Thursday, May 27, 2010

Kickin' Your Pet Words to the Curb

Most of the time Facebook status updates are pretty innocuous, but a post from my editor, the brilliant Jamie Chavez, really got me thinking today...

She said: Jamie Chavez is calling for a moratorium on the use of the word "amazing" in publishing. It's overused, used incorrectly in context, and just isn't appropriate most of the time. A prime example of when good words go bad. :)

As writers, we all have our pet words. Heck, I probably have about 1,000 that I use over and over and over, much to the chagrin of my editor and readers. And even the "big dogs" like John Grisham, Sophie Kinsella and Nicolas Sparks all have them, too, (I've seen it), so that puts us all in some pretty good company.

And really, other than excessive typos, lame characters or a plot with no real resolution, there's probably nothing more annoying to a reader than seeing the same turns of phrase and the same adjectives again and again and again. It's the literary equivalent of Chinese water torture, and it could be the difference between your reader plowing through the whole book—or not making it through the first chapter.

So when you're writing, I encourage you to think about your pet words/phrases and see what you can do to spice up your writing without them. Truth be told, they can be a crutch, much like the word "amazing" is for enough people that Jamie thought she better mention it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wanna help?

This is only sort of writing related, but forgive me. I've been asked to speak at a local church's women's ministry event - A Fashion Show! Of course that topic had me immediately hooked, but this speaking event will be different because...dum da dummmm...I typically do speaking events that are based around writing or, at least, books/reading. And the coordinator asked that I speak on inner beauty and being a woman of God.

I'm really excited for this opportunity- and the way God opened the door has me convinced this is His will for me, so I'm trying to live up to the challenge and get my speech prepared for these ladies! God is providing me with ample material, so at least I don't have to worry about running short on time. ;) (me, long-winded with words? GASP!)

But fellow women, I need your help! I'd like to include in my talk some quotes (anonymous, or first names only, whichever you prefer - just indicate!) from real women about real body issues or anything regarding the fashion industry. For example, how commercials, products, magazines and TV make you feel about yourself, why you buy the clothes you do, how you feel about yourself, what you think about outer beauty vs. inner beauty, etc. Anything along those lines, zap it my way to

The women in attendance will be a variety of ages - teenagers on up to senior citizens. So please don't feel you are too young or too old to contribute to this discussion. I want every age group to be reached.

Thanks SO MUCH! =) And prayers for June 26th are also appreciated, that God will use me to work in the lives of these sweet women.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Setting Goals

So I have this thing with sleep. We get along. Like Batman got along with Penguin.

We are not besties.

But every once in a while – when I’m really tired – sleep and I develop a closer relationship. Like Churchill and Hitler.

That’s when I know – it’s time to call in the allies.

So I do. In fact, I called them last night. The allies arrived in the form of a prescription pill strong enough to kill the neighborhood cat. (Not that I would have tested that…)

There are people who can lick this sleeping pill and sleep for four days. There are also people who can take two of these pills and sleep for only four hours.

I am in neither category. I am the person who can lick the pill and THINK I’m awake in four hours… only to later discover I’m actually somewhere on Interstate 95 in my pajamas in the car… only it’s not my car. Or my pajamas.

So last night, when I was “awake” four hours after taking the pill, I decided to walk into the living room. Actually, “walk” is probably a strong word. It was more like “entered as gracefully as a physical therapy patient after a stroke.”

Which is what I did, almost. Have a stroke. Because when I got to the living room I realized it was kind of warm. And I needed to turn on the ceiling fan.

I also realized that I was only 5’2’’ and needed to reach the fan. Natural conclusion: stand on the ataman.

Only… I forgot. The ataman has wheels.

So there I stood… one foot on the couch and one foot on the ataman. Actually, “stood” is probably another strong word. It was more like “vacillated like a politician during election year.”

I don’t remember what happened next. I only know I lived. And I told myself, like 1,000 times before, that I would never take another prescription sleeping pill.

Ever make promises like that to yourself? Ones you know you won’t be able to keep? Living without sleep for too long can make ya crazy. Trust me. I know.

