Finding success with an accountability partner

NaNoWriMo starts super soon. Regardless of whether you plan to participate or not, there's no denying that there's something magical in the air of November that keeps writers in their chairs and pounding words onto the paper. One part of the formula that makes NaNoWriMo work is the accountability.

There's something about knowing you have to put your word count in front of other people that keeps you writing a little bit longer when you would normally just grab a Snuggie and watch a movie. But not all accountability partners are created equally.

I happened to luck out and snag an amazing partner who held my feet to the fire while finishing the drafts for RITE OF REVELATION. Seriously, I'm not sure when this book would have been finished without her. So here are my five tips for finding success with an accountability partner.

1. Find a partner who cares about you the person
Sure, you can find any random Joe to agree to be your person, but what happens when life gets in the way for them and they stop checking in on you? You need to find a person who cares about you and genuinely wants to see you succeed. Not only will they be more likely to stay with your for the long haul, you'll know that their sometimes tough love comes from a place of genuine caring.

2. Choose someone you speak to regularly
You can artificially create this sort of relationship, but I've found that finding a person you already have regular contact with can be a big benefit. This allows for extra, natural check-ins outside of the normal agreed upon check in times. If you run into this person several times a week or regularly speak on the phone, they will be able to give you more support and more reminders to get back to work.

3. Commit to daily check-ins
Even if you regularly talk to your partner, you should set up a daily check-in time. I work late at night (I'm writing this post at 12:30 am and have no plans for bed anytime soon). So for me, I made the commitment to sending my partner a FB message every night with my stats before I went to bed. I knew she would see them first thing when she woke up so I had better get my word count in, every day.

4. Set small goals
It's good to have big goals and you should definitely share those with your partner. But you should set smaller goals along the way. While editing, I would set goals for when I needed to be done with certain parts of my edit. I set time lines for when I wanted to have different aspects of my manuscript done. Having these little goals not only helped me to manage my time, but also allowed my partner to adjust my daily goals when I sometimes didn't hit my numbers.

5. Be honest
Accountability only works if you are honest with your partner. It can be tempting to just tell your partner what they need to hear to get off your back, but that is only going to hurt you. Not only does it defeat the purpose of having a partner, eventually, it will be obvious that you've been fudging the numbers and your partner will start phoning it in as well.

There are a lot of tools, tips and tricks out there to help you be more productive as a writer, but an accountability partner can be the helping hand that finally gets that manuscript finished.

Agency Lessons: How much should I edit before querying?

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.

One thing that writers tend to struggle with is when to put the red pen down and call your book good enough. Because the truth is that every book ever published is simply good enough. No book will ever be perfect.

If you are planning to query agents, you may be wondering how to find your own good enough. So I thought I'd share my own process for editing and a few tips for determining when you're ready.

1. Ignore everything
After you've finished the rough draft, hide your file and ignore it. A month is a good solid length of time, though I personally never last that long. When you let your manuscript sit, two important changes happen.

First, you forget what you wrote. This is important because when we know what should be on the page, our brains tend to fill it in for us, even if it's not really there. For example, you may want your character to be a jokester. In your head, that's who he is, even if he only every tells a handful of jokes in the actual story. By forgetting what you wrote, you allow your brain time to say, "Hey, this guy isn't actually funny." That allows you the space to determine what direction you need to go.

Second, you let your brain have some fun. When I'm editing a book for a client, I always sleep on my edits. I find that my subconscious brain allows me to analyze a book better. I've found inconsistent characters, plot holes and all kinds of little issues that poke my brain in the middle of the night that I never thought of when reading. These are exactly the little things that will drive your reader crazy and hold them back from recommending your book. Taking time away gives your brain a chance to think of all those little things you never thought of while you were in the creating stage.

2. Read and rough edit
Once I'm ready to go, I set aside an entire day to read back through the manuscript in a single sitting and mark anything that stands out to me. These can be inconsistencies, aspects I want to double check, clunky writing, bad scenes or even details that need to be corrected due to changes I made during the drafting process.

I don't fix anything yet. This is simply the discover process. I don't want to make changes yet because I may find that those changes don't work by the end of the story.

3. Fix the rough edits
After I've done the read through and made notes, I read back through all my notes and start editing. This is the most time consuming part of the edit. I often have to flip back and forth between scenes to make sure I am staying consistent. Also, one small change can impact the whole manuscript, so a single edit could encompass half a dozen scenes.

