Sometimes life just happens...

I apologize for being so neglectful here. I had the flu about two weeks ago and although I'm mostly better, I don't have my full steam back. I have to spend my energy on my paying clients.

But maybe you can help me out. Do you have a really good post about writing? E-mail it to me. I'll consider it for a guest post.

Did you attend the Book Academy last week? I heard it was really good. E-mail me one or two things you learned and how it has helped your writing. Be sure to tell me who presented the ideas. (I want basic concepts with your reactions and thoughts, not class notes.)

I promise I'll try to get it together soon and get back to my regular posting.

Oh, a few people have asked about availability of the Christmas book. End of October.


New Kids on the Block

Hi, LDSP. I've seen several new publishers lately that are open to LDS books—Valor, WiDo. Do you know anything about them? What do you think about them? What are their chances of surviving against the Deseret Book monopoly?

I can't give you an opinion about new publishers until they actually release a title. I've talked to authors who've signed with both companies, and they seem happy with them. So let's see what they produce.

The chances of surviving in this market depend upon the following:
  1. Funding. Do they have enough to get them through the start-up and into growth?

  2. Niche. Do they have a niche that will support them? What makes them different? What can they offer that the big guys can't or won't? They can either specialize in a genre or area (like doctrinal) or they can offer things to the author that others don't.

  3. Quality. Most authors are going to hit DB and Covenant first. If they reject, they work their way down the list. By the time a mss hits a start-up, there's usually a reason they've been rejected by all the others. Do these new guys have access to good mss? Also, what do they do with them once they get them? Do they have the skills, staff, resources to edit well? Typeset and design well?

  4. Distribution. This is the big one. Can they find a cost-effective avenue to the reader? Can they get into bookstores? Can they do the advertising needed to get their book noticed?
Personally, I hope they're successful. If they are, I might think about putting out a shingle. . .


WTT: You Can't Name a White Girl LaQuisha

—unless you have a really, really, really good reason and it better be an integral part of the storyline. Not just something made up as an excuse to have a unique and cutesy name.

Naming characters is important to your story and to your character development. You don't want to spend weeks on it, but you also don't want to just pull a name out of a hat and slap it on your character (even though my parents did that to one of my sisters).

One of the issues I've had lately (over the last 10 years) is weird names for the sake of being unique. I know this is a case of art reflecting life—I shudder at some of the names that show up on the Primary class rolls. But still, you're not naming someone in real life. You're naming a fictional character. You want something unique enough that it will be memorable, but not so weird that it pulls the reader out of the story every time they see it.

Here are 10 things to consider when naming characters (not necessarily in order of importance). When you break these rules/suggestions, you must do it for a really good reason that works with your story, not against it.
  1. Personality. I just read Vampire Academy last week and the main character's name is Rose. It was not a good fit for me—too soft and sweet, even though this girl was definitely beautiful but with a thorny side to her personality. Every time I saw it, it pulled me out of the story line. Your name needs to fit the personality of the character. If you've got a vibrant, fun-loving character, something short and unique is a better choice than something long and traditional. If your character is morose, pick a name that's slow and languid.

  2. Age. Fit the name to the age of the character. As a general rule, children usually have shorter names, while adults have heftier names. If you break the rule, do it because it's right for the character. For example, Charles Wallace (Wrinkle in Time) isn't usually a name you'd want to saddle a child with, but due to his personality, it works. If you're writing about an 18 year old, you might want to Google popular names from 1990. If you're writing about a fifty year old, Google names from 1959.

  3. Gender. Don't give your hero a sissy name or name your heroine "Bob." It's more distracting than memorable. There are a lot of gender crossover names now. If you use one of these, make it clear what gender your character is way up front. I can't remember the book now, but I encountered one of these recently. I guessed wrong and was in chapter three before I realized the main character was a girl. Not a good thing.

  4. Ethnicity. I love ethnic names when used appropriately. I think there needs to be more characters of color in our mostly white-bread LDS fiction. We're slowly adding ethnicity to our stories. But as we do, it's important that we pick names that match without stereotyping. (I mean really, not every Latino woman is named Maria.) To find a variety of ethnic names, just Google (ex: Latino names).

  5. Regionality. Be aware of your setting when choosing names. Did you know that in the south, Ryan is a girls name? In the west, it's a boy's name. Speaking of vampire stories, Sookie* is a great name for a psychic, southern, vampire-dating waitress. It's memorable. I don't think I've ever seen or heard it before, but it works. Again, Google is your best friend for finding regional names.

  6. Historicalness. Okay, I know that's not a word but I'm in a hurry. This is a two-parter. First, when in history is your story set? You'll want to find a name that was in use during your time period. Google popular names from 1830, or whenever.

    The second part of this is how has this name been used in history. History colors names with certain character traits. For example, if you name a character Adolf, it may not immediately bring to mind characteristics of kindness, love and gentleness.