But there are other promises that can make you crazier. Promises like:

• I will finish 300 million words on my work in progress by Friday. At 4 a.m.
• I will perform six background interviews for my W.I.P. Before yesterday.
• I will double my NanoWrimo goal to 100,000 words this year, and triple it to 300,000 next year.

Trying to fill your schedule with too much can leave you feeling incomplete and unfulfilled at the end of the day. Instead, try setting reasonable goals.

• I will write 2,000 words today.
• I will spend one hour on research.
• I will meet my nanowrimo goal for this year.

Wait a second… I did say reasonable, didn’t I? Scratch that last one. And also, scratch the whole no sleeping pills thing. Maybe I should set more reasonable goals for that one too. Like finding a giant tube of superglue to permanently attach myself to my sheets…

Question 4 2Day:

What reasonable goals will you or have you set for your writing?

B.J. Hamrick is a journalist, humorist, and Real Teen Faith Editorest.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Taking it All In...

It's been one crazy week, y'all...

As you probably guessed from my opening line, I've been spending some time in the South this week. While the majority of my movie press junkets involve a 3+ hour plane ride to the bright lights of Hollywood, my latest assignment involved a 3+ hour plane ride to somewhere I'd never been before—Albany, Georgia, better known as the birthplace of Ray Charles and one of my favorite Food Network chefs, Paula Deen, the queen of butter.

So you're probably thinking, why exactly was I in southern Georgia? Well, I was checking out the set of Courageous, the new movie from the folks at Sherwood Pictures. For the uninitiated, they're the people from Sherwood Baptist Church who came up with Facing the Giants and Fireproof, family-friendly fare on a shoestring budget that happened to do very, very well in theaters.

So to give our Crosswalk readers ( the behind-the-scenes scoop on their latest work, I packed my bags and headed south.

One of my favorite things about writing for a living is the opportunity to travel. For whatever reason, and maybe it's because I lived in the same small town for so many of my pre-college years, I happen to thrive in new surroundings. I love the new sights, smells and of course, the people watching. And those varied experiences inevitably inspire my writing, too.

In fact, while sampling my first sweet potato turnover and talking to the people of Albany, so many crazy, interesting new thoughts were swirling through my mind. And while I'm not sure if they'll ever see the light of day in my actual WIP, it's always good to get outside of the world that's so familiar to me in the Twin Cities.

And really, that's just one of the great things about writing fiction, isn't it? Whether we're writing from our home office or at the local coffee shop, we get to provide a glimpse into a new world for our readers—one that's vivid and new and exciting and transports them somewhere they've never been before.

So that's why it's good from time to time to get re-inspired and switch up the surroundings yourself so you can provide that experience for your readers. Even if you don't have the time or resources to travel somewhere exotic, sometimes inspiration is found in the unlikeliest of places—like Albany, Georgia where the fried chicken and southern hospitality are nothing short of top notch.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Marketing Pros and Cons

There's been some discussion on the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) loop the past few weeks about marketing and Christian authors struggles with promoting themselves. Many authors see it as part of the business and have no qualms whatsoever, and others feel that its not God-honoring, or is impossible to promote one's book with a sense of true humility. After all, Christians are supposed to be humble, stay in the background, and not promote pride or self, right?

What do you think?

Here's my thoughts on the subject...

Like with many things in the Christian life, self promoting is a fine line.

On the one hand, you don't want to be prideful, or revel in what "you" did. That's not right. We ARE supposed to be humble and pointing all the glory toward God, all the time. We might have written the book, but if its a good book, then it should have been good because God worked in us and through us for His glory. We were vessels. The pot doesn't brag, the potter does. We are the pot, God is the potter.

On the other hand, our books are our pots, and we are their potter. If God blesses us with a story and a contract and publication, it's our JOB as Christian authors to promote that book (in a humbling sense, always remembering that God is the ultimate potter) and point others toward a venue that could then point them to Christ. Otherwise, what's the point?

Does that make sense? Again, it's a fine line.

I just think that if we don't embrace the gifts God gave us (writing) then we are hiding our talent in the ground, like the parable in the Bible. If God gave it to us, we need to use it to our fullest extent. Making sure the public knows about our upcoming stories, sending out newsletters, making bookmarks to pass out at booksignings, creating an author website, etc. is not a sin. It's not prideful. It's part of the business, and if our goal is to have readers be drawn closer to God through our stories, then we have to get the stories into the readers hands.

