“I Write Erotic Love Scenes, Not Erotica!” – A Guide to Adding Heat to Your Book

How many times did I want to say that when my first book was published? I know, I know, it’s crazy, but the one thing I wanted my stories to be known for was not how great the love scenes were, but how great of a story was being told. Comments from reviewers have said it was hot, but not so much so that it would make you uncomfortable. Others have considered it tame, while others said they were blushing.

One thing I’ve learned since A Heart Not Easily Broken was published is this: sensuality and the degree of sex in a book is based on the reader.

Unless it’s in the genre of Erotica. The name says it all.

When I started writing, my goal was to avoid putting sex in my book, period. I mean hey, call me prude, but even though I enjoyed reading the elegant prose of a Nora Roberts love scene, I could in no way imagine myself writing it! I mean really, what if my husband picked it up and looked at me with a raised eyebrow, or what if my mom got a hold of it???? What would they think?

MH900440908Then I thought about it some more and realized, hey, I’ve got four kids and they didn’t get here by way of Immaculate Conception nor were they adopted. 🙂  Sex is a part of life and hey, I’m grown! So, I put on a pair of big girl panties, (or thong) and went where the characters want to go!!! To bed!

Now, if your shy or nervous about writing sex scenes, how do you achieve it without being cheesy, unrealistic, or stiff? (I swear no pun was intended in that line!)

Research.

Research can be done in various ways. (Okay, seriously, stop laughing!) Find books from your favorite authors. If there is sex in their stories, study the way it’s written. Is it technical? Do they get creative with words, allowing your imagination to run wild without calling out each position? Or do they write in a way that gets straight to the point? (Insert tab A into slot C = HURRAY!) What about the scene leaves you warm under the collar? Is it a scene you can’t help but read again, or does it bore you to the point of sleep? Make notes of what you would like to see in your books.

**Remember, it’s okay to take a peek into the bedroom without sitting down on the edge of the bed. Leading up to what’s going to happen and stopping, then picking up later is fine, too. Go with what you feel comfortable with! Never push yourself into writing more than you feel comfortable reading for the sake of trying to sell a book. A reader can tell a badly written scene, and like your lovers, the last thing you want a reader to do is laugh (unless of course there is something that happens that is meant to make the reader laugh). Once a lover of romance novels has invested time and grown emotionally connected to your characters and you introduce that ‘moment’ but don’t deliver in some satisfactory way, they may wonder why the characters are together in the first place and quickly lose interest in your novel. (I once had a reader say she liked Brian so much she couldn’t wait to ‘jump in bed’ with him, and once she had, she wasn’t disappointed!)**

Step outside your comfort zone.

If you’ve never read an erotic romance novel, pick one up and peruse the story. I’d never read an Erotic romance story until I read J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Two things I learned from that series:

1)      The men were hot, vulnerable no matter how tough they are, and when they made love, they experienced some deep emotions. Despite what you may think, sex wasn’t just sex.

2)      While the scenes were very well written, there were some terms I would never be comfortable using in describing certain acts or anatomy.

**From the creative prose of Nora Roberts to the front and center of J.R. Ward, two totally different styles, each dealing with the same subject matter. Where would I fit in? What did I want to write? And just how daring did I want to be???? Ask yourself these questions!**

Practice.

(Okay, so I gave up on avoiding puns when I started talking about research. 🙂 )

Once you’ve decided the lingo you want to use in your scene, you have to write it! Trust me, writing sex is not as easy as you’d like to think it is! It gets very technical. Just like writing description in a scene or what your character is experiencing on a day to day bases, it’s even more intense when dealing with the ‘moment’ that can either push your character forward in a new relationship, or throw a new obstacle in their path, depending on where the story is going. I once read a blog that said writing sex is like writing an action scene. In order for the reader to know what’s going on – who punched who, and what the punch felt like or where it landed – you have to map out the action, movement-by-movement. Okay, the couple isn’t fighting in the bedroom, but they are moving together in a sort of dance. It has to be described so the reader not only ‘sees’ it in their mind, they ‘feel’ it, as well. To achieve this, the five senses must be visited.

*Touch– the feel of their lover’s hands on their body, or the way their lover feels to them. Rough hands, soft hands, a slow caress, a grip of passion.

*Taste– the taste of wine recently consumed during a kiss.

*Sight– excitement from the exposure of naked flesh.

*Sound- music in the background, a gasp, satisfied sigh.

*Smell– candles, perfume, sweat; you see where I’m going, right?

**When in doubt of how a good scene should progress, watch a few movies. Notice how the kisses can start out slow as the camera pans down to what the actors bodies are doing? Where are the hands? How do their bodies touch? What is the response of the other party? Visualize your characters as if they are in a movie and write what you see. Sometimes its slow, sometimes it’s fueled by passion and rough. It’s all in where your characters head is at.**

M.J.’s Tips:

* Don’t be afraid to write what you feel. That’s what editing is for! If your scene comes across as pornographic the first time around, don’t worry! Get it on paper, then tame it down. Take out what you feel is too much for your genre or what you feel comfortable with writing. Get a friend to read it and have them tell you what they think. Listen to the feedback, then make the changes. Trust me, editing love scenes can be the hardest part of editing! It can take me a week to edit a love scene versus the time it takes to edit any other chapter!

* Avoid the technical terms found in your old high school biology book. Talk about a mood killer! Pick up that Thesaurus, get creative, and find something you think works best.

* Make sure it makes sense!!! In real life, you don’t start standing up, then end up on the bed without transitioning to that location. Remember to add movement! In a regular scene, your character isn’t chilling on the sofa, then the next minute he’s answering the door without there being a reason why he got up from the sofa to go to the door. The same applies to love scenes!

* Dialogue during the act itself can be good, but let’s be realistic; nobody wants to read a full conversation during the act. A command, a request, a moaned response, sure, but who wants to hear about the other characters day? Leave that for pillow talk!

* Character thoughts…Okay, I am not ashamed to admit, this is where my scenes start carrying the ‘erotica’ tag. My stories are written in 1st person which means you’re already deep inside their world. You know what makes them tick, why they act the way they do, and how they truly feel without being told about it in the traditional 3rd person point of view. So, when they are with the one they love or want, you’re going to know exactly how that kiss feels, how they react physically to their lovers touch, and so on and so forth. The only difference, I don’t start shouting out anatomy in a vulgar or textbook fashion.