  7. Spelling. Don't make up a weird spelling of a name just to be unique. I am so tired of seeing this in realistic fiction. I know that's the trend in real life, but just show a bit of restraint. For example, Melynda is okay. As is Malinda. But Mylynda is a bit too much. Unless you're writing SFF.

    When you come up with an unusual spelling of a name, run it past a few people and see how they will pronounce it. For example, Ginny. Most Americans will pronounce that with a hard g. Which is fine, unless you want it to be pronounced like Jenny. Which leads us to. . .

  8. Sound. What does the name sound like when you say it aloud? Another two-parter. First, will your readers pronounce it correctly. If your test readers don't, you may want to clarify it in chapter 1 (rather than in book 4 of the series; but we forgive Rowling because she was writing for British readers, all of whom know how to say Hermione).

    Second, is it too hard to say out loud? Does it sound as pretty as it looks on the page. Again, this is something that is more critical for those writing SFF, but if you're using unusual names for any reason, take this into consideration.

  9. Likeability. All of us have names we love or hate because of someone we know in real life. There are other names that stick in the public consciousness. For example, Flo. Who'd you see? (A red-headed southern waitress, right?) Be aware of the social connotations of names. You might want to avoid last names like Manson or Dahmer. Bundy might get your reader thinking of a killer or a loser couch potato. Run your names past a few people and see what image gets conjured up.

  10. Common. How common is the name? If you're writing a realistic YA, stay away from names like Brandon and Tiffany. Find something a little more unique. Also be aware of names in popular books in your genre. This is when a writing critique group really comes in handy. A woman in my writing group once chose the name Alex for a young boy involved in a spy novel. She'd never read the Alex Rider series. Also, now is not the time to name your romantic hero Edward.
These are general guidelines to get you started. All of them can be ignored—if you have a good reason. Just make sure that reason works for your story.

*The "Dead" series by Charlaine Harris. I've only read one of these books. Too much sex for me.


Couple of Things

A few housekeeping types of things for you to be aware of. . .
  1. I've been having a lot of trouble with Hotmail lately. I am unable to open and/or reply to some of your e-mails. Also, some of you have complained about not getting e-mails from me, when I've sent and re-sent them.

    I've set up an alternate address: ldspublisher [at] gmail [dot] com.

    I'll probably eventually switch over to the gmail address and close the hotmail account but it will take me some time to replace all those links on my sites. So in the meantime, you can try me at either address.

  2. Did you notice I'm twittering? (Check the pink and blue at the top of the right side sidebar, below all the ads.) I decided to do this after getting a couple of invites from readers. Looks like fun.

    Don't expect a twitter everyday, but I will be letting you know what I'm reading and a few other tidbits (as I think of them). Also, I might on the spur of the moment and totally unadvertised and unscheduled give away random prizes to those who follow me on twitter.

  3. And speaking of prizes. I might also give away some random and unadvertised prizes to those who follow my blogs. Sometimes I'll aggregate followers from all six sites and draw for a prize. Sometimes I might just pick a follower from one of the sites. So sign up to follow each one of them.

  4. And one last prize update. Now that the Summer Reading Things is over, I'll be going back to two sponsors a month on the LDS Fiction/LDS Fiction Review sites. I'll give away the final four prizes (currently shown on the sidebars) the end of this month, then post two new sponsors for October.

Writing Jobs, Pt 2

The other day you had a post about other writing related jobs available. Like the person who asked the question, I have up and down days of wondering if I'll ever get a book published. It's not top priority in my life right now. However, I would also like to find jobs that have to do with writing, because I love to write.

There are tons of websites advertising online jobs, but I'm sure many are not reputable. Do you recommend any? Do any of the readers recommend any?

I do not personally recommend any of the online writing jobs—not because they may not be legit, but because I haven't done any research on them. What I do recommend is Funds for Writers by C. Hope Clark. She has done the research.

I have gotten all my writing jobs via word of mouth. I tell my family, friends, other contacts that I'm looking for work and it starts to trickle in. The hard part is getting that first job, and doing a great job so that they'll enthusiastically recommend you to others.

Readers, do you have any recommendations?


WPF: Plagues

I announced Writing Prompt Friday over six weeks ago and then—poof!—it totally disappeared off my radar. Uhmm, sorry?

Did you know that during the 14th and 15th centuries, there were these terrible plagues and people were knocking off all over the place?

Except for one group of people—spice traders. They were "immune" to these plagues. Why? It's theorized that it was because of a special, secret blend of spices that boosted their immune system and protected them from the germies.

These spice traders became thieves—robbing the dead and dying bodies. Which is kind of gross, but understandable, sort of.

(This history may or may not be true, but it makes a fun idea for a story.)