There's a difference in posting a Facebook status saying "Hey, go me, I just got another contract, WOOHOO, I rock!" and posting a status that says "Just heard from my agent, got another contract. Look for such and such coming out Spring. Yay God!" See my point?

As long as you know in your heart that you are dust without God, then others will know your heart too. At times we still might be persecuted for bragging but God knows the truth, and really, who else's thoughts matter?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic!! =)

Also, what marketing ideas have you found that work? If not in promoting your own novel, what techniques stand out to you as a reader? What draws your attention and makes you want to read a new book? Be honest!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Standing Out

See the tall, gorgeous, light-haired, model-looking women on the left?

I'm not one of them.

No. I'm the one with the black hair. The short legs. The short arms. The short... everything.

I don't fit.

At least... not at first glance.

But I was chosen. Chosen to be a part of this family. My boy took one look at me, and he -- the tall, gorgeous, light-haired, model-looking boy -- picked me.

I used to conceal my differences. Not just on the outside... but on the inside.

I couldn’t let people know. I couldn’t tell them what I’d been through. I didn’t want to be judged.
I didn’t want to stand out.

So I wrote about trivial things. I shared about trivial experiences.

…I experienced trivial fulfillment.

Until I realized: I am chosen. In His greatness, my life-planner, dream-creator, pain-healer, and heart-fulfiller took one look at me – and picked me.

I am a part of His family. And even though my experiences look different on the outside, even though I will never be blonde-haired or blue-eyed, I am as much a part of this group as any genetic child.

My experiences stand out, yes. But there is a reason for that.

So… what about yours? What are you holding back?

What’s the one thing you can’t let people know?

What makes you afraid of being judged?

Afraid to stand out?

Your heart belongs here.

You were created different for a reason.

Now pick up your pen and fulfill it...

BJ Hamrick is a writer and the editor of Real Teen Faith.

Monday, May 17, 2010

When all is said and done...

...The edits begin.


Self-editing has to be my least favorite part of the writing process, which is why I've developed a little system that seems to work fairly decently for me.

Instead of writing, writing, writing and never editing like most of the speakers at writing conferences and most of the books on writing encourage you to do ("Keep on your creative hat!" "Don't touch the editing until you're done!"), I do it a little differently.

I like to call it Survival Editing. As in, if I do it this way, I usually survive the editing process with very few extra pounds from those necessary chocolate chip cookies that have to accompany it.

My process? I write, write, write all day. At the end of the day, I save my work and close my computer. The next morning, I get up and reread what I wrote the day before, making the corrections as I see them. Then I start writing, writing, writing again.

It only takes a few minutes every day. And then, once you finish your book, you have something that is very close to a finished draft instead of a horrific rough draft that makes you add two cups of chocolate chips to the cookie batch instead of just one.

So, once I finish a deadline, it only takes me about two full days to completely read through and do the last few edits before it's ready to be sent off. Fairly painless, fairly easy to burn off those few days' extra calories rather than a whole month's worth of cookies and candy like it used to take.

How do you edit your work? And what are some of your trade secrets that you're willing to share?

Friday, May 14, 2010

It's You, Not the Guitar

I'm thinking back to a time when I was in the middle of a crowd, pressed in on each side by complete strangers. All of us were waiting for the next band to start at a local Christian rock festival. I was minding my own business trying not to think about how much my feet were hurting (I'd been standing for hours by now).

Two guys stood behind me and started talking with each other, introducing themselves and seeing if they had common interests. One guy was a gangly, fourteen or fifteen-year-old who looked like he was much older. The other probably was college-aged. Conversation quickly turned to music, and Mr. 15 couldn't help but point out he played guitar, bass guitar and drums. I smiled to myself.

I couldn't see either of their faces, but I have a feeling Mr. College was smiling inwardly too. But he took it all in stride and kindly humored Mr. 15. Then talk turned to equipment, i.e. amps and types of guitars. Mr. 15 was desperately trying to sound like he knew everything there was to know about these sort of things. Then he said something that almost caused me to chuckle out loud.