* Never feel you have to have an unlimited amount of sex in your book! Make each scene count! I normally have three scenes in my stories, not counting encounters that are alluded to. For me, each encounter is an opportunity for the characters relationship to grow and add more to the story and not be a page filler.

So, how has my family responded since I published my books?

My husband says I write very well, and my mom…well, she read a Sunday Sample where the character mentions his…um…physical reaction to seeing the heroine for the first time. She called me and said, ‘What do you mean he was happy he was standing behind the counter?’ Since then, she has gotten copies of both of my books and I have told her once she reads them not to call. LOL!!! And I’m pretty sure she’s going to read this post and leave a comment. I love you, Mom!

Good luck with your writing, and remember, if you can’t feel comfortable writing it, don’t. Go with what you feel works best for you! And don’t worry, sometimes it is good to shut the door on the reader, just as long as you make it known the character is happy on the other side!

And of course, I can’t talk about writing a sex scene without sharing one of my own. Here’s a little sample of what goes on behind closed doors in A Heart Not Easily Broken:

Excerpt:

I slipped my fingers between us and quickly unfastened the buttons of his shirt. Of all days to decide to wear one of these. Why couldn’t he have on a pullover like always? A quick tug would have had his chest available to me in seconds. Now I had to work for it.

Buttons free, I forced the material over his shoulders and down to his wrists. He released me to help remove the shirt. In our haste, his wrists got tangled up. I bit my lip as I looked down at him. His eyes were the most intense shade of blue I’d ever seen. His mouth parted expectantly. His lips were swollen and pink from the way I’d sucked them. I wanted to own him. Every…last…inch.

A deep chuckle came from his throat. “What are you doing?” He tried to free his wrist.

“Don’t worry, I promise you’ll like it.” I smiled wickedly as I fisted the makeshift handcuffs, trapping his hands on the bed.

I nibbled, lapped, and sucked my way to his throat while Brian groaned.

He smelled so good, so male. Barbeque and beer mixed with his musky cologne that held a hint of sweetness. His scent had driven me crazy all night. I took my time to savor every detail of his bronzed flesh, tasting every inch I could reach. But it wasn’t enough. I lifted my head from his chest and teased him with my tongue, evading his mouth as he tried to capture mine.

He panted beneath me, his chest heaved in and out, but his eyes, those crystal blue orbs stayed on me. I was driving him crazy, and my time to be in control was running out. I was sure the moment his wrist were free, he would take me down and return the favor.

Perfect, because that was exactly what I wanted.

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Click here for more information about  my Bestselling novel, A Heart Not Easily Broken. 

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Thank you for stopping by! I love to make new friends. Got questions or comments? Leave a comment, or connect with me online!  If you’ve enjoyed this post, sign up for the monthly newsletter by following this blog!

MJ

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How Important is Branding to an Unpublished Author or Published Author?

Website Author Banner

Branding, we’ve all heard of it. Products such as Tide with the large orange bottle, McDonald’s and those unforgettable golden arches, and then there is Chili’s and the green jalapeno pepper, to name a few. These and many more can be found in nearly every town, on TV, and on the web. Each of them has one thing in common: the use of color, shape, or item represents the company and products they sell.

How does this relate to an author, published or unpublished?

When a publishing house prints a book, the covers are unique to each book, but have you noticed that no matter how many books an author publishes with that line, the font of their name is (usually) the same? If the book is part of a series, regardless of what number it is, the main title will be the same, for example, the Harry Potter series.  The colors change from cover to cover, but the font remains the same.  This allows fans to find it when scanning the shelves of libraries and book stores. Think about it, do you read each and every name on the cover when looking for your favorite author, or do you allow your eyes to find the size, shape, and ever familiar font of the authors name to know you’ve found what you were looking for?

Did you know you don’t have to be a published author to develop your brand? I established mine before I began querying.

Let me tell you how…

In 2010, upon the advice of those around me, I started a blog. The point of blogging was to help me improve my writing skills. The experience taught me how to engage an audience and receive feedback and participation through comments. And while I was nowhere near ready to publish anything I wrote, I did build a following. The more I shared my experiences, the more people followed my blog. I also established connections via popular social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook.  Visitors to my blog connected with me online, and online connections started visiting my blog. It was months before I upgraded my online presence ‘picture’ from a downloaded image of a heart and book to being brave enough to show my face.  And wouldn’t you know it, the moment I put my picture up, my following on all platforms increased!

Without realizing it, my face became a part of my brand. No matter what social networking site I am attached to, you’re going to find the same picture, same name…easy recognition.

Next came creating a brand, or theme, for the books. The Butterfly Memoirs series is a Contemporary Romance novel that features interracial couples dealing with real life issues. I knew from the moment I started writing my covers would not have the typical Man/Woman embarrassing or half naked. I like symbolism in my stories and I carry that theme in my covers. The series covers will always consist of two main elements, a butterfly to symbolize the female character as well as the image of something that represents the male character in the book.

As for the series itself, I have a logo of a butterfly imprinted into a wax seal that says ‘The Butterfly Memoirs’ and my name, thus branding the series. So anytime you see my picture, logo, or book cover, you’ll know it’s me.

Though you may not be writing a series, you still need to build a brand for yourself and for your audience. Here are a few simple tips, and the best part, they don’t cost a thing!

Branding your online image:

Here are a few tips on taking an author picture without spending a lot of money. Remember, your picture introduces you to your readers. As they say, a picture says a thousand words!

