, check out Vanessa's talent in writing with the touching story Broken Hearts and Broken Dishes and then return here for a chat with this talented author. 


WOW:  What is the take-away you'd like readers to gain from Broken Hearts and Broken Dishes? 

Vanessa:  Life is exquisite and exhilarating and hard and heartbreaking. In Broken Hearts and Broken Dishes, I’ve focused on two events from my childhood that were very different, but also all those things. Memories live isolated lives in our bodies, our hearts, and our minds. Let them come out and play together. See what happens. Often, what seems like a simple solitary memory, when explored deeper, can bring into focus a fuller understanding. Also, let’s protect the children in our lives from the harm of grown-up drama whenever possible. 

WOW: I need to hear that again - that was pretty powerful stuff Vanessa - 

Memories live isolated lives in our bodies, our hearts, and our minds. 
Let them come out and play together. See what happens. 

That's some good stuff - I'm going to remember that!

Who is your favorite author and why? 

Vanessa: It’s impossible to choose one favorite. Like most writers, I’m an avid reader, and I’ve always been drawn to dark memoirs as a way of connecting with others who’ve survived trauma and created art out of madness and pain. I’ve recently devoured everything I could find by Abigail Thomas. A Three Dog Life broke my heart and then put all the pieces back together again. She has a lovely, effortless way of finding beauty and grace in everyday moments that helps me do the same. Mary Karr and Jeannette Walls are also at the top of the list. As for fiction, Sue Monk Kidd is one of my heroes. 

WOW: I'm intrigued and will definitely be checking out Abigail Thomas - thank you! Do you have advice for your younger self when it comes to making decisions, believing in yourself, and/or writing? What would your current self say to the younger you? 

 Vanessa: I’d love nothing more than to go back in time and tell my younger self to relax! Also, to stop and breathe and follow her instincts. I have pretty good instincts and intuition, but it took many years to learn to trust my gut. When I was very young, I wanted to be an artist and a writer. I wish I’d had the gumption to not let go of that dream. It would have saved me decades of self-doubt and mis-direction. 

WOW: That's a fabulous conversation we could all benefit from - great advice for the next generation too! Speaking of advice, what advice would you give to others (specifically female authors) when it comes to self-care? 

Vanessa: Women often lose themselves in relationships and marriage and motherhood. It’s so important not to bury our needs, but it’s often what comes naturally when taking care of others. I’d say to ask for help when you need it, and schedule alone time (put it on the calendar). Luxuriate in a bubble bath, go for a walk or a run, take a painting class. Do whatever makes you happy and don’t feel guilty about it. For female authors, carve out a space to write where you won’t be interrupted. Make it comfortable and pretty, and surround yourself with your favorite things. You deserve it. Then put your butt in the chair and write. 

 WOW: Preach on Sister - I need to hear that OFTEN! Thank you!

What’s next for you? What are your writing goals for the remainder of 2021 and beyond? 

Vanessa: I’m currently editing my second memoir…the first draft has been sitting on a shelf, percolating, for about five years. Writing is a slow, steady process for me. I wish I was faster, but this is who I am. Hopefully, I’ll have a honed manuscript ready to query by the end of the year. During the pandemic, I started writing essays, and have several that need polishing before I seek homes for them. I’ve also written about 60,000 words on a YA novel that I hope to finish soon, and have started another novel with a male POV. There are more ideas than time to write, and I get my best ideas from my very vivid dream life.


WOW: Thank you ever so much for sharing your essay, sage advice, and your laughter today - we look forward to reading more of your work! Congratulations again! 

  Interviewed by Crystal Otto who just keeps on keeping on!

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Celebrate the Little Things


As the summer fades into the fall, I eagerly embrace the cooler weather, rainy days, and pull towards reading a new batch of books. However, despite this being my favorite time of year, this has also been a very difficult year for me, filled with challenges that leave me absolutely exhausted at this point. My energy hasn't been as strong lately, and I battle being too stressed to even think about writing lately. However, as I nudge along, and plug away ever so slowly, progress is being made, even if I don't see it. 

So, today I wanted to encourage all of you to celebrate the little things in your life right now. It can be the smallest of wins that give you a good feeling. For example, I've gotten back into the habit of reading again (although, my lack of full-time employment may be helping me read more lately, but hey, a win is a win right?). Just hop over to my book and writing blog, World of My Imagination, and you'll find an array of new book reviews. 

Other small wins: I'm submitting again. I haven't exactly been all that good this year about submitting my short stories, and honestly, it's become a very long marathon to continue submitting a few of them still. Yet, it's still a win for me. Even as the rejections trickle in, I'm reminded with each one that I'm out there, and I'm trying.

One more small win: I found a story I thought I lost! I go into more detail on my blog, but it was a story I had only found a partial version of, and it turns out, I had used a totally different platform to save the continued version. 

So, even if you feel like your writing progress has slowed to a crawl, your book sales are down, your social media platforms aren't growing, and your queries seem like they are a total flop, look for the small wins. Even in the tiny ways, you can discover that you are still hanging in there and putting one step in front of the other. 

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