"My guitar makes me sound bad," he said.


"Yeah, if I had a really good one, I'd sound great."

Um, okay. Your guitar makes you sound bad. Hmm. I wonder if it would've made Jimmy Hendrix sound bad.

I got to thinking about this little exchange later, and it reminded me of how often we all choose to blame our equipment rather than acknowledge our own weaknesses. If I only had that iMac I could write so much better. If only I didn't write in my kitchen but had my own office. If only I had a better this or that ...

The way I see it, if we can sound good (or, excuse the grammar, write good), or do anything well on what we have, then that's the sign of true talent. If we can develop our skills on what we've been given to use today, then maybe God'll give us something better tomorrow. It's sorta like that parable which talks about being faithful in the small things.

We don't have to have the latest gadgets or the most expensive equipment to become good at whatever we've been called to do. What really matters is our attitude. Will we make the most of what we've been given today?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Reading the Classics: Friend or Foe?

Tonya, one of Scribble Chicks' faithful readers, posed the following question today:

This is off topic, but I always read that writers should read the classics. Are there any successful writers that aren't in love with classic literature? I have tried and have a hard time getting into it. Do you have any advice in that area?

Why yes, I do, Tonya! Here goes...

While I definitely enjoy some of the classics, especially anything Austen, A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway and Tender is the Night by fellow St. Paul native F. Scott Fitzgerald, I can definitely relate to your sentiment that it's not exactly easy getting into them—especially if you were forced to read Jane Eyre and Fahrenheit 451 against your will, numerous times, like I was in junior high when Judy Blume was my author of choice.

The trouble with classics is often two-fold. The unusual language alone can be a barrier (I mean no one really uses words like "thither" and "felicity" in real life, right), and the sentences are much, much longer than our slightly A-D-D, Twitter-lovin' culture is accustomed to. And no matter how many times my hubby tells me I absolutely must read War and Peace, I have the hardest time keeping all the characters straight because of all those very, very long Russian names.

After all, when you have a notebook beside you while reading War and Peace just to keep track of said Russian names, I think that ultimately steals a little of the pleasure of the reading experience.

So most of the time, I also find myself gravitating toward books that are decidedly more modern, and I'm a firm believer that there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. When you're writing, I think it serves anyone best to read as much as you can from your given genre. That's what inevitably sharpens and inspires your writing, what ensures you're familiar with what's already being done, what provides a reference point when pitching your future agent/publisher about what might compete with what you're doing.

Plus, I have always believed that great writers are also great readers. You simply can't do one well without the other. And whether you're go-to literature is the classics or the latest crime thriller, you're still reading, which is what counts most. Yes, I definitely think there's a lot we can learn from great writers like Tolstoy, Hemingway, Alcott and Austen, but if that's not your literary cup of tea, don't worry. Just make sure you find your favorites and learn from what they do well.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Don't leave me hanging...

I've been reading through the book of Acts, and that book more than any other in the Bible leaves me with questions. Not deep, intellectual, rich, spiritual questions, but really silly ones that don't matter. But plague me.

It's the lack of detail. There are SO MANY amazing stories in Acts. I mean, just think of the time period - right after the Acension, right after Jesus was there and gone, right when faith was fresh. It's a time of true revival. The Church is starting and growing. Thousands are being saved. Miracles are around every corner. The apostles had the power to perform healings and cast out demons in Jesus' name. It's almost like a short time period of tangible faith - which is an oxymoron - but you know what I mean. Proof in its finest. Seriously, how could people NOT believe when there was so much going on then?

But back to my questions. Take, for example, Acts 8, when Philip ministered to the eunuch who was trying to read the Bible in his chariot, but couldn't understand the context. Philip hopped up beside him and led the guy to the Lord. Cool, huh? But no, it gets better. Suddenly, once the eunuch was baptized, POOF. Philip is gone! It says "Now when they had come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so the eunuch saw him no more, and he went on his way rejoicing."


I need more details. You know - you KNOW - there has to be more going on in that eunuch's mind. I can almost guarantee you he didn't pop up out of the water and not wonder where on earth Philip went. Did he really just wipe his face and carry on, rejoicing, without a single "oh my goodness?!" The man vanished in thin air! Was that just NORMAL then???

