Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How To Market Without Imposing or Nagging

Confession-I have unsubscribed from some email mailings.

*Not because one appeared weekly in my box. If I didn't feel like reading it, I could save it for later or the delete key was there.
*Not because the subject line said something like, "24 hours left..." I'd glance and if the opportunity or sale didn't pertain to 
           me, I deleted it.
*Not because I was "informed of the blog post every writer needs, or the book I should read." Somedays I did want to read it. 
          Then again, if I was too busy, I deleted it.

I unsubscribed because the site or person imposed their ideas, tried to push me into their ad, or belittled me.

I want to have a choice and not feel guilty about my decision. 

Recently, I unsubscribed from a very well known writing marketer because the subject line alone felt threatening to me....AND it included my name. I felt like the person was yelling at me.

I wasn't asked to check out their product. I was .... nagged.


In today's publishing world, writers are asked to market their own product. The reasoning isn't bad. Who better knows the product than the writer? 

The problem is: to be a great writer one needs to spend time alone--writing. This hermit, of sort, is asked to make friends, network, put a face "out there" and tell a world about their book.

A difficult task. 

When should we ask more? When is asking nagging?

The word "ad" will be used below to include: email subject lines, newsletter text, blog posts, announcements, book sales, any marketing we as writers do.

Here are some marketing tips for asking:

1. Ask once. If someone misses the first ad, don't worry. Thanks to word of mouth and Internet sharing, any news about a good products will spread to those who didn't see it the first time.
       NOTE: each social media, place you go, email subscriber, etc. can be asked. There may be an overlap of audience, but 
       this is acceptable. The same ad on FB and on Twitter is not a problem. 

2. Word the subject line and the ad with kind words. No demands. No guilt trips. How would you say the words to your grandmother? But don't beg. Pretty, pretty please?

3. Fun subject lines and text are enticing. Add humor, or a bit of casual wording to show you are a human and not a computer generating the ad.

4. When referring to holidays, news, events, etc., be considerate of all. Refrain from disrespecting others.

5. The hammer approach. Repeating information several times, even if only rewording to get the audience's attention and help them remember can cause readers to simply close out the site. The same happens for unnecessary fonts, bold, and neon colors. Readers have precious few minutes to read an ad and will only read as far as he or she enjoys.

6. If you held an open house, consider how you would speak to guests you don't know. How would you dress? What would you offer them for refreshment? These are the exact same skills needed when posting about our work on FB, Twitter, email, newsletters, in any text, etc.

We need to ask. 
It's the only way to market. 

I know it's hard. Sometimes it's worse than going to the dentist and having a root canal. BUT if we don't ask, no one will know about our work. 

God wants us to be strong and tell others about the writing ministry He gave us. So many people have been drawn to the name of Jesus through fiction stories. If only one person learned about Jesus through your story, wouldn't it be worth climbing out of a hermit world and asking/inviting a person to read your story?

I hope you ask me. :)

To practice this lesson, I'm going to ask you for something. 

If The Writers Alley has helped you on your journey to publication, consider nominating us for the 18th Annual Writer's Digest 101 Best Website for Writers Award. 

All you have to do is send an email to with "101 Websites" in the subject line. Then include our URL in the body ( with a brief explanation that we have helped.

Thank you so much!


What questions do you have?
How can we help you?

I can't wait to read your comment(s)!

Photo Courtesy: - modified for this use.

If you found any typos in today's post...sorry about that. 

Mary writes young adult mystery/suspense Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids. She has finaled in several writing contests.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Let's Talk Niche Marketing: Part 1

Pre-published authors, I'm looking at you. Before you navigate away from this post, this topic applies to you, too! Right now, it's important for you to be building your platform. And you need to be strengthening your marketing muscle, because someday when your book sells, you're going to need to do a lot of legwork whether you choose the indie route or sign with a top-five publisher.

So let's get ready. Let's talk niche marketing, my very favorite part of my job. Do you know what it entails? Those with a basic understanding of book marketing know the traditional routes: retail, print and broadcast media, email subscription lists, social media. But have you explored your niche audiences for selling your book or building your platform? 

Though it may not seem as lucrative as traditional routes, chiseling away at niche marketing could strike unexpected gold. 

Identifying potential niches for your book/platform

First, it's important to know your niche and be consistent with it. It might make sense for you to have a few different niches, as long as they have significant and intentional ties with your book. But if you find they're polar opposite groups, then it's best to pick one to focus on. Otherwise it will be hard to benefit your readers, engage them, and keep them coming back for more of your story. That's the most important thing!