Your writing prompt for today is to write a short story or just a few paragraphs in this setting—14th or 15th century Europe, during one of the plagues. You can write from the perspective of a spice trader, reluctant thief, one of the dying, or whatever.

If you post your story on your blog, feel free to leave a link in the comments section.

(Why was I researching cures for the plague? Nothing to do with a book and everything to do with why I've been absent here lately. Cough. Hack. Sniff.)


Creating More Book Buzz by Joyce DiPastena (Guest Blog)

Joyce DiPastena is very active online and does a lot of "buzz marketing" of her books. She has graciously agreed to share some of her tips with us. Thanks, Joyce!

Some while back, LDS Publisher invited me to write a guest blog sharing some of the ways I have marketed my books online. First, I’d like to thank her for this opportunity and recommend that you begin by reading, if you haven’t already, her own blog on Creating the Buzz. I will try not to cover too much of the same ground.

As suggested by LDS Publisher’s blog title, marketing really begins with what’s called “buzz”. I have heard it said that a potential reader needs to read or hear the title of a book a minimum of ten times before he or she will consider buying a book by an unfamiliar author. Creating buzz is how we get the name of our books out there, so that eventually a potential buyer will begin to think, “I’m hearing and reading a lot about this book lately. Maybe it’s time I check it out!”

Here are some of the ideas I have used for creating “buzz” for my medieval novels, Loyalty’s Web and Illuminations of the Heart:

Create and maintain a website. Websites are more static than blogs and, in my opinion, not as much fun, but they are an important centralized source of information and will often be the first place a reader looks to learn more about you and your books.

Create and maintain a blog. Blogs are a lot more flexible, and in my opinion, much more fun than websites. Blogs are a good place to record random and not so random thoughts about your writing or anything in your life or the world that happens to strike your fancy. They’re good places to make announcements about your books, do interviews with other authors, write book reviews, and hold contests for copies of your books or other people’s books. Blogs are pretty much limited only by your imagination.

Celebrate the “milestones” of your book by holding contests. Hold a contest when you sign your book contract. (I gave away a box of Mrs. Cavanaugh’s chocolates when I signed mine.) Hold a contest to celebrate the unveiling of your cover art. (I gave away a framed print of a medieval-themed painting to celebrate the new “medieval” cover art for Loyalty’s Web.) Hold a contest to celebrate your book becoming available for pre-order or order on DeseretBook.com or Amazon. (I gave away gift certificates to both online bookstores towards the purchase of copies of Loyalty’s Web…and the winners were honest with their win and bought copies of my book. And at least one of those buys resulted in both a new fan and now a very good friend.)

Make up your own milestones and celebrate them with your potential readers!

NOTE: When holding a contest, ask a question about your book that forces the entrants to read your cover blurb or the first chapter of your book (posted on your website or blog) to find the answer, then have them email the answer to you to enter. That way, entrants might be intrigued enough by your book to buy a copy, even if they don’t win your contest.

Advertise your contests everywhere you can…on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, and LDS Publisher. Do the same when your book gets a good review. Even if people don’t enter your contests, just seeing you post about it creates a sense that “things are going on with your book”. I had a woman email me, saying she’d been following the progress of Illuminations of the Heart on Facebook (through my status updates), and offered to review a copy for her review blog, Library of Clean Reads and if she liked it (which she did), recommend it to her reading group. So you never know who might be watching those status updates of yours!

By the way, never refer to your book as “my book” when you advertise or blog about it. Always refer to it by its title. Remember, your goal is to get people familiar with the TITLE of your book, not merely the fact that you’ve written one.

Donate copies of your book for giveaways on other people’s blogs, and be willing to return the favor. Be satisfied with small turnouts for your contests. Another recent personal example: I held an online “book release party” on my blog for Illuminations of the Heart, where I gave away a small, “illumination” themed prize every hour for eight hours. I only had a very small handful of people actually enter my hourly contests. But one of the women who won a prize subsequently went out and bought a copy of Illuminations of the Heart. She liked it so much, she not only posted reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, but FIVE other book review sites that she found online. So again, you just never know…seemingly small turnouts may result in very large results! And again, the advertising will still catch people’s eyes.

Be observant. Look at what other people are doing to promote their books, then copy or adapt their ideas to your own needs. Remember ideas, like titles, are not copyrightable.

Here are some important links that can help you create “buzz” for your books:

Good luck and happy buzzing!

I'd just add a couple of things: make your book titles links to more information about the book or to where you can buy it; and always provide links to your website and blog when you do a guest blog somewhere. :)

See what Joyce has done to create buzz about her books at her website and her blog.


Missionary Stories a Hard Sale

If I want to publish a book about my mission, written much more fiction-esque than biography, who would I published with? I can't seem to find Bookcraft anymore. Deseret seems to only want doctrine. Any ideas as to where I can turn to find a publisher for "historical fiction"? I only say fiction because it is not written at all like a biography. I'm all ears! Hope you can help!