  • Photography equipment: If you can’t afford a professional headshot, take advantage of the features of your digital camera or cell phone camera.
  • Setting: Plain back grounds or simple settings work best. The key is to engage with the reader, not have them wonder where you were when the picture was taken.
  • Wardrobe: Keep it simple! Use solid colors that compliment you. Keep away from strips and patterns because they are distracting. Ladies, keep that jewelry simple, guys, don’t forget to shave or tighten up that hair cut! (Of course, if grungy or over the top is what you’re going for as your ‘persona’, have fun!) *TIP: If you study my picture, you’ll see I wear a butterfly ring that is facing the camera and not away. I am pulling my book/series brand into my image. It’s subliminal branding!
  • Posing: Be comfortable! Don’t try some awkward pose that will translate pain in your eyes though your lips are smiling. Be natural, focus on the camera, and imagine you’re looking directly at your reader. Keep your mind clear…negative thoughts will translate through your facial features no matter how hard you try! Sell yourself!
  • Editing: When done, upload your picture and crop it to take out any blank spaces, once again, the focus should be on you. Readers want to know who YOU are. Off centered images with dead spaces are distracting as well as poor lighting.
  • Sharing: Now that you have your picture, share it with the world! Post it on all of your networking sites so readers will recognize you, no matter where they are! Most people recognize and remember faces before names. If you have one picture on Facebook, and another on Twitter, and yet another on Google+, fans will be unsure if it’s you. Keep it uniform! If at any time you change or update your photo, be sure to change it on all of your sites. **Ignore the urge to change it up every few weeks! Even though your name may be sitting beside the image, people recognize faces before names. Again, it’s branding! After all, McDonald’s doesn’t change the color or shape of their golden arches!**

Branding your style as an author:

  • Your writing style and the way you give voice to your characters is a part of your brand. Read books from two of your favorite authors. Notice how the authors writing style/voice varies from one another, yet, when you read more than one of their books, each of their stories have a similar tone, speech pattern, or even use of particular phrases that distinguishes their writing style from someone else’s. So should yours.
  • Interactions with fans on social media can make or break you. How many times have you come across offensive, political, or highly opinionated posts or tweets that have offended you or left you with a sour taste in your mouth about the commenter? Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but beware of using your social presence as a showcase for your opinions. Readers now have access to you online and will pay close attention to what you have to say. Make your post count. There are times to joke; there are times to be professional. There are times when your fingers need to be still on the keyboard and you avoid addressing a comment, even if it stings. The last thing you want to do is turn off a fan due to your political views or personal feelings. Instead, use your online presence as a way to build your fan base, sharing information about you, your books, and upcoming projects. Fans these days love author/reader interaction. As Indie authors, we have a chance to do what many NYT Bestsellers can’t…talk to our fans on a regular bases. Readers love it!
  • Make your online presence known. Websites are the home base of your brand, the place where a reader can be directed and learn everything about you. This can be done one of two ways: 1.) pay for a professional website or 2.) Take advantage of free website tools and build your own. Sites such as WordPress.com, Blogger.com, and Wix.com, to name a few, offer free blog hosting. (I’ve used all three, and WordPress, which hosts this blog/website, is by far the best!) All you have to do is create an account. This takes time and patience, but can be an educational and rewarding experience. Keep your site professional with links to all of your social networking sites, products (remember, your book is a product), and any merchandise (free reads, etc.) The more work you put into it, the more people will be drawn back to it to see what’s new. Don’t publish content and step away. Website maintenance and fresh information is a must in order to keep your readers coming back. Your website represents you 24/7, even when you are not online. Content should include: a picture, a well-written bio, (remember, you’re an author. It should be free of grammatical errors. If you have a poorly written bio, readers will hesitate to purchase your books because they feel they will be written the same way), all sales links and links to social sites where they can find, follow, or contact you. Your site should also include information about your books (book blurbs), and a sample of your work for them to read.

I know it sounds daunting and like a lot of work, and believe me it is! The point of all of this is you’re a writer and it’s what you love. In order to be successful, you have to put in the work. Marketing and discovering your brand is all about knowing who you are and how you want your writing perceived. By the way, I’m not telling you something that I haven’t done. Everything you see on this site was done by me and it took weeks! But it was well worth it! J

Have you heard of AuthorsDB? If not, you have to check this out!

adb_badgeRecently, I was directed to a website that offers free author promotions. In the digital age of Indie authors, it’s up to us to find ways to promote our work in order for our creative voices to be heard by millions of readers. I’ve signed up for a variety of sites, but this one in particular stands out from the rest.

Have you heard of IMDb (Internet Movie Data Base)? They are the biggest source of information regarding television shows, movies, and actors. AuthorsDB is the same, except that its a  Data Base for finding authors on the web. This site  not only allows you to post your biography, books, blurbs, and sales links, it also gives you the freedom to share every available social networking sites your connected to, list your publisher information, and share specific details about your books. The site also offers services for authors, contests, and even shares your information across the web via Twitter, Facebook, and the other major sites where readers can be found! Did I mention this service is FREE?????

Interested? Stop by and visit my page. And while your there, I’d appreciate your support in a book cover contest that is being held. I’ve submitted both covers, you can see the samples on the right hand side of your screen. Take a minute and cast a vote. I’d love the support! Don’t forget to ‘Like’ and ‘Share” the page as well.

Vote for A Heart Not Easily Broken Cover           Vote for Jaded Cover

I hope you find this tip helpful. Good luck with your book promotions!

MJ

 

 

#WriterWednesday- Interview with Chicki Brown!

This week I am happy to introduce you guys to one of my writing mentors, Chicki Brown! I met Chicki at Writer’s Workshop that was held at my local library in 2010 when I started writing. Chicki was kind enough to take me under her wing and bring me into her critique group, introducing me to several other very talented women. She guided me as I floundered around, trying to find my writing voice and style. This was just about the time she self-published her first book, Have You Seen Her? I’ve had the privileged of watching Chicki continue to grow as an author, friend, and mentor. So grab that cup of coffee and take a few moments to get to know Chicki Brown!

My Author Photo 

What inspired you to write?

Honestly, it was pure boredom. At the time I worked on a job that was so slow that I was desperate to find something to do to keep myself awake. When I’m bored, my mind wanders, and the idea for a short story about an interracial couple popped into my head. I hadn’t written anything in two decades, but once I started I couldn’t stop. That short story turned into a four-hundred-page manuscript I entitled, Lyrics. I never published the story, because it required too much work to make it publisher-ready.

What genre do you write? Did you choose it, or did it choose you?

I write contemporary romance, women’s fiction, and inspirational romance. There are the genres I read, so I suppose they chose me.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

 I get up around six AM, make a cup of tea and go through my e-mail and check my online sales numbers for the previous day. Next, I go to my social networks and respond to messages, retweet for followers and post book promos for the day. That all usually takes about two hours. Around eight o’clock, I’ll shut everything down, make my second cup of tea, read my Bible or daily devotionals and pray before I start writing.