4. Line edit time
This is when I read through the manuscript slowly, analyzing every sentence to see if it is written to the best of my ability. Notice, I didn't say perfectly. That's not going to happen and the sooner you let go of trying to achieve perfection, the easier your edit will go.

5. Proofread
This can be combined with the line edit, though I recommend doing it separately so you can be completely focused on each objective. Either way, you'll want to do a proofread to make sure you don't have any typos, homophones or formatting issues that will make it harder for someone else to read your work. Because that's where your baby is headed next.

6. Beta Readers
Beta readers are volunteers who read your manuscript and give you feedback. Notice, I didn't say edit your manuscript. These readers are going to tell you about plot holes, character inconsistencies and other parts that just aren't working. They will often also tell you what is working so you don't delete their favorite line. Beta readers work best when you give them specific issues to look out for such as a scene you are questioning or a plot line that has you concerned.

7. More edits
As my betas send me their notes, I add them all as comments to the manuscript. I don't make edits until they are all in since a line that one reader hates could be another reader's favorite. Also, there may be something that several readers mention so I'll want to give that aspect extra attention. Once I have all the notes in, I make a plan for additional edits and work the plan.

8. One more read through
After you've completed all these edits, I recommend one more read of the manuscript to make sure you aren't missing anything and that you caught as many of the typos, etc. that you can. Don't fret about catching everything. No agent expects your work to be perfect (since that's impossible), but we do expect you to have caught the basic things that spell check and a thorough read will correct.

If you are querying, this is where I would tell you to stop. Of course, you're welcome to do another round of beta readers or workshop your opening chapter to death, but I doubt you'll make huge improvements to your work. At this point, you've done several rounds of edits and gotten outside feedback on your work (a must do before sending your manuscript to agents). You should have worked through anything that still feels week.

If there are places that still need work, work them. Don't query if you aren't sure that your manuscript is the best you can make it right now. If you query with doubts, they will drive you nuts while you wait for responses. But don't delay because you want to do just one more check. There will always be something else that you could fix and then you'll never query.

For more advice on editing I would highly recommend SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Browne and King. Also, check out this self-editing article from the lovely Joanna Penn.

Blogging as a marketing strategy

On Wednesday, I weighed in to state that blogging is not dead. Personally, I love it and I know a lot of other authors do as well. But blogging is more than a place to share our opinions and talk about the books we love. If done well, blogging can be a viable marketing strategy.

However, blogging is not a place to set up a virtual advertisement for your book and then shove it 24/7 at your readers. There are a few things to keep in mind if you want your blog to be a productive part of your book marketing. Here are five important tips.

1. Marketing on your blog is not an overnight venture.
There are some exceptions to the rule, but in general, it takes years to build up an audience that is big (and loyal) enough to make a difference to your book marketing. You can't throw up a blog, post your intro blog and then immediately start pimping your book. I started blogging (poorly) in December 2011 and didn't launch my first book until three years later.

2. You must build an audience.
Your blog can't market for you if no one is reading, so you have to figure out a way to get readers. This can feel swarmy if you do it the wrong way. The wrong way to build an audience is post a bunch of click bait, spam everyone you know with constant links to your blog, run big ticket item giveaways that will never earn you back money. The right way is to get your content in front of the people who will want to see it. Guest blog for bloggers with a similar audience, promote your blog appropriately to your social media audience, and participate in contests that provide value to your audience and don't cost you an arm and a leg.

3. Create a connection.
Because if your blog is going to be a marketing strategy, you need to form a relationship with your readers.Creating a connection with the good folks who tune in here is something I love about blogging. My goal is create a happy place where we can all learn and have fun together. Even though my posts are meant to be super informative, I try to be conversational, and I attempt to be humorous. Which is pretty much exactly how I am in real life. In fact, if you've ever spoken to me in person or on the phone, this is pretty much exactly what I sound like. 

4. You have to give, give and give some more.
Too many blogs make the mistake of constantly asking their readers for something. Buy my book, review my book, like my FB page, check me out on GR, follow me on Twitter, and on and on and on. But you can't see your blog as a chance to get from your readers. It will be most successful when your blog is constantly striving to give to your readers. You do that with solid content, personal insight and valuable references. When you focus 95% of your effort to giving your readers what they need, they won't mind at all when #5 finally rolls around.

5. Then you have to ask.
If you've done the four things above, you'll be fine when you take time to ask your readers for something. By building a lasting audience, who you've developed a connection with by becoming a valuable resource, you've earned their trust to sometimes ask when you need to.  So long as you do it politely and occasionally, you'll be fine and your readers won't mind taking the time to give back to you after all the value you've given them.

