Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Indie Road: The Starting Line

Like a year or two ago, I did a mini-series on Indie publishing on The Writer's Alley.

I'm doing another one because:

a.) Things change FAST in the publishing world and probably 75% of the things I said are probably now obsolete.

b.) I've now published my 4th indie book and I think I was working on book #2 at the time. Needless to say, I learn a TON more with each book I publish. So when I get up to 10, I'll probably have to do a new series again, HA!

I've been having LOTS of chats with fellow authors about the "to-Indie-or-not-to-Indie" decision.

My posts won't help you make that decision. Because it is personal and the answer will be different for each author.

I know a LOT of traditional authors who still swear by trad. publishing and would never go indie.

I know a lot of trad. pubbed authors who do a little of both right now.

And I know a lot of indie authors who swear they wouldn't take a traditional publishing contract even if it came with a nice hefty advance with it. (most would rethink it when that number got into 6 or 7 digits, but I digress, I am pretty confident in saying that few if any of us are looking at that happening any time soon.)

So no, my posts will for the most part not focus on the decision.

But if you've said, "Okay, fine. Indie. Let's do this."

*crack knuckles*

This series is for you. This is also for you that are saying, "Okay, fine. Indie. I'm not completely opposed. Tell me more."

There is a TON of information out there. I'll attempt to point you to GREAT places to give it, and give some helpful tips I've learned along the way.

For now, let's chat about Indie.

Where are you at in the process? Are you still 100% traditional publishing bound? Are you interested in the whole indie process? Any questions you have? I'll be glad to answer or put on the list for future blog posts to address!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Why a Brand is SO Important

During a road trip, we pulled off at an exit to grab some lunch. Unfamiliar with the area, we turned onto a wide downtown street with a zillion businesses, thousands of which were restaurants. In the sea of signs, golden arches stood out. Can you guess which restaurant captured our attention?

Why did you know?

How did you know?

I'm sure many of the other restaurants served fantastic food. Some fast food. Some catering to a memorable dining experience. But the golden arches had a familiarity to them that we appreciated.

The library pictured in the photo use to stand in Cincinnati. My first thought when looking at this scene: why did the man climb to this upper level and reach for that book? What was the title? Who was the author? What was the genre?

Libraries, bookstores, online booksellers have an ocean of books available for readers. Unless I know a specific title I feel lost in the choices. I beg for direction--something other than Amazon's top list. One book-please call to me and say you are the one I want to read!


In the same sense, around nine in the morning eastern time, a slew of book announcements rifle through my Facebook and Twitter newsfeed. As a writer, I know that statistically this is the best time to post book news. BUT as a reader I feel overwhelmed, like I was standing on the floor of the library in the photo and a wave of books splashed down on me.

As a writer I can help readers wade through the sea by using the same tactic as the golden arches (you know the vender). 

1. Own a unique tag. Over time I have polished and built my platform on the one that works for me: Never Give Up Stories. Ever manuscript I write has this component to it.Never Give Up Stories implies adventure, suspense, yet offers hope. Choose one that tells layers about your writing. 

2. Design an image that amplifies your tag. The image will take the meaning of your tag to a deeper level. In my picture, the dark colors on one side show suspense. White light on the other side shows hope. The nature reveals the adventure. Red words at the bottom declare not only the genre but also the audience. The tag is clearly visible at the top and a teaser invites readers to come.

3. Make your brand easily available without being intrusive. I don't need a golden arches on every corner. But I do want one when my stomach growls or I am sleepy while driving, (their coffee is strong enough to keep an elephant awake). This idea goes beyond your website. The image needs to appear wherever readers of your genre might go. Even just the tag line needs to pop up where your readers happen to be. If I said, two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese pickles on a sesame seed bun (the 1975 commercial for the vendor in today's post) an image would probably pop in your head. Maybe not the burger. Perhaps the playground where your child giggled with chicken nuggets in his hand. Maybe the shamrock shake. Right? Yes. Your tag and image needs to do the same.


Your brand is a way to draw readers to your books. The carrot enticing reader to the shelf or webpage where your books are waiting to be held and read.