For the rest of the morning I write/research, break for lunch then write until I have to break to fix dinner. After dinner I watch TV or read until I crash, because by then my brain is so fried I’m useless.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

This probably isn’t all that interesting, but I have to work with music. Complete quiet stifles my creativity. Vocals are distracting when I’m writing, so I listen to smooth jazz, New Age or classical instrumentals. When I work out in a public place, my headphones are standard equipment.

Are you a pantser or a plotter?

I am definitely a plotter. My normal process when I begin writing a new book is to start with a general outline, fill out character profiles for each of my main characters, find photos that represent what the characters look like, where they live, what they drive, etc. and create a collage. This helps me to keep everything fresh in my mind. Recently I even purchased a copy of Scrivener, a well-known writing software program to help me with my plotting ways.

MJ: I must say thank you again, Chicki, for staying on me about the panster thing! I remember numerous conversations on the phone and in your car about why I should stop flying by the seat of my pants and plot it out! When I did, I really did see a difference. Now I can’t write any other way!  J

Are your stories based on experiences or someone you know, or are events in your own life reflected in the character/stories you write? Can you share an example?

I have included some childhood memories in my stories and have thrown in a character or two based on someone famous. For instance, in Have You Seen Her? Dani Reynolds recalls happy days as a young girl with her family in Atlantic City, one of my father’s favorite places to take our family when I was young. In Hot Fun in the Summertime, Kinnik was loosely patterned after an infamous former video dancer who made a name for herself by sleeping with famous rappers and music moguls.

Do you have any suggestions to help new authors become better writers? If so, what are they?

I talk to a lot of aspiring authors online, and the main point I always try to stress is that being a published author is a business and it is a LOT of work, particularly when you are self-published. They will need to learn how to go from creative mode to analytical mode, from artist to businessperson in order to do the necessary e-book formatting, marketing, promoting, accounting tasks. As authors we thrive when we’re in the creative zone, but the business tasks can’t be ignored.

Getting the story down on paper is only the start. They need to learn as much about the craft and about the industry before they jump out there. Things are changing in the publishing industry at the speed of light, and if they don’t know what’s going on, someone will inevitably take advantage of them.

If they understand the basics of their genre and sub-genre and the basics of how the publishing business works, they will have a much better chance at success.

MJ: Great advice! Yes, being aware that being an author is more than just writing, it’s about marketing and selling your product (yes, once it’s published, it’s a product!) and time management – and that’s before you add in real-life responsibilities – is something every aspiring author needs to know. Learning that too late can make the dream of becoming a published author turn into a quick nightmare! Thanks for the warning! J

Are you self-pubbed, indie pubbed, or traditionally pubbed?

After trying to go the traditional route for almost ten years, I made the decision to self-publish. Back in 2008-2009 I had been following the rise of electronic publishing and was fascinated by author Joe Konrath’s Great E-book Experiment (http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2009/08/great-ebook-experiment.html.)  The more I learned about his success, the more I wanted to try it for myself. I released Have You Seen Her? which was actually the sixth book I’d written, onto Kindle in 2010. It became my bestselling book up until the release of Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.

What are your current projects?

 I had an idea about writing a family story about a large family with several sons. As I began searching online for pictures that represented my idea of each of the sons, I ended up with eight men that looked similar enough to be related. Eight was too many, so I cut it back to six and decided that each brother would have his own story.
The patriarch of the Stafford Family is a successful doctor who wanted all of his sons to follow in his footsteps. Three of them went into medicine. The youngest has just finished college with an undergraduate degree focusing on pre-med courses, but is still undecided about making medicine his life. Only two of them went against the grain – Greg, who became an on-air television host and Marc, who went as far from traditional medicine as he possibly could.

A Woman’s Worth, the first book in the series, is Marc Stafford’s book. He is a personal trainer and raw vegan who lives in Las Vegas.

AWW REVISED COVER

When Marc comes home to Atlanta for the first time in four years for a family celebration, he meets Gianne Marvray, a woman who hijacks his heart. He soon discovers she’s recovering from a catastrophic illness and that she is his father’s patient. I can’t tell you too much more without giving spoilers. J I anticipate a late summer release

Where can readers find you online?

Blog      Twitter     Facebook     Amazon Central Author Page     Pinterest

Thank you so much for stopping by!

MJ

To Blog or Not to Blog?

blogThere was a time when I didn’t spend much time on the internet, much less read or follow a blog. Yet, in the last 3 years, I’ve become an avid blogger! Who knew? During this time my blog has undergone several revisions…from colors, to layouts, blogging platforms…and most importantly, what I blog about.

So, why did I start blogging? The answer is simple….to become a better writer.

Sounds crazy, right?

When I started blogging in 2009, I had no idea what I would write about. I mean really, at the time I was a stay at home mom who was attempting to write a book. What did I have to talk about? Hmm…kids, the community, my dogs. BORING!!! Who wanted to read that? LOL! In the beginning I had about 4 people who stopped by to read what I wrote. And that was only because I asked them to check it out. I had no idea how to format a blog post or how long it should be. Adding a picture was a hair pulling experience (did I mention I wasn’t THAT computer savvy?). Yep…suffice it to say I didn’t blog very often. Those blogs are still available if you’d like to read them:

 Four Miles and Counting….(my very first post!)

…Two Pit Bulls, One Paper Clip and a lap top to put it all in! (the next daring endevor!)

I know, I know, the big question is: did it actually help your writing?

The answer: YES!!!! (Seriously, take a look back then and now and you’ll see my writing technique has changed though my voice is pretty much the same.)

What are the benefits to writing a blog? As I stated above, writing a blog helped me find my writing voice, or rather, get comfortable with writing something, having people read it. Getting used to receiving comments and feedback about my blog post helped me get used to the idea of reading reviews as a published author. You can’t please everyone and of course everyone will not agree or like what you have to say. As writers, we have to get used to that idea. Why not do that with a blog?

And as they say about anything you strive to get better at: PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE and you will improve. I strongly suggest that if you are an aspiring author looking to practice the craft of writing, start a blog! Find a topic or subject that is important to you (your writing platform or niche), and use it!

As time went on, I gave up on my blog for several months until I discovered my blog niche was writing about my experiences as an aspiring author. The more information I ran across, practiced, or new technique I found, I wrote about it. Sharing my story led me to other writers who were doing the same thing I was. Forming connections with other writers lead to networking, networking lead to learning new writing techniques from more experienced writers…and well, here I am today! It took a lot of work and continues to take a lot of work to keep this blog going, but I am proud to say that as of right now, I have over 900 blog followers.