So, creating a blog two months before your book launch and then spamming any poor soul who happens to stumble by with all things MY BOOK. Is not a marketing strategy. But done right, your blog can be a big player in your next book launch. So go get started.

Is Blogging Dead

Hint: it's not

Since the day the internet came into our lives (and yes, I'm old enough that the internet was not in my home until high school) people have been finding ways to connect with each other online.

First we had GeoCities, Yahoo groups and AIM. And blogs. And like all things new and shiny, everyone wanted to get one. So they did.

Shoot, so did I. And every author on the planet ran out and got a blog. Put up their first post of "Hi, this is who I am" and then stared at the screen and wondered what they should do next.

But not everyone needs to have a blog, though I happen to be fairly partial to them.

Before deciding if you should have a blog, you need to determine if you have something to say. Which seems like that would be obvious, but isn't. A lot of authors have blogs because they think they should. And those are the blogs with random updates that leave readers guessing what the topic of the day will be. A blog that doesn't have a clear message will discover that no one is tuning in.

So what should you say?

Heck if I know. Because I have no idea what you know.

It took me a while t0 find my voice here. If you go back and read my early blog posts (please don't do this) you'll see that I'm all over the place. And my blog stats reflected that. Readers were sporadic and far from numerous.

But then I took a step back and asked myself "what do I have to say?" I really took some time to think about what I knew that other people would want to know. It didn't take long to realize that my degree in Marketing and years of experience in Marketing could easily translate into a blog about Marketing books.

But there is one other step outside of having something to say. And that's having something to say that other people want to hear. It's great if you know everything about the history of thimbles, but I don't think there's a huge audience for that. So make sure that what you have to say is reasonably interesting. That said, you'd be surprised what others find interesting.

So, is blogging dead? I don't think so. I think blogging about nothing Seinfeld style out into the webisphere and expecting thousands of people to tune in is not going to happen. But if you have something to say that other people want to hear, blogging can (and is) a great way to grow your platform.

And speaking of a platform (because this blog is part of mine), I'm asking for your help this week with my Thunderclap campaign. It only takes a minute, costs nothing, and helps me spread the word for the cover reveal of Rite of Revelation, coming up on 10/28. Signing up earns you a big virtual hug from yours truly. Thanks in advance! Now go have a great Back to the Future day!

Agency Lessons: How much input do authors get?

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.

There are plenty of assumptions I made when I first got into publishing. Little lessons that I thought I learned from reading blog posts and publishing articles. One of those was that authors going the traditional route didn't get any input in the decisions around their book.

I accepted the idea that once an author sold their rights, they gave up the ability to weigh in on the decisions impacting their book. Decisions like book cover, title, editing, and interior.

I was wrong.

Now, let me say that I haven't worked with every publisher out there so I can't speak to a universal truth of publishing. News flash, there is not a universal truth in publishing for everything.

But here's what I do know.

Every publisher I have worked with has, at the minimum, sent the initial cover concept over to the author to get their thoughts. This doesn't mean the author has the final say, but they at least got to give their thoughts.

When it comes to title, I've only had one instance of the publisher requesting another title and their reasoning was based on several other books with the same title already on the market. And, they gave the author the choice in the new title. Hardly, the decision grabbing situation I expected.

The reality of publishing is that situation is much more of a partnership than some would have you believe. After all, it's in the publishers best interest that you love the finished product of your book. The more you love it, the stronger you'll push it and the better the sales. It's a win-win for everyone.

There are still a lot of aspects of publishing that the author gives up when they sign with a publishing houses. But they keep to keep a lot more than I ever expected. And in the end, readers win with new amazing books releasing every week. I can get behind that.

Agency Lessons: What does the path look like

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.

I came across this quote a few weeks ago and it really hit a chord with me.
Many bloggers fail to realise that what they know and consider 'BASIC' is actually 'ADVANCED' to many of their readers. ~ Darren RowseThink about it.
Think about it. If you are new to the world of publishing, I'm willing to bet that most of the blog posts you read feel like mini epiphanies. I remember the first time I stumbled upon a post that listed standard word counts for different genres. Mind. Blown. But if you've been around for a while, it can start to feel like everyone must know these publishing truths that have just become a part of your assumed knowledge.

But of course, not everyone does know that. Every day someone new wakes up and thinks, "I want to write a novel. Wonder what I need to know?"