You may have heard about gathering a tribe. These are your readers. The ones who love your genre, your voice, your style of story. Finding the tribe can be hard. 


The golden arches don't look for me. 
They simply exist where I need them.

If your brand is clearly placed where your tribe can find it, they will come...and buy your books.


Ask! We are here to help.

Photo courtesy for header photo

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

Help others--tweet or FB share this post


Rock climbing, white-water rafting, zip lining, and hiking top Mary's list of great ways to enjoy a day. Such adventures can be found in her stories as well.

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

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

All subscribers to Mary's newsletter will receive her new short story an intriguing suspense/mystery. Come, read a good story. To get your free gift, sign up for the newsletter at Mary's website or:  Join the adventure!


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Simple Instagram Marketing Trick

If you're an aspiring author, you know that building an online presence is a very important part of the journey. And getting original content in as many places helps make that possible. And creating eye-catching post images--or "memes"--not only makes said content more searchable, but it can mean the difference between whether someone scrolls past your post or clicks on it.

Instagram has quickly become one of my favorite social media platforms because people are so visual, and both peers and potential readers love seeing those little glimpses. It's also a great place to share your post images and reach a new audience with your content. I've written about that a few times, so I won't go into any more detail.

On to a little trick I learned from my friend Deidra Romero, of Parenting Upstream!

Unfortunately, links included in an Instagram post aren't clickable (unless it's a reply/mention prefaced by the @ symbol or a hashtag topic); the only outgoing link is the one in a user's profile. So if someone is posting an image to announce new content, it's typical for him or her to include the hashtag #linkinprofile and then change the profile every time something new is posted.

But hallelujah! There is an easier way!

I don't know when this became a thing or who came up with the idea, but I first noticed that Deidra's Instagram account links to a landing page on her website specifically devoted to Instagram. On this page, I found images she had posted on Instagram, and when I clicked on an image, it linked me to the full article I was looking for.

You can easily do this for anything you promote on Instagram: Blog posts, sales/promotions, different  services you offer, features of your website, etc. Here's how:

  • Create a new page solely devoted for your Instagram visitors. If possible, keep the URL/title as simple as possible. (Ex:
  • Once you've created an image that represents your content or link, update that page with your most recent image on top, setting that image to link where you want your reader to go. You can do this when you upload your image or by highlighting the image and clicking the hyperlink button in most post editing platforms. 
  • Double check to make sure the link works! 
  • Change your Instagram profile link to the URL of your website's Instagram landing page.
And that's it! You can add one simple step of uploading the photo to your landing page when you post your article and readers will be able to more easily access it, no matter when they come across it.

Are you on Instagram? Do you typically highlight your content there?


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, a two-time Genesis Award winner, and the runner-up in the 2015 Lone Star Contest's Inspirational category. 
Her work is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary.

You can connect with Laurie here:
Twitter - @LaurieTomlinson

Monday, March 28, 2016

Writing Short When You're Long-winded

I’m trying my hand at my very first novella. Anyone else had practice with that? It’s kind of tough for me to think in anything less that 75-90K words (or more). I guess that goes along with being an extrovert/chatty sort of person, but thinking ‘short’ is tough.

Plus I'm a good old Southern Appalachian girl. And we like to talk.
The one short story I’ve written took three weeks to write – just because I had to keep condensing, and condensing, and chopping away some more to meet the 2500 word requirement.
It’s tough stuff writing short when you’re long-winded.
So I’m finished with chpt 1- a whopping 2911 words out of 20K. Will I make it? We’ll see. LOL
What are some tips to writing short?
1. One basic story line - from what I understand, novellas focus more on one major story line than novels. There's not enough space for more. Since I write romance, the main story line focuses on the romance, even though I plan to still have a secondary motivation for my heroine. 
2. Less flowery and more concise (I have lots of trouble with that). 100,000 word novels give lots of margin to develop secondary story line and secondary characters. It also allows for more descriptions. But I'm learning that I can still describe things well but in a more concise way for a novella. Will see how well I do by the end :-) I have a sneaky suspicion my 20,000 words will probably turn into 40k and I'll have a lot of editing to do in the end.
3. Fewer secondary characters - having fewer secondary characters and less description does not mean you can't still make all of your characters memorable. I like a large cast of characters because they end up turning into other novel ideas. As I'm writing this current novella, I have only two secondary characters that are prevalent in the story.
So, I'm ready for your advice. Have you read the novella? What did you learn from the process?