All the major publishers will consider historical fiction, however, your mission story would not be classified as such. If you're still alive (which you obviously are), it's not quite historical enough to hit that category.

Whether fictionalized or memoir, mission stories are a very hard sell unless there is something extremely unique about them—for example, you were in an area that has historical or political significance to a wide group of people, or you were the first at something, or some huge and captivating miracle occurred.

As to which publishers you should try, go to the bookstore and find recently published (past year or two) books similar to yours. Then query those publishers.


September 2009 Prize Sponsors

Last month's prize winners announced HERE.

Please take a moment to learn more about our wonderfully generous sponsors.

Farm Girl by Karen Jones Gowen

Farm Girl, the heart-warming journey of a girl coming of age on a 1920's Nebraska farm, is an authentic account of that era. It is a story told with warmth, gentle humor and amazing detail. Many cherished remembrances helped to shape the young girl into an educated, gracious woman--one of the worst dust storms in history when people got lost in their own yards, a beloved cousin who came to a sad end, the father who carried a burning kerosene tank out of the house with his bare hands.

Be transported to another time and place as you visit the Marker farm in western Nebraska. Where horses were back-up transportation for cars. Where children were educated in one-room schoolhouses. And when no one ever heard of television. If you like the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder or Willa Cather, you will enjoy Farm Girl. It is set in the locale of Willa Cather's Nebraska novels, and there is even a chapter in the book about the Marker Cather connections.

Richly photographed throughout with over 60 authentic photos documenting the people and places of the story. This historical, easy-to-read small book is suitable for use in the classroom from fifth grade up.

Karen Gowen: Born and raised in central Illinois, the daughter of a second-generation Methodist minister, I now live in South Jordan, Utah with my husband and three of our ten children. We have a back yard overgrown with fruit trees, vegetable garden and wildflowers, as well as a pond full of koi. I love to read, knit and watch Woody Allen movies. I graduated from BYU with a degree in English and American Literature. I've been writing for most of my life, published a few newspaper articles and sold a few stories to the Friend. The past few years I have finally been able to devote more time to writing. Two years ago I finished Farm Girl, story of a young girl growing up on a 1930's Nebraska farm. Uncut Diamonds is a longer, more ambitious work, a novel set in central Illinois, one part chick lit, one part family saga, it is like Steel Magnolias with Mormon characters. I am now working on the sequel, House of Diamonds.

Melinda and the Wild West by Linda Weaver Clarke

In 1896 Melinda Gamble—a very elegant, na├»ve young woman from Boston—decides to give up her life of monotonous comfort for the turbulent uncertainty of the still untamed Wild West. Driven by her intense desire to make a difference in the world, Melinda takes a job as a schoolteacher in the small town of Paris, Idaho, where she comes face-to-face with Butch Cassidy, a vicious grizzly bear, and a terrible blizzard that leaves her clinging to her life. But it’s a rugged rancher who challenges Melinda with the one thing for which she was least prepared—love.

When a rugged rancher and a determined schoolteacher meet, they tend to butt heads and clash with each encounter, but at the same time there seems to be an underlying interest in one another. In this story, Melinda is trying to help a rebellious student through acceptance and love, and at the same time, she is trying to understand her own heart.

Melinda and the Wild West: A Family Saga in Bear Lake, Idaho is the first in a series. The remaining books are as follows: Edith and the Mysterious Stranger, Jenny’s Dream, David and the Bear Lake Monster, and Elena, Woman of Courage.

Page One Literary Book Review wrote: “Linda Weaver Clarke displays an easy and excellent style of writing, blending adventure/romance/history/humor and courage. A Family Saga in Bear Lake, Idaho is an instant classic and should put this author on the literary map all over the world.”

Linda Weaver Clarke was raised on a farm surrounded by the rolling hills of southern Idaho and has made her home in southern Utah among the beautiful red mountains and desert heat. She is happily married and is the mother of six daughters and several grandchildren. Clarke received her Bachelor of Arts degree at Southern Utah University and travels throughout the United States, teaching a “Family Legacy Workshop,” encouraging others to turn their family history and autobiography into a variety of interesting stories.

Clarke is the author of the historical fiction series, “A Family Saga in Bear Lake, Idaho,” which includes the following novels: Melinda and the Wild West - a semi-finalist for the “Reviewers Choice Award 2007,” Edith and the Mysterious Stranger, Jenny’s Dream, David and the Bear Lake Monster, and Elena, Woman of Courage. A new Mystery series, The Adventures of John and Julia Evans, will soon be released, which includes the following novels to be released one at a time: Anasazi Intrigue, Mayan Intrigue, Montezuma Intrigue, and Desert Intrigue.