And what about Philip??? He was baptizing a guy, then POOF - he's in Azotus. I loved the way the Bible says "But Philip was found in Azotus." Hahaha. Who found him? Did he find himself? Did he wonder what happened? Did he think he was crazy and imagined the whole eunuch thing? Guess the Lord had a full schedule for Philip, no time for traditional traveling. That soul was saved, so, BAM - on to the next. Forget chariot rides and dust covered sandals, Philip got a holy limo service. But it had to freak him out. Or again, was that just NORMAL then???

Sigh. So many questions...

Here's an industry tip - it's okay for us to wonder about the detail gaps in the Bible. Sometimes I think God did that on purpose, to make us inquire and study and pray and be curious and creative. Plus, if He hadn't, the Bible would be taller than a house and impossible to carry. ;)

But in the world of publishing, don't leave the reader hanging. Readers (obviously, from my rant here!) want details. And you know what? So do editors and agents! If you're querying for the first time and writing your first synopsis, I know its tempting to leave the agent/editor hanging by asking the back cover questions, like "Will so and so find a way to weather the storms in their hearts and find true love at last?" But don't. Those type of hooks have their place...but in a synopsis (traditionally, a 3-5 page summary of your entire book) you must include details. Not what the heroine wore in scene five or how the hero smelled in scene nine, but a very thorough summary of every main point in your story. Don't be afraid to give away the ending and twists and turns here. It's what the editor/agent wants in order to see how the book is done and...ta da....contract it!

Any questions on synopsis'?

Or the book of Acts, for that matter? ha. Please tell me I'm not alone in my musings. I won't even get started on Acts 10, when they lowered Saul out a window and down a wall in the dark of night IN A BASKET.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Sometimes heroes are characters made up in books... sometimes they are made up of real life. Tell us about yours in the comments.


The world lost a hero today. He left the way most heroes do – quietly, quickly, and without much ado. He simply slipped off the scene.

At first glance, his hands didn’t look like a hero’s . They were scarred from labor on the engines of PT boat 327, engines so deafening he and the rest of the crew were only allowed below deck for 20 minutes at a time.

Then came the blast. On December 22, 1942, the engine roared loudly as shrapnel flew, narrowly missing the gas tank. The shrapnel, however, did not miss the hero. Soon the Purple Heart was placed right there – in those warring hands.

“I’m no hero,” he told me once. “I was just doing what all of us scared boys were doing – what we had to do.”

I knew differently. I could tell by his hands.

Those hands cradled me as a baby. Those hands brushed against mine in the Piggly Wiggly aisle when he gifted me with grape bubble gum. Those hands shaped wood into toys. Those hands scrawled long letters. Those hands squeezed my shoulder on my wedding day.

Those hands rested in mine a few weeks ago.

“They’re all worn out,” he told me, rubbing them against mine. “They’re no good anymore.”

It’s a fault he had, like all real heroes. He didn’t know how heroic he was, even in the midst of his heroic moments.

I was three states away on the day he died. He was surrounded by others who loved him, but I wish I could have been there too. I wish I could have kissed my hero’s bald head one more time. I wish I could have whispered to him how amazing he was.

He would have denied it. But I would have known the truth as he exited stage left, quietly, quickly, and without much ado…

To the place where all true heroes go.

Who's your hero?

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Op-Ed Page In Your WIP

We've all heard or said it at least once:

"Well, I talked to an editor/publisher/agent/author/previously-innocent-bystander and they said that I should delete my whole first chapter and start with the second!"

"Say what you will, but my grandmother/mother/sister/teacher/professor/previously-innocent-bystander said that my novel was by far the best and most accomplished work they'd seen on Amish vampire chick-lit in their entire lifetimes. They guaranteed they'd buy it."

"I showed my novel to -insert previously innocent bestselling author's name- and they told me it was good and then they marked it up with so many red pen marks that it now looks like a Ritz cracker box."

Try to guess what these three comments have in common.