Pepper D. Basham - Pepper is a native of the Blue Ridge Mountains, mom of five, music pastor’s wife, and speech-language pathologist. When she’s not sleeping, she’s creating fictional worlds where good defeats evil, laughter reigns, and adventure thrives. She's won several awards for her fiction and currently lives with the writing motto – “Write in the moment. You’re not promised the next ten minutes.”

Pepper writes a variety of genres, from Contemporary romance to fantasy or historical to supernatural, all with some of her Appalachian culture sprinkled in.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Good Father

It's Good Friday today. A day that essentially commemorates the most significant sacrifice and the greatest act of love ever displayed. But in the commercial chaos of dyed eggs and chocolate bunnies it can often be too easy to overlook the reason we celebrate Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. In fact, so often it just becomes an excuse to buy a cute pastel-colored outfit and then get guilted into attending church before you have a big binge-fest barbecue on a day you hope starts to feel like Springtime so the kidlets can wear themselves out hunting for eggs before they get all hopped on the sugary treats inside.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love to celebrate and get together with family, but is that all it has become? Have we stopped seeing Good Friday for what it is meant to represent and instead use it as a day to start scrambling to get our casseroles prepared and our outfits all coordinated for the family picture Easter Sunday? Do your kids even know what it's all really about?

My boys' Easter gift :)
I'm guilty. Sometimes I want to make each holiday so special for my kiddos that the meaning gets somewhat overshadowed by the circus of festivities. The candy, the gifts, the games.

So this year I'm prepared. I'll buy store bought goods instead of home-baked creations if I have to. But today and tomorrow and Sunday we will be bringing the story of Jesus's sacrifice and his triumph over death to life in this house. We're going to tone down the baskets and get excited about a new book instead. And get to talking about the Father's love and the power of the cross. After all, I am a storyteller by trade... and I can't think of a more exciting tale to tell!

Good Good Friday and a happy Happy Easter, from Amy and the Alley Cats!

Good Good Father: Click for a listen! (One of Eisley and my favorite worship songs!)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The In-Between

Have you ever stopped to think about how much time we spend waiting?

We wait for traffic, lines at the grocery store, and bedtime (#kiddingnotkidding). We wait for big things in life like the day we'll meet our spouse or get pregnant. We wait for God to answer our prayers, and we get it in our heads that He only answers when the waiting is over.

But what if we're missing the bigger picture? What if God has something beautiful for us IN the waiting?

I was in a bridal store today, looking for a formal dress, and I started thinking about what a fun season of life being engaged is. It's full of so much planning, anticipation, and excitement-- not unlike writing a story! And though being married is much greater than being engaged, there's something uniquely special about that season of a relationship, is there not?

One of my favorite Bethel songs, "Shepherd," has a line that says, "In the process, in the waiting, You're making melodies over me." Those words have really hit me lately as I've realized it's not DESPITE the waiting, or AFTER the waiting, but IN the waiting that God sings over us. If only we would stop rushing on toward the next goal long enough to hear that song! It's as if He is saying, "Take a moment away from life-- a moment of the in-between-- to simply be with Me."

What does God want to do with your in-between?

Maybe today, you're thinking if you could just get published, the waiting would finally end. But then comes waiting for book reviews, contest results, release days-- you name it! The waiting will always continue, though it will take different forms. 

We must learn to wait well.

I want to encourage you to find beauty in this season, whatever you're waiting on. Today's wait is unique to today. You'll never get another chance to sow into this particular season, so sow well! You'll be glad you did when you see the blooms.


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.

Strategies for Fast Blogging

Some will debate the merits of blogging as part of a writer's platform, but many publishers and readers still want to see that an author has a permanent way to interact with readers. In an age where social media rules and uses constantly change, it's also a good idea to have a presence that you own. But what do you do on the days you forget to write? Or the days where nothing much comes to you that seems worth saying? Here are a few tips to help you over the hump.