I guess what I have to say and share means something! Thank you guys!!!

The question I am asked most by writers who would like to start a blog but fear they will never have a following is: “I have something to say, but who is going to read it? How do I promote my blog?” The answer is simple. If you’re tied into the major social networking sites: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Linkedin, Stumbleupon, etc., your potential readers are right there waiting. Choose a snazzy topic, a witty title, develop your layout, and use those free social networking tools. Before you know it, you’ll have a blog following, too!

Good luck and happy blogging!

MJ

#WriterWednesday- Interview with Florence Osmund!

The one thing I love about writing is the opportunity to meet a wide variety of authors from various genres. I meet Florence when I joined the Women’s Fiction author group on Goodreads. Take a few moments to learn about this talented author!

Osmund_7786

What inspired you to write?

Years before I started writing novels, I jotted down anything and everything that I thought I could use in a storyline. Then, when I was ready to write, I retrieved those hundreds of scraps of paper, sorted through them, put them in piles, and lo and behold, a story emerged. So when you ask what inspired me, I have to say it was family, friends, and strangers saying and doing a vast array of different things.

What genre do you write? Did you choose it, or did it choose you?

So far I have written two historical fiction books and am currently working on a third. My first two novels take place in the 1940s, and the third one takes place in the 1950s. For reasons unknown to me, I am drawn to that time period.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

I typically spend mornings participating in on-line discussion groups for authors (LinkedIn, Goodreads, and Facebook), marketing my books, and managing e-mail and Facebook messages. In the afternoons, I write.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I donʾt know if this qualifies as a quirk or not, but Iʾm not motivated to write unless I have at least two hours at a time to devote to it.  I would be interested in knowing if thatʾs the case for other writers. On the other side of that, I find myself having to take at least an hour break after writing for four hours.

Are you a pantser or plotter?

With regard to writing (and I assume thatʾs where youʾre going with this question), I fall somewhere in between a pantser and a plotter. I typically start out with a brief outline of the story—beginning, middle, and ending—and go from there. However, sometimes as Iʾm writing, the story takes on a life of its own and goes in another direction, in which case I go with it and revise my outline.

Are your stories based on experiences based on someone you know, or are events in your own life reflected in the characters/stories you write? Can you share and example?

As I mentioned in an earlier response, when I hear or see something in real life that I think would make a good scene or storyline, I jot it down. For example, one day I was walking down a Chicago street on my way to a restaurant. A young couple was in front of me. All of a sudden, the man leapt into the street toward a moving car. The back door of the car opened, and he jumped in, but only after turning toward his companion and yelling, “Iʾll catch up with you!” She was left standing there with her mouth wide open, obviously dumbstruck. I used that scene in my first novel. It fit beautifully.

Do you have any suggestions to help new authors become a better writer? If so, what are they?

I devote much of my website to offering new author advice—advice I wish I had received before I started writing my first book. The most elementary and important advice I have for them is to read, read, and then read some more. Read books in your genre, and keep notes on what made the books good or not-so-good, and then use that knowledge in your own writing. For example, did you feel connected to a certain character? If so, why? Were you unable to put the book down? If so, what kept you turning the pages? What did you consider to be the bookʾs value? Learn from other authorsʾ successes and failures.

Are you self-pubbed, indie pubbed, or traditionally pubbed?

I self-published through CreateSpace.

What are your current projects?

My current project is titled, “Mystic Coins.” The male protagonist in this novel, Lee Winekoop, comes from extremely wealthy parents who give him everything anyone would ever need to be successful in life. That seems to work for his two older brothers, but unfortunately, not for Lee. This is a story of how a young man deals with weaknesses, frustrations and feelings of inadequacy, but more importantly, this is the story of differing views on what defines success in life.

1Coach House Front Cover

1945 Chicago. Newlyweds Marie Marchetti and her husband, Richard, have the perfect life together. Or at least it seems until Marie discovers cryptic receipts hidden in their basement and a gun in Richard’s desk drawer. When she learns he secretly attends a mobster’s funeral, her suspicions are confirmed. And when she inadvertently interrupts a meeting between Richard and his so-called business associates in their home, he causes her to fall down the basement steps, compelling Marie to run for her life.

Ending up in Atchison, Kansas, Marie quickly sets up a new life for herself. She meets Karen Franklin, a woman who will become her lifelong best friend, and rents a coach house apartment behind a three-story Victorian home. Ironically, it is the discovery of the identity of her real father and his ethnicity that unexpectedly changes her life more than Richard ever could.

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About the Author

Florence Osmund grew up in an old Victorian home in Illinois, complete with a coach house, the same house she used as inspiration for her first two novels. She earned her master’s degree from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management and has obtained more than three decades of experience in corporate America. Her website is dedicated primarily to helping new authors—offering advice she wishes she had received before she starting writing. Osmund currently resides in Chicago where she is working on her next novel.

Blog and Website     Email    Facebook     Goodreads     Linkedin

Finding Inspiration: Part Three- Characters Close to Home

Building Real Characters: How to Bring Them From the Page and Into Your HeartWriters find inspiration anywhere; at the grocery store, the bank, even the activities of driver sitting next to you at the red light, can get the muse flowing. Then of course there are my favorites: family and friends.

If you have a Facebook account, I’m sure you have seen the pictures posted by someone at least once a month that says: (in a nutshell): BEWARE, I’M A WRITER, ANYTHING YOU SAY CAN AND WILL BE USED IN MY NEXT BOOK.  I was at the bank the other day and had a lively conversation with my banker. Upon completion of my transaction, she asked me, ‘is this going to be in one of your stories?’ I laughed and said quite possibly.

It seems no matter how hard I try; my Muse is always working, always observing and cataloging the statements and actions of others, especially when it comes to my kids.

In the last few weeks, my children have shocked me with their ‘Remember when…’ tales. Being an only child, it never ceases to amaze me what  my four kids get into when they are unsupervised in their bedrooms. First, there was the ‘broken-glow-in-the-dark-stick incident’ that led to fluorescent yellow liquid being splashed over bedroom walls. (According to them, it wore off withing minutes, thus leading to doing it again in order to illuminate the room.  No evidence was left behind. Imagine my horror!!!) Of course a lot of sibling smacks upside the head, and then the sneaking to cut hair or trim their eyebrows disasters that ended with bad results. (Those I knew about, but it still makes me laugh to remember the results.) Funny stories that made my eyebrows shoot into the hemisphere and start to give the ‘you know better’ speech. But then I realized the issues happened months, even years ago. What’s the point?  All that’s left is ‘don’t do it again.’