1. Ask yourself about your probable target audience -- beyond the typical "18-35-year-old woman" answer. What magazines does he/she read? What groups do he/she belong to on Facebook? How would this person spend his/her Saturday night? 

For example, my second manuscript's heroine is a food blogger, so a lot of the plot revolves around food. When my book sells, I'd like to reach out to groups of food and lifestyle bloggers who also post book reviews on their websites. I might ask if I can send review copies to people I've researched well that seem like a good fit for my ideal audience. { Let me repeat this: people I've asked and researched well. } If niche marketing is a Venn diagram, I'm looking for people who exist in the heart area below with as many intersecting qualities as possible.

In the meantime, as I build my platform, I can post occasional recipes on my social media platforms and engage with food and lifestyle bloggers because I know that represents my brand well and will be sustainable throughout the life of my writing career.

2. Ask yourself what theme or message in your book you're most passionate or knowledgeable about. Why did you write this book? How did you as the author come away a better person as your characters grew and the story unfolded in your writing? That theme or message.

In my first book, the heroine is a new college graduate facing some pretty tough questions about her future. I know that one niche of readers who would relate to her are college students or not far removed from that stage of life. So I might seek out speaking engagements at colleges and conferences geared toward that demographic. I might ask myself how buying my book or following me on Twitter would be beneficial for them and offer supplemental content. I might write articles about that topic and submit them to relevant media outlets.

The goal is to streamline your message or theme and establish yourself as an authority on that topic, to let your passion shine through, even if only to your own platform. But hopefully you can figure out appropriate avenues where individuals congregate to hear that message -- individuals who will identify with your book. 

3. Ask yourself what stands out about your book. Hopefully you have a decent idea of the hook that makes your story unique in the marketplace, whether you're published or not. Is it a unique setting? Age group? Historical event? Character occupation? A lovable minor character? 

A friend of mine had a faithful pit bull that played a prominent role in her manuscript, so she reached out to a Facebook group with thousands of followers and was taken under their wings immediately. These people are loyal to pit bulls and adored that she had featured one in her book.

I also had a client whose book centered around a unique locale during World War II. With a little research, we discovered a large virtual book club network focused on World War II fiction that ended up generating a lot of sales.

The moral of the story? Common loyalty can forge a powerful alliance.


I was going to talk about reaching your niche audience, but I'm making the executive decision to continue the fun next time! So until then, chime in! Who is your ideal reader? What are some niche audiences that would be interested in reading your books? 


Laurie Tomlinson is a wife and mom from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who is passionate about intentional living, all things color-coded, and stories of grace in the beautiful mess. Previously a full-time book publicist, she owns a freelance copywriting, editing, and PR consulting business called 1624 Communications

She's a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and received the Genesis Award in 2013 (Contemporary) and 2014 (Romance). 

Her work is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary.

You can connect with Laurie here:
Twitter - @LaurieTomlinson

Monday, September 28, 2015


During the recent ACFW Conference in Dallas, TX, a few other writers and I started chatting about our strengths and weaknesses in writing. Usually it’s pretty easy to point out weaknesses in ourselves, but strengths? I think for most of us that is a little more difficult.

Which got me thinking….

One of my strengths is ‘storytelling’. You probably don’t want me for a line-edit (grammar is NOT my strength), but as far as seeing the big picture, the story concept, I’m pretty good at that. In fact, one of my favorite things to do with writer friends is brainstorm!

Let’s step back and take a look at S.T.O.R.Y.

Yes, I’m a big fan of acronyms (give me a break, I work as an SLP by day so I’m always trying to think of memory-helps J

The hallmarks of a good story can be summed up into some basic components:

S – Solid characters

                At the heart of every good story is either one…or usually more, strong or powerful characters. The best stories take us on a journey with believable characters who are flawed, wounded, and determined in some way or other. Do you know your main characters? Are they engaging? Does the reader have a reason to like them? To cheer for them? Or at the very least, are your characters interesting enough (even if they’re not good) to draw the reader in a make them want to come along on the journey.

T – Tale

                Is there a story? The best books aren’t about people being thrown together with nothing to do (okay, unless we’re talking about The Great Gatsby ;-) Seriously, what is happening in your story? Have you created a world? Do you have something to tell to bring the reader along? A journey to make with these amazing characters? The next one will help us out with this problem.