1) Keep a running list of possible blog topics. Then on the days you have no motivation or the well of ideas is dry, dry, dry, you have a list that can jump start ideas.

2) Not every post should be 500 words. People much smarter than me have argued the merits of different lengths of posts. What most people do agree on is that consistency is key. Stick with a blogging schedule if you can.

3) Consider what you can bring to your readers. Really think and pray about why they come to you. There are zillions of blogs. What do you contribute that is unique and different? How do you say it in a way that keeps them coming back?

4) Join group blogs -- just like this one. Then the burden is spread out and you don't carry the load of creating content every, single day. But in a group blog it's very important to think about what you bring that is different from the other bloggers and what readers expect when they come to the blog. Those are important on personal blogs, too, but even more critical when you are part of a group.

5) Reuse old posts. Seriously. I've been blogging since 2006. I've written posts that nobody has seen or read in YEARS. Yet the content is still good and helpful. Dig through your archives (this is easier if you used tags well as you published your blogs) and update a post that is still relevant but needs to be brought back to the light.

Over the years, I've felt the pressure to blog every day, to contribute something meaningful, and stared at a blank screen with nary an idea what to write. These points have helped me draft posts quickly that still add value to the blogosphere. If you're a blogger, what tips do you have to share with the rest of us? And if you love to read blogs, what keeps you coming back for more?


An award-winning author of twenty books, Cara is a lecturer on business and employment law to graduate students at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management. Putman also practices law and is a second-generation homeschooling mom. She lives with her husband and four children in Indiana.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Helping an Author Launch a Book

So I want to share about something I feel passionate about today: launch teams.

We have some experts here on the blog. Angie has a business helping authors have facebook launch parties. Check it out here. Casey has created dream teams for authors.

As a blogger, I always enjoyed helping Christian fiction authors launch their books. As a former librarian, promoting winning titles is rewarding. Helping other writers is a bonus along the way!

A few years ago I began writing about Christian fiction for Library Journal. It became a bit of a conflict of interest to share about these titles in my mind. However, with some alterations I can still participate in promoting my favorite titles.

Currently, I love sharing books I am passionate about in the nonfiction categories. Dannah Gresh taught me how to talk to my preteen about sex and relationships, so I love sharing her releases with readers. Sally Clarkson has been a written mentor coming alongside my motherhood journey. My husband has a disorder that leaves us spending time in a cancer center so I've appreciated the opportunity to share a recent book for survivors who I regularly find myself in contact with. There are a variety of health problems in my family, so I was excited to share the news of an author who has been instrumental in changing the diets of Americans.

All of these books hold a personal place in my heart. Which when it comes down to it is the perfect reason for helping with launch!

Joining a launch team helps a writer in so many unique ways that a simple review on Amazon might not do (although we all know that is a great way to help out our favorite authors!).

Why join a launch team?

Quite simply to use your unique talents to support the writing community.

Here are some fantastic ideas I've seen for supporting other authors:

  • Make posters with your favorite quotes from the book.
Share a meaningful snippet along with attribution and a link to the author's Facebook page or a spot for purchase.

  • Create meaningful artwork based on the book.
I've seen abstract paintings of a story setting, computer generated artwork, hand lettering, photography, just about every medium.\

  • Consider writing a non-traditional blog post.
Instead of just a review or interview. how can you add interest to your site and promote another author at the same time?

What about an indepth post about one chapter that spoke to you?

How about a reflection on a favorite quote?

How did the character's journey mirror your own life journey? Or differ?

What spiritual lessons did you glean from the book?

What character can you most relate to and why?

  • Use multimedia.
Consider using YouTube or Periscope to create a short video reviewing the book.

With the author's permission create a book club on video and invite readers to share in the comments their thoughts on the book. An author who does this regularly is Crystal Paine (link to her katch feed).

  • Book clubs in all forms are a great way to generate interest in a favorite author.
For a launch team I was recently involved in many of the readers created home groups based on the principles in the book. They served tea in flowered cups with homemade scones and other snacks and shared about these gatherings on the internet.

Book clubs can be virtual or in person. Periscope, blogging, youtube, goodreads, facebook groups are all great vehicles for online clubs. Find a group of like-minded friends and join up to discuss the book for one session or multiple times.
  • Don't forget about IRL marketing.