You got it - Opinions. Yours, mine, other people's. Someone hates your book, someone loves your book. You hate your book, you love your book. Some random guy walking his spindly-legged pinscher down the street thinks your book is boring and should start with a gunfight.

"But wait," you try to explain. "I write romance and if I started with a gunfight, then they wouldn't have that touching scene in the park! And if I cut the whole first chapter, you'd never know that she was an orphan because her mom died in childbirth and her dad was that unfortunate worker guy in Jurassic Park who first got eaten by the dinosaur!"

There was a time when I listened to everyone's opinions about my stories.

And I mean everyone.

I showed my work to whoever would sit still long enough to read the first three chapters. My poor family got so many different drafts of the same story that I think they eventually forgot where the plot was going in the first place. I asked a few authors at writers conferences to have a look at my writing. My friend's mom who was an English major looked at it. My mom. My grandmother.

Everyone - and I do mean everyone - had a different opinion on it.

"I think you need to start here," one author told me at a conference, flipping to page 62. "Just go ahead and cut out all the beginning stuff."

The English Major Friend's Mom didn't like how I tended to use fragments. In sentences such as this:


Apparently, that was not a sentence. She used her red marker all over my book. So much, actually, that I nearly burst into tears and gave up writing.

With Miss Match, one editor told me she thought it was good, but I needed more Bible in it. Another editor told me to make it spicier, to add some sexual tension.

Um. Okay. Talk about conflicting opinions!

So, who do you listen to when everyone has a different idea of what your book should be like? Editors? Your mom? The English major? The guy walking his dog?

I was at a conference several years ago and I got a chance to ask my all-time favorite author, Francine Rivers, that very question. She said that there are only so many corrections she could suggest or someone else could suggest before it ceases to become your book and becomes that other person's book.

Does that mean you never listen to what other people think?

Of course not. But listen with an open mind - i.e. listen with the ability to let some of those opinions float away. While the English major's opinion would have been a good one to listen to if I were writing a research paper, it was probably not the best person to listen to in writing a novel. But, if an editor suggested that I changed the age of my character to be a little bit older to hopefully gather in a larger audience (which happened with Miss Match), then consider your work and consider listening.

What about your own opinion?

Above all else, don't be too modest about your writing ("my writing sucks") hoping people will butter you back up and don't be too obnoxious about your writing ("I talked to a Civil war expert and he said that my book was like reading his own diary") hoping an editor will be smart enough to sign you.

Be confident but don't be overbearing. If you know you are doing what God wants you to do, then do it with confidence. But just like everyone in the world won't like your particular chocolate chip cookie recipe, everyone in the world probably won't like your book. The sad part about using that analogy is that you can't commiserate by eating your novel like you could with the cookies. :)

Maybe someone will offer advice that will totally be the missing piece you were looking for. Maybe they won't. But don't toss your work in the trash and be willing to give up at the first red ink mark you see on the face of your manuscript.

Stick with it! It might be painful, sore and wounding now, but seeing your name on the cover of a book someday is so completely worth it!

So, fess up - what are some of the opinions you've gotten on your work in progress? Did you listen to them?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Funny Digital Publishing Video

Since I missed my Friday post, I thought it would be fun to share this hilarious video about the opposing views of digital publishing (created by some of my friends at Tyndale House):

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Few More Thoughts on Branding...

Oprah has done it. And so has Martha Stewart, Rachael Ray and even Tori Spelling. In fact, when you think of these women, a certain quality instantly springs to mind because they've done a fantastic job of branding themselves.

Oprah is the wise, personable Earth mother you'd almost feel comfortable telling all your deepest, darkest secrets to. And yes, she also has that powerful book club endorsement that every novelist would love to have.

Meanwhile, Martha Stewart is the East Coast, Type-A perfectionist who could probably frost a cake with a simple toothpick if she had to. Then on the polar opposite end of the spectrum, Rachael Ray is the perky, folksy queen of the 30-Minute meal, and Tori Spelling is the flaky, high-maintenance Hollywood mom/mogul with the annoying wish-he-was-famous hubby that she always fights with on their reality show (yes, I've seen a few clips on The Soup...I'm pretty sure I couldn't sit through an entire show without ripping my hair out).