O – Objectives

                What are the goals of your characters? What does he want? What drives her? The Bible says ‘without a vision the people perish’, well in many ways the same can happen to your story if your characters don’t have a goal. Many times there is both an internal and external goal.

R – Real Conflict

                What’s going to stop your excellent characters on this amazing journey from reaching their goals? Conflict! And more importantly, conflict takes on many hues. In the best books, there is both internal and external conflict, keeping the tension high and moving the story along at a solid pace.

Y – Your voice

                This is what makes your story….your story. The YOU factor! Your voice, your style, your turn of phrase, and personal storytelling skills. The call you have on your heart for this story. Your humor or drama. Your personal experience and imagination. All of these things are special pieces of your STORY that only YOU can bring! Do you know why you want to write this story? If you don’t know….your characters might not either, and it will show.

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by this new info and would like some help, I have a special treat!!

Today I’m going to offer a brainstorming session on StoryCraft to one commenter. Please indicate whether you want to be a part of the drawing or not (and leave your email address).
What it will entail is:
A form you complete on your story
A 15-30 minute chat related to information on the form
And a follow-up email reviewing what was discussed

Share your thoughts! How have you used the elements of STORY to write your own?


Friday, September 25, 2015

Do You Vlog?

Nope. No typo. You read that correctly. Vlogging. It’s all the rage, apparently.

Vlog: (n.) a blog in which the postings are presented via video.
Now, I’m not exactly a shy person. There are very few topics I feel skittish about and little to nothing about my personal life that I view as taboo. I’m an open book. I’m outgoing. I have a certain ease that allows me to converse with virtual strangers without much awkwardness (that is, unless my filter flees the scene and I start oversharing, which has been known to happen and is usually amusing, if not slightly embarrassing. But I digress.)
We’re talking about vlogging. To vlog. (To blave…. Sorry, having a Princess Bride, Miracle Max moment!) And yet, even given all that I just said about my certain lack of social inhibition, vlogging terrifies me! And not just the nervousness that churns a sea of nausea in my stomach at the thought of filming myself talking inanely on camera… but of having to WATCH said video when I’m done babbling and stammering on and on, waving my hands around like a charades enthusiast, tripping over the words that are supposed to (and usually would) flow free and easy.
If scripted, even though I’ve acted on stage for years, I sound like a robot and the weirdness plays in high definition on my face making my lips move unnaturally, my head tilt like a confused puppy, and my voice sound like a stranger's. If I wing it, I end up repeating myself or constructing sentences that don’t even make sense in the playback.
What the heck is wrong with me? If I’m acting and I’m pretending to be someone else, I’m fine. If I’m talking to a small group of people in the flesh, I’m solid. Charismatic and engaging. I’ve been told I have a nice voice, a pleasant look. The cogs should be lining up here, right?
Wrong. It’s inexplicable. I cringe just thinking about it. But sometimes we suck it up for the greater good. We may look like idiots, but oh the things we crazy writers will do for the love of story.
So here I am, sucking it up. Making video clips of myself talking about my book. Gag! It’s a special brand of torture but I think I’ve made a few observations that can help others with the same type of predicament.
Don’t do a million takes. Do a couple. Give yourself some slack and know that it won’t be perfect. The more you film, more often the more frustrated you become… and THAT will translate into your body language and your tone.
Make notes but don’t script. You’re better off having some talking points and practicing a bit first than trying to memorize something that will come across stifled and unnatural. Remember, if you biff it, you can always take two and start fresh.
Leave your notes propped up so you don’t have to look down. It’s more natural to shift your gaze to one side of the camera. That way you don’t have to smooth the hair out of your eyes and it’s less jarring to watch.
Don’t rush. Sometimes when we’re nervous our words start to snowball. The faster they go the more easily they trip over each other. Make a conscious effort to pace yourself. The delivery will feel more natural and your confidence will grow.
Be you! Remember to let your personality shine through. It’s not about producing something studio quality with poise and polish. You want people to see YOU. Throw in a quirky smile, don’t hold your face so rigid. Laugh a little. And try to think of the camera as a person to converse with.
And maybe, if it’s still too painful, just don’t keep watching it.
Any other advice you would add? Come on now, someone has got to be better at this than me! ;)