Once the kids go about their evening activities, my Muse sorts through the information, while not inspiration for my adult characters’ lives, they make great character back story.

***Back Story: Insight into the protagonist nature or history through reflective flashbacks, scenes, or dialogue. This information is used to show how a character will react to certain situations.***

There are various ways to use back story.  Some authors like to use flashback during a scene or as a scene to show an incident that explains the reason for their character’s actions during the course of a story. (Think about the show LOST, whose episodes focused on the back story of a character’s life, decisions, made, and how they related to the present situation). In novels, the most common use is having a character allude to their past through dialogue, thought, or peppered in by the omnipotent voice. (Dialogue is the best way to share this information without slowing down your prose and boring a reader.)

How do you know what your characters back story will be?

By writing character outlines.

If you have  followed my blog, you know a large portion of my writing begins with focusing on deep character development. I love writing characters my readers can relate to either through their own personal experiences or someone they know. Creating well-developed back story can do that. Knowing where your characters have been, what experiences have affected them – good and bad – will give your characters a strong voice that makes them stand out.

Even if it starts from when they were kids.

In a nutshell, a well-developed back story lets you know your characters. Knowing and understanding your characters will explain their motivations. Motivations are what set up a plot. Reactions to plot twists/turns are what provide scenes. Scenes mixed with reactions are what create drama.

Whew!  Sounds like a lot of work, right? It is, but as with all things in life, you get what you put in. Taking the time to sit down and understand your characters will show in your writing. It will help you understand why they interrupt your writing, and no matter how much you want the story to go one way, they hijack your manuscript.

For more on writing character outlines and finding writing inspiration, visit my previous posts:

M.J.’s on Writing- Helpful Advice for Aspiring Authors

MJ

Interview with Denise Moncrief!

Today I welcome another talented author with 5 Prince Publishing, Denise Moncrief, as she shares a bit about herself, her writing process, and wonderful advice for aspiring authors!

Denise Moncrief author pic

 Welcome, Denise!

What inspired you to write?

I began devouring every book I could get my hands on in high school. I’ve been a prolific reader ever since. All of that reading has fed my imagination. For years my daydreaming made me feel somewhat guilty. I had no problem imagining myself in other places, with other people, doing other things. One day I got the idea of channeling all my daydreaming into a manuscript. That was nine, maybe ten years ago, and since then I’ve been writing practically non-stop with only a few short sabbaticals due to a recalcitrant muse refusing to cooperate and give me a fresh spurt of inspiration.

What genre do you write? Did you choose it, or did it choose you?

I started writing romance, but I found an element of suspense slipped into the plot line every single time no matter how I manipulated my characters and their actions, so the suspense genre grabbed my imagination and wouldn’t let me go. I love suspense and that’s what I write.

I bend and blend genres. My stories are usually suspense and _________. My daughter tells me I can’t write anything without including at least one dead body in the story line. Well, I don’t know, maybe that’s true. Aside from traditional suspense plot lines, I find there’s an element of suspense in any conflict, a moment when the breath catches. I strive to portray that one thing in any situation that will affect the heart rate, tug at emotions, and make the reader anxiously turn the page to read what happens next.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

I have a part time accounting position, so my weekday mornings are spent crunching numbers, but once I get home I divide my time between taking care of my family and pursuing my career as a writer and editor. My evenings are split between writing, editing, and marketing. Lately, it’s been difficult to squeeze working on my current work in process between editing and promotion deadlines, but thankfully, the new manuscript is within 5,000 words of being complete. I’ve never been a scheduled writer, writing for a certain amount of time at the same time every day. Now, that I’ve also been hired as an editor, I’ve had to schedule chunks of time to get alone and write for several hours at a time. If I don’t do that, the editing and marketing pursuits will swallow all my free time. So it’s definitely become a balancing act.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

Hum…A writing quirk? Am I quirky? I’m not sure about that. Well, I don’t write in my polka dot pajamas, sip herbal tea, or listen to any particular style of music. I don’t have to have the house quiet either. I put on a pot of coffee and slip into my most comfortable jeans and a t-shirt. I might write on my bed or at my desk or on the sofa in the living room. Perhaps my biggest quirk is that I don’t do rough drafts. I’m probably obsessive compulsive or a raving perfectionist or something. I edit as I go because I can’t stand the thought of overlooking something that needs a tweak. I’ll write a few chapters and then edit. Write a few more and reread from the beginning, editing as I go. I find this gives me a greater sense of continuity and helps me fine-tune my plot and my characterization.

Are you a pantser or plotter?

I imagine the opening scene of the story and decide how the story will end. Between the beginning and the ending, I am a certified pantser. I let the plot evolve as it goes along, letting my characters and their developing personalities decide what to say and how to react in any given situation, as long as they get to the end of the story right where I want them to go.

Are your stories based on experiences of someone you know, or are events in your own life reflected in the characters/stories you write? Can you share an example?

No, I can’t think of any instance where I’ve based a plotline on my own experiences or the experiences of anyone I know personally. However, the underlying theme of all my stories is forgiveness and reconciliation. I heard someone say one time that unforgiveness is the poison one drinks with the hopes of injuring someone else. I believe this to be very true. I’ve experienced personally how destructive unforgiveness can be, not only to the offender, but to the offended.

Do you have any suggestions to help new authors become a better writer? If so, what are they?

I remember well my first rejection. I submitted a series of four stories to a publisher. He very kindly suggested I should continue to hone my skills by perhaps going to a writer’s workshop. It was an excellent piece of advice, because I did as he advised and realized how much I didn’t know about the craft of writing. That was years ago. An author should never believe he or she has learned all there is to know about the art and craft of writing.

Commonly accepted style evolves and changes over the years. Be aware of trends. The trends readers preferred ten years ago might not be what keeps a reader’s interest today. For instance, a common trend is to use as few he said/she said type dialogue tags as possible, replacing the tag with action beats.