Just in case you wonder where I'm going with all of this, I'm mentioning this because like the other Chicks have mentioned this week, branding is important—very important. After all, there's a reason why I shop at Target rather than Wal-Mart and sip Starbucks rather than Dunn Bros., a local Minneapolis-St.Paul chain, and that's because there's something enticing about the way these commodities are marketed (not to mention that I flat-out prefer one over the other).

And people inevitably feel the same way about the books they buy and why they ultimately choose one over another. A few months before my first novel released, a friend suggested that I read Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands, and it really got me thinking about an aspect of the publishing business I hadn't really thought about—exactly who I wanted to be and how I'd (not just my writing, mind you) be perceived by my readers.

The book says that basically if we don't create a brand for ourselves, our audience will do it for us. And trust me, I'm thinking that's something you'd rather be in control of.

So what is it that makes you unique? What do you bring to the proverbial table that someone else doesn't? What expertise can you offer? What particular flair does your writing have? How about the look of your books, your marketing materials (i.e. your website, bookmarks, Twitter account, the pics you feature on Facebook), what does those say about you?

These questions are all important in figuring out how to market yourself.

Since I write chick lit (or as I prefer to call them romantic comedies in book form), there's a certain girly quality about me, but since I consider sarcasm a spiritual gift of mine, that definitely comes forth in my writing (and therefore, my branding, too). Since a good chunk of my professional writing is about entertainment (movies, music, et. al) for magazines, I'm also known for my take on pop culture, so that's incorporated in the branding mix as well.

So when you say (insert your name here), what do you want people to think of? Definitely something to consider as you work on your WIP.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Branding side-note

Okay, so we were talking about branding earlier this's a prime example of when branding goes bad.

Very, very bad.

Here's a link to Miley Cyrus' controversial new video "Can't Be Tamed" that premiered last night on E. You might have to watch through a movie preview or two, but it will play after that.

I'm speechless. I'm trying to find intelligent words but all I have is "OMG!"

Two years ago, the name Miley Cyrus conjured the image of a cute teen star with a shaggy blonde wig and the alias of Hannah Montana. Disney Pop Princess, fresh-faced girl with a decent voice.

One year to six months ago, you would have heard the Miley Cyrus and thought about a pretty, brunette teenager, growing up and stretching her vocal limits along with her maturity and attempting to reach new heights in country as she goes on "The Climb" of a lifetime. (Sometimes the stretches fell flat, along with her tone, but hey, I can't sing great either, so who am I to judge?)

Now we have a crazy, overly sexy pop singer in leather with half naked dancers, a mildly simulated orgy and an incredibly scary bird outfit. Seriously? And was she even singing? The voice digitilizer or whatever you call it was taking over. I can't help but think this screams "the next Britney Spears". Someone might as well just hand Miley a razor now because she's zooming right down the same "shave my head in a random public meltdown" road.


How did this happen? Blonde family-friendly pop singer to maturing, naturally pretty brunette country singer to feathered, sex-ed up minor with a techno voice?

Let's learn a lesson from Miley, here, dear authors. Branding is important. I know an author changing brands might not be as public or dramatic as a singer like Miley switching venues but it still matters. Readers and fans alike become used to a certain type of performance. They trust that performance. Just like all these mothers are now mourning the loss of their safe little Hannah Montana for their kids viewing pleasure, readers mourn the loss of being able to trust a certain delivery from an author.

Remember it's okay to branch out and try new things one baby step at a time, like Erynn advised Monday, but let's leave the psycho-ness to the professionals, mmm-K?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Writing Haze

So, here I am, navigating my way through darkness. Also known as, the outer realm of Deadlines, Home Renovations, and Unpacking Cardboard Boxes.

...Did I mention deadlines?

Which leads me to ask...

What's clouding your vision this week?

How can the Scribble Chicks help you through the writing haze?

Or better yet, tell us what helps you through it. We can all use a little night vision every now and then...

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Question of Boxiness

Last week, Christiana, a fabulous ScribbleChicks reader, asked if we had any advice about how to write a book and yet not get boxed into that genre.