<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
Amy Leigh Simpson is the completely exhausted stay-at-home mama to the two wild-child, tow-headed toddler boys, one pretty little princess baby, and the incredibly blessed wife of her hunky hubby.
She writes Romantic Suspense chalked full of grace that is equally inspiring, nail-biting, and hilarious. And a little saucy! Okay fine, a lot saucy. :) She is a member of ACFW, and now uses her Sports Medicine degree to patch up daily boo-boos. Her greatest ambitions are to create stories that inspire hope, raise up her children to be mighty warriors for Christ, invent an all-dessert diet that works, and make up for years of sleep deprivation. 
Look for her debut novel due out this fall with WildBlue Press!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Knowing Yourself as a Writer

Today's blog is all about dialogue. Have you ever reread your manuscript and gotten that blah feeling from the dialogue? Maybe the character interactions feel flat or forced, or simply unrealistic. Dialogue is a big deal-breaker for me whenever I'm reading a new book. I don't know about you, but if the dialogue feels cheesy, I usually won't stick with the book.

Photo by photostock from

So how can we avoid these pitfalls and keep readers hooked?

1) Avoid making dialogue too realistic. I think we all do this when we start to write fiction, but it's a habit we need to nix. Example...

"Hi, how are you?" She held the phone receiver to her ear tightly.
"Fine, how about you?"
"I'm okay."
"Yeah? Just okay?"
"Yeah, you know how it is. What's new?" She broke a piece of a chocolate chip cookie and dropped it in her mouth.
"Nothing. You?"
"Not much. Oh, except my job at the Godiva store."
"What about it?"
"I got caught stealing the truffles. They fired me."

All we really care about is the fact that she got caught eating truffles on the job and was fired, right? Obviously this is a silly example, but the reason we start caring at the end of this interaction is because that's the first time something actually happens in the conversation. If your dialogue feels flat, try going through and slashing all the extras. Yes, your word count might take a hit, but the conversations between your characters will be so much deeper, fuller, and more interesting.

2) Always end with a hook. Any time you're finishing a chapter or a section, cut the conversation short before it's resolved. This is my trick for hooking the readers to (hopefully) lead them into the next chapter. Think about it. When you're reading a book and it keeps you up into the middle of the night, why does it have that effect? Because you need to know what comes next, right?

Here's an example from one of my favorite books, Daring Chloe by Laura Jensen Walker. The chapter starts, "At 1:33 a.m., nine hours and twenty-seven minutes before my wedding ceremony, my fiance dumped me. By text message."

The chapter goes on to end with this hook:

Slamming the art book shut, I sprang from my seat. "He'll be praying for me? He'd better pray for his risk-taking, dare-devil friend, 'cause when I find him, I'm gonna kill him. Bet he won't find that boring."

Tess grabbed her literary purse. "Come on, Chloe. You're going on your honeymoon. And I'm coming with you, so let's go buy a bikini. I'm thinking red thong."

Who doesn't want to read the rest of the book with a setup like that? This is a chick lit novel, but the same principle applies to historical romance, suspense, etc. Give us the setup of the conflict, but just before you give the resolution, take the carrot away and tease the reader into turning one more page. Works like a charm. It's worked on me many times!

3) Make your dialogue character-specific. We should be able to tell which of your characters is speaking just based off the dialogue, even if you didn't use tags. This is something I struggled with when I first started writing fiction. But I've learned that if you take time to really develop your characters' personalities, the dialogue will shine so much more than if your characters are all coming across a bit vanilla. Work on the whole package. Yes, your plot should be fabulous. But who cares if the characters don't tug our hearts? Make them individuals. Really work on their personalities, and your dialogue will come alive. I have one character in particular in my last book who constantly surprised me with the things that came out of her mouth... it was really like I had no control over what she was going to say next, and that made her so fun to write!

4) Pay attention to pacing. When in doubt, make it snappy. No one likes to listen to someone drone on and on in real life. It's even worse if that person is fictional. Be conscious of your pacing when it comes to dialogue, especially if you're incorporating humor. Yes, some characters will be very chatty, but be intentional if you're going to write long diatribes. For instance, you may have a minor character who likes to hear herself talk, and the other characters are always cutting her off. A situation like that can work nicely. Otherwise, readers generally like the back-and-forth dialogue provides. When it doubt, especially if you're writing a male POV, make something short and sweet. Not only will it make your dialogue flow nicely, but it will also help your pacing as you work to clip off unnecessary details. Then readers will know where to put their focus rather than feeling weighed down by a lot of extra information.