When you finish writing your baby, after pouring all your heart and soul into plot and characterization, put the manuscript aside for a few days and then come back to it. Read it aloud with the critical ear of a reader, not the emotionally attached heart of a writer. The exercise often reveals glitches in the flow of the narrative.

There is an abundance of information and guidance available to aspiring writers on how to hone writing skills. Not all suggestions work for every writer. Research editing and writing. Read blogs and books on the subject of writing. Build relationships with other writers. A writer should test different approaches and find out what works best for her. For instance, I’ve read more than once that a writer should write straight through a rough draft, then go back and edit. This approach clearly doesn’t work for me.

Are you self-pubbed, indie pubbed, or traditionally pubbed?

I have been published or have been contracted by three wonderful indie publishers, Still Moments Publishing, 5 Prince Publishing, and Crooked Cat Publishing.

What are your current projects?

My last single tile release was Deceptions of the Heart, a full-length paranormal romance suspense novel from Still Moments Publishing. Crisis of Identity is romance suspense with a humorous bite, scheduled for release this week from 5 Prince Publishing. My current work in process is paranormal romance suspense set in the Pacific Northwest of the United States with the working title The Memory Catcher.

My full library at Still Moments Publishing, including Deceptions of the Heart, can be purchased at http://www.stillmomentspublishing.com/p/ebook-store.html, Amazon, Barnes and Noble Nook, Create Space, or Smashwords. My new release, Crisis of Identity, when it becomes available this week, can be purchased at http://www.5princebooks.com/buy.htm and Amazon.

CrisisOfIdentity

Tess Copeland is an operator. Her motto? Necessity is the mother of a good a con. When Hurricane Irving slams into the Texas Gulf coast, Tess seizes the opportunity to escape her past by hijacking a dead woman’s life, but Shelby Coleman’s was the wrong identity to steal. And the cop that trails her? He’s a U.S. Marshall with the Fugitive Task Force for the northern district of Illinois. Tess left Chicago because the criminal justice system gave her no choice. Now she’s on the run from ghosts of misdeeds past—both hers and Shelby’s.

Enter Trevor Smith, a pseudo-cowboy from Houston, Texas, with good looks, a quick tongue, and testosterone poisoning. Will Tess succumb to his questionable charms and become his damsel in distress? She doesn’t have to faint at his feet—she’s capable of handling just about anything. But will she choose to let Trevor be the man? When Tess kidnaps her niece, her life changes. She must make some hard decisions. Does she trust the lawman that promises her redemption, or does she trust the cowboy that promises her nothing but himself?

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Author Bio:

Denise wrote her first story when she was in high school—seventeen hand-written pages on school-ruled paper and an obvious rip-off of the last romance novel she read. She earned a degree in accounting, giving her some nice skills to earn a little money, but her passion has always been writing. She has written numerous short stories and more than a few full-length novels. Her favorite pastimes when she’s not writing are spending time with her family, traveling, reading, and scrapbooking. She lives in Louisiana with her husband, two children, and one very chubby dog.

Connect with Denise on the following links:

Twitter   Facebook    Google+    Goodreads    Blog/Website   Amazon   Email   SmashWords

What You Don’t Know About Queries CAN Hurt You!

Recycle Those Old Manuscripts, Don't Trash Them!So, you’ve written your story and want to share it with the world. But first, you have to query.

What is a query?

A query is a presentation of your manuscript shortened into brief paragraphs in the effort to draw an agent/publisher’s attention to your work. A well-written query letter can lead to a request for more information about your project: a full synopsis, a request for the first couple of chapters, or the entire manuscript. The goal is to receive a request for representation (agent) or publication (publisher). But like writing, in order to tell a good story, it takes research and planning  in order to make the process flow smoothly.

So, what steps should you take?

First of all, research the agent/publisher you want to submit your letter to. No two agents or publishers are alike.

  • Agents:  Visit the personal pages of agents on the company websites. Most will tell you if they are looking new clients.  Some welcome new, unpublished clients, while others prefer to work with already-published authors. Some have a wish list with the types of stories or genres they are looking for. Knowing this before you waste time sending them your work saves time on both of your parts. Submitting a query of a Sci-Fi story to an agent interested in only Romance novels is asking for rejection.
  • Publishers:  Whether you’re looking to self-pub through a vanity press, Indie Press, or Traditional Publisher, you MUST read the submission guidelines. No two are alike. For example, one publisher may want your manuscript  typed and submitted in 12 point Times New Roman font, while another may request 11 point Calibri. (Yep, I had that happen!). If I hadn’t read the submission guidelines and assumed they wanted the manuscript written in standard Times New Roman, my manuscript would be ignored for not following their guidelines before they read the first line!

Prepare various files ahead of time to save time. While researching agents/publishers, make note of what type of file they want you to send. (Note: this is the age of digital. Gone are the days of only mailing your manuscript or query letter. Most require emails, not snail mail. ‘Snail mail’ –traditional mailing- can add longer wait time to getting a response to your request).

Here are the various requests I ran across:

  • Query letter– that’s all they want. Keep it short and simple, to the point.  Open with a hook that leaves wanting to know more. Talk briefly about your writing experience (if applicable) and where samples of your work can be found. Leave with a respectful and professional closing. Be sure to include correct contact information for phone, email, mailing. (Note: if including social networking information, know that they WILL research you before contacting you. Having an unprofessional presence online can cause them to lose interest, regardless of how great your story is.)
  • Query and Sample Chapter (s) or Pages In addition to the standard query, some want to sample your writing voice. Here is where having a strong opening to your story comes in. The first three chapters are your make or break it points in your novel. If an agent or acquiring editor can’t get hooked then, then they push your work to the trash pile and send the dreaded ‘rejection form’ letter. Create separate files for the following page counts: 5 pages, 20 pages, 50 pages. (or 1st chapter to 1st-3rd chapters).
  • Query and Synopsis The dreaded synopsis letter can take more work to write than the 350 page novel it’s being written about. The point is to share the highlights of your story, from beginning to, yep, the actual end…not the lead up to the end. They want to know how the story ends to decide if what happens in the middle is worth the time to read. Synopsis request can be as brief as one page, to as lengthy as 4 pages. Prepare a one-page, three-page, and four-page to have on hand. No need to pull hair out after writing a one-page synopsis and run across a request for a four-page and have to start all over again.
  • Query, Synopsis, and Full Manuscript:  Not many will ask for a full manuscript from the get go, but some do.  Be sure to have your manuscript completed BEFORE submitting it. Agents/Publishers want to see a finished product, not one that is incomplete. If they like what they see, they will want to jump on it. If they have to start working with you by giving you a deadline to finish the project, it could be a turn off.  As a rule, most manuscript requests come in the form of the following:*12 point Times New Roman font  *1 inch margins (all around) *double spaced (entire document, without space between paragraphs)