It's true. Writer's names become "brands". Think about what goes through your mind when I just mention these few names in the Christian market:

Dee Henderson

Karen Kingsbury

Frank Peretti

Ted Dekker

Odds are, you thought, "Romantic suspense, Kleenex books, weird strange stuff and weirder strange stuff." Each of those authors writes only one genre. Why?

They're good at it. It sells. And while I'm sure people have begged, pleaded and cried with him to do so, I'm fairly certain that Ted Dekker will never write chick-lit. Even Amish Vampire Chick-Lit.

So how do we escape the branding process?

Bad news first - you probably won't. It's true that whatever you publish first will probably set the tone for the rest of your published works.

The good news? You can alter the tone a little bit at a time. For example, I write chick-lit, but my current deadline is for a young adult contemporary suspense (think chick-lit meets Nancy Drew). So, while I still have that chick-lit vibe, I'm also getting to play around with suspense and the young adult market now.

There are a few authors who have managed to avoid being trapped into a genre box. A few I can think of are Francine Rivers, Gayle Roper and Brandilyn Collins (although she now only writes suspense, I believe. She has in the past written contemporary as well). Each of these women are fantastic storytellers. So fantastic, actually, that we don't care what they are writing. Suspense? Great! Contemporary stories? Yay! Historical romance? Fabulous! We know we're going to get an amazing story and that is what keeps us reading.

So, Christiana and all you ScribbleChicks out there, just keep writing what you want to write. Find out what genre you are the best at and submit that first. Take your time writing and have fun doing it! I originally started writing suspense. Actually, that's all I submitted at writer's conferences for a long time. Then, one day, I sat down and just started writing a fun story about a girl who loved to matchmake. I worked on it in the midst of revising the suspense book. And soon, the matchmaking book took the top priority over the suspense book because it was just fun to write!

What do you have the most fun writing?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

How important is thanksgiving and the writing life?

The writing life can be full of ups and downs. One minute we're high in the sky because someone said something nice about our endeavors, the next we're down in the dumps because a rejection letter came in the mail. I think this is probably the bane of most creative types. We're often emotional people. We have to be. It's what allows us to dig deep into ourselves and pull out characters. We have the ability to literally feel what our characters feel.

This emotional response in writers (and all artists, really) can be a curse if we don't learn to harness it properly. But it can also be a tremendous blessing! We're able to put ourselves in someone else's shoes maybe a little easier than the average Jane/Joe. We can empathize with pain---because we've felt it, either literally or vicariously through our characters.

But here's the thing. Instead of letting ourselves be ruled by our emotions when it comes to rejections and disappointments, let's look at them from a different angle. Every rejection you receive is one step closer to an acceptance. Why look at the glass half empty?

I wanted to share with you a Scripture that's helped me on more than one occasion. It comes from Philippians 4, starting with verse 4. Here goes:

4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

Stop right there for a moment. Rejoice. That's what thanksgiving is all about. Rejoicing in what we have, whether it's where we want to be or not. I bet there's something in your life to thank the Lord about. Maybe it's just the good food on your table. Or the blue sky. Or much-needed rain. Or your beloved pet. Or your spouse. It was important enough for Paul to mention twice in this verse.

The Lord is near
. No matter where you are right now as you're reading this. You can know this for certain. God is with you. Right now. Looking over your shoulder. Loving you exactly as you are.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

In this day and age, there's a lot to be anxious about. You know what? That's not God's best for us. But he doesn't just command us not to worry. He shows us what to do instead! And that is: present our request to Him. Ask Him for help. How many times is God the last resort in our lives? Why not make Him the first person we turn to in times of stress?

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

After we've given thanks, after we've presented our requests to God, here's His wonderful promise to us: peace will fill our hearts. I love that line "which transcends all understanding", meaning we can't make sense of it! That's because it comes from God. Allow God's peace to fill you today, even amidst all the hustle and bustle. He loves you so much. Hey, He died for you, too. Pretty cool, huh?

One more thought. Writers and readers ... God cares about your writing. He wouldn't have put the desire in your heart to do it if He didn't have some way to fulfill it, if it wasn't in His plan for your life. He's the one who put your dreams inside of you! If you commit your way to Him, and seek His will, it'll all work out perfectly in His time.

Keep trusting. Keep writing.