What tips do you have for writing dialogue? Do you enjoy writing dialogue, or do you prefer the more narrative components of story writing?


Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

5 Reasons to Attend a Writer's Conference

This week many of us here at the Alley are on a post-ACFW writer's conference high. Some of us returned depleted -- I haven't had a voice since the first day of conference. Gulp. But we're all jazzed and ready to reengage with our writing.

Writer's conferences are expensive. So why should you start saving today to attend one next year? I'm so glad you asked!

1) At a writer's conference like ACFW, you will find camaraderie.  For maybe the first time in your life, you won't be the only person you know who has multiple voices in your head. You won't be the only one who sees a headline and immediately spins it into a dozen what-ifs that could launch a book. You will be with people who understand what it's like to live like that. The realization you aren't crazy is frankly priceless.

2) You will learn how to be a writer. True, you can learn that from books, but there is something special about sitting in classes taught by FANTASTIC, successful authors and marketers and business professionals. You can ask people questions that the pages of a book just can't respond to. You can learn tools that will help you better tell the stories of the people in your head. You will also learn how to let go of bad ideas. Believe it or not, we can fall in love with a character or idea that simply isn't ready. You can fix that at a conference.

3) You make key connections. Every single one of my books is contracted because of a relationship that was forged in the appointments and hallways of ACFW. Every. Single. One. There is nothing that pulls you out of the slush pile like meeting face to face with an agent or editor. You become a real person with a personality and passion. One editor who voted in the acquisitions meeting for my next series teared up as she told me how she knew they were helping make my dream come true. That kind of connection does not happen via email. You have to get out there and become a known person.

4) You have an opportunity to serve. Writing is so, so solitary. It is too easy to become focused on ourselves. As a result we stop serving. Many conferences like ACFW will have simple ways for you to give back. Turn your focus off yourself. Sit down and learn about someone else's journey and story. Pray for them. Listen to their pitch. Ease their nerves. It is so priceless. And you may just form some lasting friendships like those here at the Alley.

5) You gain God's perspective for your writing and career. At ACFW, there are daily worship sets, a prayer room that is open 24 hours a day, and keynotes and tracks on the spiritual aspects of writing. Conversations are focused on God and His partnership with us. It is a very real part of the atmosphere. It is quite literally a retreat for me. A place I go to regain His perspective on what I'm doing and the why.

There are many other reasons you could join a writer's conference like ACFW. What would you add to my list?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Play Nice, Put Your Heart on a Plate, and Master Your POV: Lessons Learned from Masterchef Season 6 Winners

So I am one of those weird people that don't own a television set. Nor do I subscribe to Hulu or Redbox.

If you're read my blog entries for any length of time, you might recognize that I'm a self-proclaimed foodie who loves cooking and eating. As a homeschool mom and freelance writer, I don't always find the time to cook four star meals. Heck, these days I'm all about 30-MINUTE MEALS. Casseroles, taco salad, and dare I say it, even the occasional frozen pizza.

So perhaps the closest I get to my cooking passion many days is...watching others cook along with my daughter, another fan of quality food. Our TV vice...competitive cooking shows.

The one show we never miss is Masterchef (or the Junior version). We just finished watching season 6 last week and I'm left thinking how much I learned from the contestants about writing.

The show starts with twenty-two home chefs from around the country selected through an audition process which involves making their favorite dish. Yup, from the beginning they need to demonstrate mastery of point of view. Each show starts with one of two types of competitions: the mystery box or the team challenge. At the end of these the losing teams or individuals might face a pressure test.

Mystery Box: Each of the contestants is given a box containing elements ranging from heads of animals to the simple tomato or block of chocolate. The wooden crate may contain one or many items, along with a limited pantry of staples. The key to the mystery box is making the main ingredient shine. One of the biggest dangers the chefs face is failing to keep focus.

One of our biggest challenges as writers is damaging the focus of our story by pulling in too many extraneous elements. What do we have that doesn't need to be there? Just because we feel emotionally connected to a scene doesn't mean its working.

Team Challenge: The restaurant challenge where Gordon Ramsey expedites is a terrifying feat. Other "tests" might include: serving at a wedding, cooking for top chefs in the business, or cooking at a large venue for a crowd (ballgames, state fair, etc).

Many chefs have burned their relationships with other contestants during these team challenges. Key mistakes include: not pulling your weight, complaining too much, acting as a prima donna, letting stress get the better of you, or throwing your teammates under the bus.