***Be sure to have your manuscript edited and as clean as possible. DO NOT SEND ROUGH DRAFTS! Try to have your work as close to professionally edited as possible. Not doing so and having blatant misspellings and punctuation errors can result in rejection of your work! ***

Once you have these things in place, you are nearly ready to start querying! With so many agents and publishers out there, it’s hard to keep up with what information was sent to which publisher and when. I suggest creating a spreadsheet to make note of the dates and information sent. If you don’t have time to make your own, visit QueryTracker.com. Create a profile, make notes of sent responses and request, as well as look up information about the agents/publishers you’re interested in. There’s also an area that allows you to view comments from others about their experience with those agents/publishers and turnaround time for responses.

The query process is time-consuming and a real test of your will and patience. The pay off; seeing your work in the hands of readers.  This is the time to grow thick skin. Prepare to get rejection letters, either as form responses or the very rare letter with actual feedback.  Take it with a grain of salt and look for the good part. No, I am not saying being told NO, is a good feeling, but sometimes it’s comical. I got one that said, “No, not interested.”…that was it, no hello, no Ms. Kane, nothing.  I laughed my butt off because it appeared that particular person was having a bad day.  I could only imagine what it’s like to trudge through a ton of emails day after day in search of a line that catches your attention. Just because they said no didn’t mean it was about me or my work. Remember my above comment: Wish List. If looking for the next hot book about Vampires is what is on everyone’s list, your next love story that’s about the average Joe won’t get a second look, no matter how well it’s written.

Don’t be afraid to explore your publishing options. If you don’t have the time or patience to look into self-publishing, then look at Indie Publishing companies.  They still request the same type of information as the big publishers, but you have a better opportunity to have your writing voice heard. The beauty of going Indie is being able to tell your story the way you want to without being told what you can or can’t write.

I survived the query gambit,  kept my writing voice, and ignored the negative responses that told me ‘no’. And now I am an Amazon Bestselling Author. 🙂

Here are a few links to articles on writing query letters synopsis. Good luck!!

MJ

eHow.com- Query Letter Sample Search

eHow.com- How to write a Synopsis Search 

Query Tracker.net  

Social Networking for Writers: Good, Bad, or Just a Waste of Time?

My iPhone Apps that keep me in the loop 24/7.

t My iPhone Apps that keep me in the loop 24/7.

Some people say good, other’s say a waste of time.  I believe it’s all in how you work it.

Nearly everyone one who has access to the internet has some type of social presence, be it Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Google +, Linkedin, Instagram, Pintrest, and I am sure that’s just naming the most popular ones. My point is: readers are online. They chat about what they like and don’t like, what’s the latest trending topic, who’s got the hottest new book, and so on and so forth.

How can that benefit a writer?

No matter what type of new technology there is, nothing works as well as word of mouth. Well, think of social networking as the digital version of the age old form of publicity. The trick is how to use it.

I’ve read various blogs that say they feel it’s a waste: “All you do is try and sell your books to other authors, nobody is gonna buy because we’re all trying to get paid.”

True and false.

First of all, authors are readers, too, not just writers. We like to read a good book, discover an unknown talent, and be entertained. That’s why we write!

And yes, if you’re an unknown author, a majority of people you first connect with on social networking sites are other authors. Why? Because those authors have experience  – some more, some less than you – on how to connect with readers. Networking can teach you the ropes on navigating a new site, the best new advertising technique, where to find the best deals for self-publishing, or publishers who are looking for new material. Not to mention book signing events, (yes, even with eBook’s being the big thing, readers would still like to have their paperbacks and Kindle/Nook covers signed). But when connecting with these seasoned pros, don’t just go in for the help, talk to them, get to know  them, and yes, read their work, make an honest new friend. Support them and guess what…they will support you.Hold up, say what?????Yes, it’s true, other authors can and will help you! But don’t get it twisted, it’s a two-way street!

Networking with other authors is simple and not hard to do. Here are a few suggestions:

  • If you asked to guest post/interview/feature on an author’s blog, be sure to give them the information requested in a timely manner, drop by the post to comment, and, if you have a blog, be willing to reciprocate the favor in the future. After all, when they have you on their site, it’s exposing your work to their followers/readers. You should be willing to do the same.
  • When you have a chance to read their work, do so! Talk to them (via private chat/emails) about what they did when writing, discuss writing techniques. You’ll be surprised by how much you have in common when writing. Also, you may learn a few things not only about the writer as a person, but  something that can help you become a better writer too!
  • There’s nothing wrong with shouting out a fellow author or posting a good review if you really enjoyed the story! Remember when your mother used to say, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”? The same goes here to. Remember, you want to support your fellow author and in turn, encourage them to do the same for you. Spreading negativity will not only turn them off, but others as well.
  • Remain a professional at ALL times. Your online presence is your digital business card.  Know when to comment on a post and when to keep your personal feelings to yourself. Don’t get caught up in negativity, political, or social issues unless it pertains to your work. Remember, your looking to establish a fan base. Fans follow authors they like wherever they can be found. Possible fans will read your post/comments, etc. and decide whether or not they want to connect with you. Also, other authors your looking to connect with may decide to avoid getting caught up in your drama, therefore cutting you out of the loop. Giving off a negative presence can ruin your writing career, no matter how long you’ve been in the game.

Above all, remember….there are millions of readers, and thousands of authors. Nobody can put out a book a week, so expecting to hog all the readers is very unrealistic. Readers want to be exposed to new writing styles, and stories. Remember, if you write a good story, they will love your work, but while they wait anxiously for your next book, they want to read something else. Expose them to an author you like and they will appreciate you more for it.

And it’s not just something an Indie Author can do….

Take a look at the back cover of your favorite NYT Bestselling Author. Other than the ever popular critique review, you’ll also find comments and shout outs from other NYT authors. Now that’s what you call having each other’s back!

MJ