I love sharing about great parenting and spiritual life finds with those at my church or in my homeschool group. Buy books for friends and co-workers. Also, purchase copies for your local library. Think about where the book might bless someone. I've recently helped launch a book about cancer and plan to give it to my local center.
I've seen wonderful bookmarks and other goodies readers have made in honor of their favorite books.

  • Don't bombard your audience.
Even though you're not promoting your own work, there can be too much of a good thing. Strike a balance between helping other authors and keeping your own feed uncluttered. We've all been irritated by the "loud" feed whether its about a political candidate or a celebrity. Find the balance between these types of posts and more personal posts.

  • Remember the "is it helpful" principle.
I personally chose to help launch books that I find meaningful. Books that have resulted in spiritual growth, taught me valuable parenting principles, changed the way I eat or exercise. What do you find meaningful? What has helped you grow? These things are natural and unforced to promote. If something benefited me, perhaps it would do the same for someone else.

As a reader, I've enjoyed participating in book launches. Many books have been life-impacting for me and its wonderful to be able to give back in a small way by helping  an author.

Have you participated in book launches?

Julia Reffner has a passion for writing both fiction and nonfiction. You can find her words at Wonderfully Woven biweekly and at Library Journal monthly. She lives in central Virginia with her husband, homeschools her two children, and spoils three ragdoll cats.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Learning From An Established Brand

A couple of ACFW conferences ago, I went to a workshop led by HCCP editors on branding. Honestly, I had thought my brand was a tagline. A catchy phrase that sums up an author's type of fiction. Some of my first novels were set in different times and cultures, so for a long while, I had figured my brand was, "History where Hearts and Cultures Collide." 


It is SO not that now, ten writing years later. I mean, most of my stories have that theme threaded through them, but as far as branding, that's just a drop in the bucket of what encompasses the brand of Angie Dicken.

What I learned from the workshop, and have been trying to grasp and create my own over the past couple of years, is something not so easily explained in a simple tagline.

The feeling, look, idea an author portrays through their writings and their own personality, is wrapped up in an author's very own brand. It's almost difficult to put into words what a "brand" is, because it's so much more than words.

Recently, I stumbled across a fabulous example of a brand. And it might be an apples to oranges kind of comparison. But none-the-less, it was a perfect little test for this post on brands.

My husband and I were talking about Harlequin. I am writing a proposal for their Love Inspired Historical line, and the topic of their logo came up. It struck me as odd that my husband didn't know that the Harlequin diamond is a play off of the Renaissance character's checkered costume. So I asked my Facebook friends:

And the overwhelming response from non-authors, non-publishing-industry friends was: Romance

I know, the brand of a well-established, humungous publishing house is on a much grander scale
than one author...but still, it is a successful brand marked by an identifiable logo. Harlequin IS romance. Each Harlequin line has a specific brand within itself, too. But they are all encompassed by the cohesive brand of romance.

It's what they are about. It's the feeling you get when you see their name, that immediate connection to romance. And the brand is established in stories that celebrate love.

Imagine being an author and changing the modern public's view of a historical symbol to help symbolize your very own brand? I mean, can you imagine seeing the Tudor rose and thinking Author Angie Dicken instead of it's original tie to the famous, and sometimes infamous, royal family? Dream much? Sure I do.

Okay, that's a little out there.

Seriously though, as an author trying to establish my brand, I need to consider what I am about, what I want to portray, and how memorable I can make my brand.

It takes time, doesn't it? I mean, being established is a huge part of that. There is a sophistication that goes along with this journey toward publication, and then beyond that debut novel to a whole career. Only time will tell. But, a brand should be considered very carefully by an author and go so much deeper than a tagline. It should be in the back of an author's mind as they move on to that next story, that next blog design, that next conference pitch.

As you establish your brand, everything you do as an author should spur the old Shakespeare line in your mind, "To thine own self be true," and you need to remember who you are each step of the wayEverything you are putting out there, are building blocks toward that established brand.

So, can you describe your brand? Do you have one yet? 

Can you think of another author's brand, or a business's brand that comes to mind?

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