We often view writing as an individual job and forget the calling to be part of a team. Whether its your publishing company, agency home, or just the general community of writers, God hasn't called us to do this alone. Let's keep up positive relationships with others and grow in humility, looking to others before ourselves. Cheer on your fellow agency mate when she gets that trilogy contract, even though you've been waiting for years for your opportunity.

Throughout the teamwork, intense pressure of nearly impossible tasks (making as many perfect eggs as you can in ten minutes or demonstrating a bakery-ready Chocolate Malt Cake, normally mastered in months, in one try), and surprises thrown their way two contestants soared to the top this season.

The very things that pulled them to the head of the pack are the same things that can grow us in our writing careers.

First, let's look at Derrick Peltz.

Derrick is a drummer from Florida who began cooking at home for friends and his girlfriend. One of Derrick's main motivations was to make his mother proud.

Peltz says of himself: "I've always been the scrappy one on the yard fighting to prove myself. I learned something new on this journey! You don't have to be first place to win! Like I said before, the reward is in the journey and I have never felt so accomplished in my life."

Derrick proved himself as a team captain, often willing to step up to the plate though this sense of leadership was on occasion to his detriment.

Known for his elegant dishes, Peltz was a frequent mystery box winner who even made it to the top three making a dish with a food he despised (blue cheese).

What can a writer learn from Derrick?

1) Put your best presentation forward: Whether garnishing his custard with edible flowers during a dessert challenge or adding a swirl of basil oil to his plate, Derrick gained points for gorgeous plating, proving once again the details matter.

Little things matter. Its all the small garnishes that make a great book. Its that extra once over for grammar and spelling (even the fourteenth time) that can make the difference for a polished manuscript. Careful choosing of just the right word in a descriptor can create an unforgettable image in your reader's mind that leaves them wanting more.

2) Don't fear the pressure: Derrick was a frequent participant in the intense pressure tests. He didn't seem phased even when another contestant taunted him from the balcony while he was cooking. He kept his focus during even the strongest challenges. This season the viewers saw both temper tantrums and crying jags, yet Derrick kept calm and collected.

Its no secret that Christian publishing is experiencing a bit of a lull right now. The numbers of acquisitions are not always encouraging. Even after publication, many authors face the challenge of getting a contract again. And the pressures don't lessen after publication. Intense deadlines, discouraging edits, and so many more challenges face us as writers at every stage. We must remain calm and collected.

The answer to our pressure in writing and life:
“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3).

Keep our mind fixed on Jesus. Trust him with our career, with our dreams with our writing. Live in His peace instead of the world's pressure cooker.

3) The reward is in the journey: From Derrick's own words, the reward was in the journey. The hug and congratulations shared between him and the winning contestant seemed genuine. He was gracious whenever he discussed the winner. Though he dreamed of being in first place, he was able to reimagine his journey to find the joy in the ride.

We need to remember that more than a destination, writing is a journey. We'll never truly arrive, because there is always a next hurdle. Our goal is to keep going at the task ahead that someday we may hear good and faithful servant in all our life, including our writing.

Second, let's look at Season 6 winner, Claudia Sandoval.

Claudia was a single mother from California with a close-knit extended family. Her brand of Mexican cooking was homestyle, yet elevated. She was known for her tenacity which paid off with a win of the title, Master Chef.

Her advice to her daughter was: "I hope you never change your humility, your noble heart, and that you NEVER forget that if you work hard enough, Dreams DO come true."

1) Master your point of view: One lesson Claudia had down-pat was putting herself on the plate every time she served a meal. In the finale, she turned tamales, viewed as ordinary street truck food into a flavorful, elevated dish. In another challenge, Claudia turned a simple tomato into a beautiful food tart.

Mastering your view can turn the simplest of fare into something Michelin-star worthy. When you stick close to your roots and write to your heart, you put on a page the truest version of yourself.

2) Don't take the easy out: Claudia was offered an opportunity to save herself during two key points in the competition. She refused, telling Chef Gordon who called her "crazy" that she needed to win based on her own merits.

Are you taking the easy out in your writing career? Are you willing to perhaps pursue publication options before you are ready rather than waiting in a changing market? Are you putting in the work to grow in your career? The hardest paths yield the most reward. 

3) God's dreams for us DO come true: Don't forget that God has a plan for you that's much better than anything you can dream or imagine. It is to give you a future and a hope. A heavenly future. Just  a single mum sharing a bed with her daughter in a tiny apartment, Sandoval's reality was transformed when she won the title of Masterchef, the prize money, and a cookbook with her name on it we are changed by the names God calls us by. We have been translated from the earthly kingdom to the heavenly and we are his beloved, his children. We have a richer inheritance than we can imagine in heaven. Does it color our writing life? Oh, yes! It changes everything. Our hope in Christ enables us to keep dreaming, a dream higher than our own. It allows us to put down our dreams when they are not honoring to Christ, or even just not the best he has for us. For we know he has a better dream for us than we can imagine. A dream that ends in a heavenly kingdom.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Writing Your Puzzle Piece: Post-ACFW Thoughts

I have to say, over the past six years there has been a constant battle within me around the middle of September. It's that time of year when about 500 ACFW members at all different stages—from best sellers to debut authors to award winners to aspiring writers—gather together to learn, reconnect, and network. And it is absolutely the HIGHLIGHT of my year. It is the sparkle on my timeline. The shiny gem of a dream glittering wildly.

But with the light, comes the creeping darkness...threatening to swallow up the shine, if I let it. It's ushered in by my insecurity, my gloom-n-doom attitude that engulfs my heart when my dream dulls in the wake of others' successes.

Anyone who has attended ACFW will tell you that it is overwhelmingly encouraging. There is little, if any, outward competition among the many writers vying for the precious appointments of editors and agents. It is a special atmosphere which allows you to continue in your dream without worrying about someone sticking their boot in the aisle to trip you up.

So, having gone to this writer's conference over and over again, I beg myself to not allow the darkness to cloud my time. I pray for the confident, optimistic voice to win the battle over the insecure, uncertain, jealousy-tinged rasp fighting in my head. And the thing that drives me crazy, is that no outsider or circumstance really provokes's just the innate flaw of my broken humanity wanting all the glory.

Am I being a little too transparent? Maybe. Maybe you will never look at me the same. But something happened this conference, which transformed my self-speak and blanketed my heart with an overwhelming peace.


Not to the voices inside my head. But to the wisdom-speakers that I had the pleasure of fellowshipping with this weekend.

I used to get so caught up in my internal battle, my competitive drive, and my desperate desire for publication to really consider anything said to me. Stubborn, much?? Fortunately, though, the stubborness lessens each year because I surround myself with wonderful friends. And my transparent trait, flaw or not, allows for some amazing encouragement from others.

However, this year something finally clicked the paradigm of my writing identity into a completely different place. Two important ideas from several professionals resonated with me over the course of the weekend. It probably wasn't the first time I have heard them...but again, this year I LISTENED:

  1. Don't write for the market. Write the story on your heart. The stories that first gripped my heart to write were not part of the same jigsaw puzzle as the current market. They were stories boxed up in the foreign and exotic section of the puzzle aisle. At one point, I tried writing for the market...I was encouraged to do so by many. And I have that half-written manuscript to prove it. Just didn't have the desire to keep writing it. While there are brilliant authors out there who God has so pressed upon their hearts to write manuscripts FOR the present market...I have yet to find my heart pour out that perfect fit. And what I heard from many people this weekend, finally sunk into my thick skull: Don't  worry about writing for the market. Write the story on your heart. Because readers are smart enough to know when a story is not written from the heart. You know, those books you begin to read, and after the first chapter you want to chuck it across the room?

     I am finally at a place where I don't want to get published for the sake of being published. It has to be the right time and the right story. Aaaah! I can't believe I just typed that! I used to be SOOO eager to just get my name in print...I'd do just about anything. But now, I want my name in print on something that I LOVE, and that others will LOVE, too. And that might just take a little extra time.
    My current story gives me butterflies every time I think of it. I sit and day dream about the scenes I have written, playing them out in my mind over and over like my favorite movie. I am in awe of the truth of God woven in the story, not because I wrote it, but because it was written as worship to Him. I cannot turn my back on the story of my heart just yet.
  1. My idea of the journey is nothing compared to God's plan for me. You know, this has been playing out in my life for quite some time, non-writing related. It's a hard lesson to grasp when my world seems to fall apart all around me, and I'm just not quite sure if God even cares. It often feels like I have to take things into my own hands and hope that whatever I do will get God's attention enough that He'll bless my pursuit. And sometimes, I am sure, in His grace, He does bless those efforts. BUT, it's more exciting, and a WHOLE lot more productive, to see the fruits from simply saying “Yes” to God and forfeiting my own effort.
    For example, the first day of conference cast a heavy shadow of doubt upon me. I truly did not know why I was there. I knew my story was a difficult puzzle piece for the market, and I felt like my writing dream was falling apart at the seams of a very tattered, out-dated puzzle box. I wrestled with my envy of watching others hold puzzle pieces of perfect-fits, versus the truth that there was purpose to this pursuit--even for me. After my agent's encouragement to use this weekend as a venture for clarity, and the keynote speaker's amazing story of God showing up in unexpected ways, I realized one very important truth: My idea of the journey is nothing compared to God's plan for me.
    Just because it looks a certain way for one person, does not mean that God isn't creative enough to draw my journey in a completely different, but still perfectly-purposed way.
    And you know what? When I settled into my OWN skin, seeking clarity and trusting the hand of God to provide it, He lavished droplets—like perfect little diamond droplets—of hope upon my path. My path not only found open doors along the way, but my heart fell prostrate to God more than I had let it, recently. And in that, I saw a glimpse of His care...and His nearness even to me.

My pursuit is different than that writer over there, that author down the hall, that crit partner across the table. We each hold a puzzle piece...but not every writer has a piece to the current edition of the puzzle. I might not have the piece of the market-jigsaw-puzzle laid out in front of me just now. And if I do, I haven't found its place, yet. But I am renewed in this journey of carving the edges of my piece, and I hope as the puzzle fills in along the way, God will guide me to the perfect fit down the road.

Angie Dicken is a full-time mom and lives in the Midwest with her Texas Aggie sweetheart. An ACFW member since 2010, she has written six historical novels and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. Angie also spends her time designing one-sheets and drinking good coffee with great friends. Check her personal blog at and connect at:
Twitter: @angiedicken

Friday, September 18, 2015

Criticism. Why you should embrace it.

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Criticism is, unfortunately, part of the game when you put your words on a page and then submit them to a critique partner or a contest or a first reader or your mother (well, maybe not your mother… ;-)). It seems to be a dangerous business, writing. I don’t know why it has to be such a land-mine pursuit, but it seems the more we put ourselves out there and write more from our heart and fall harder for our stories, the more criticism we can get. And the harder it gets.

Being told you stink at something is never easy, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a huge fan of it myself. ;-) When you look at how hard you work and how many hours you spend alone pounding the keyboard, only to be told by a judge that your POV is a mess and your characters are flat and unlikeable, it’s enough to plant one’s head squarely in the middle of the keyboard/screen/desk/wall, etc, etc.

But criticism does not have to be all bad. Yes, I know. You’re scowling at me fiercely right now because I’m telling you to actually like being corrected. Well…maybe not like, because who likes that?? But there is much more to be learned from criticism than there is to be learned from praise. While all correction should be taken with a grain of salt, it might be an opportunity to see the big picture flaws we miss when we’re zoomed in too close in our stories.

What is the universal appeal of your hero and heroine? Did the judges or first readers find them fun and entertaining or flat and apathetic?

Look at what you’re aiming for and then see if what and where the criticism is coming from matches up or is moving in the same direction. If you’re aiming for a funny and light-hearted heroine, but you’re being told she’s moody and discouraging, maybe it’s time for an edit—or maybe a change of genre. ;-)
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Is the topic of your “voice” coming up in more discussions or disturbingly absent? Read the comments as one would who has no emotional attachment to your story. If this was your friend’s story or a random book off the shelf would you agree or disagree with the comments?

It’s easy to immediately disagree with everything the critique had to say, but stop for just a minute. Separate yourself from the heart-wounded part and pull up those muck boots to go in for another stomp around and discovery. (Yes, I just went all farm girl on you.)

While it’s never easy to volunteer for criticism or correction for anyone even when the criticisms are so far out in left field that’s it’s not even worth putting the time into reading! Novel crafting is one of the most subjective businesses out there—it’s not even funny how subjective it is. And yes, it’s a near constant lesson in the art of accepting criticism gracefully.

But it gets a little bit easier if you think in these terms: we’re in the place we love. God put us here. This is part of His hands forming our clay. Put’s a little bit different perspective on it, doesn’t it? J  

Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in colorful Colorado where she gets to live her dream stalking--er--visiting with her favorite CO authors.