To celebrate these new writers, I figured it was time to go back to the basics and talk about some of the publishing info that I started assuming everyone already knew. Today, let's talk about the path a book takes to be sold to a publisher. In the interest of simplification, I'm going to talk about the traditional book path.

So, you start with a manuscript. In publishing, we refer to anything that isn't yet published as a manuscript. Once a book is sold and is set to be published, we start calling it a novel. This is not a hard and fast rule. You are not going to get angry side eye if you call a manuscript a novel or vice versa.

Once you got your manuscript shiny and polished to the very best of your ability AND you've let other people (who are not related to you) read this manuscript, you are ready to query. At this point you can query agents or small publishers that are open to unsolicited manuscript. Unsolicited manuscripts are what the industry calls submissions that do not come from an agent. For today, let's go with the agent route.

When you are ready to query, you'll need to do some research, find agents who are open to queries and looking for your type of story. This process alone deserves several blog posts, so we are going to glaze over this part for now. Mazel Tov, you rocked the query process and got an agent.

Now the hard work really starts. Your agent will probably have you do at least one round of edits. I have yet to have a manuscript that I send out without doing at least a light edit. Once that is ready, your agent will do her own research in finding editors they think will like your manuscript.

If the editor is interested, they will read it (or have an intern/assistant read it). Let's say they love it. Congrats you're on a roll, but still not there yet.

At smaller houses, an editor might be able to just say "Love this. Let's get it." At the bigger houses, you've got even more hoops to jump through. The editor will have to put together a proposal, including a profit/loss statement and then go in front of a board to argue why this book belongs on the house's list. They will need to convince the marketing group that the book has an audience, they need to convince sales that the book will be attractive to book buyers (at book stores, not individual readers), and they'll need to convince everyone that the book has the potential to make money.

Obviously, if you are a debut author this is harder to prove. Which is why a debut author has a harder time getting a new book deal than an established author with a solid sales history.

Keep in mind, through this whole scenario, everyone loves the manuscript. You can have a manuscript that both an agent and editor love, but still end up without a deal. I don't say that to discourage, only to show that there are a lot of factors involved in getting a book deal that have nothing do with you or your ability to write an amazing story.

This is a very scaled down example, but hopefully it gives a good idea of the process a book takes. I realize that it can be intimidating as a newbie to ask questions. But sometimes, that's the only way to find out what you don't know. If you have questions, I encourage you to leave them in the comments or email me. I promise, agents aren't scary and we really do want you to know everything that can help you on the path to becoming an amazing author.

Agency Lessons: Critiquing for growth

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.

Snuggle in close to your computer screen because I'm about to hand out a publishing secret today. Ready?

As an agent, I had a huge advantage over the average author when it came to becoming an author myself.  But...
Not for the reason you might be thinking. I didn't call in any special favors or reach out to my secret publishing contacts. In fact, my secret agent weapon is one that any author out there can get for themself.

I do a ton of critiquing. I edit client novels, I send notes back on manuscripts, and I'm constantly critiquing for contests and events for new authors. I spend a lot of time looking at novels and picking apart what makes them shine and what makes them sink.

All that critiquing makes it easier for me to notice my own writing faults and identify ways to make my work better.

I often find that the issues I most notice in other people's writing are the same ones I deal with myself. If I find myself making a lot of comments about distant POV or passive phrases, I know I need to go back to my latest project and do a double check. Chances are, I'm going to find those exact same problems all over my work.

When you enjoy a good book, it's easy to get swept away in the story and forget about mechanics. But you can't do that when you're critiquing. You've got a job to do. And that means you have a reason to stop during an excellent scene and dissect why it's working. This is valuable information for the author (so they know not to change it) and it also allows you to possibly discover that little something missing from a scene in your own work that isn't glowing yet.

Another way critiquing other people's work can help, is exposing you to the editing process. When I'm critiquing, I'll often make notes about a sentence being clunky or confusing. While I rarely give an alternate version of the sentence in my notes, I will rewrite that sentence in my head, just for practice. It's a great way to work those editing muscles and getting use to playing around with words until they flow just the right way.

You don't have to be a literary agent to gain all the benefits of critiquing. Authors are always looking for a keen eye to check over their latest work. You can join sites like and give feedback to authors through a formal process or just raise your virtual hand whenever someone puts a call-out for critiquers or beta readers on social media. You'll be making new friends, growing your personal reach, helping others and gaining valuable insight into how to be a better writer. What do you  have to lose?

A slight change of plans

So, you know how life likes to watch you make plans and then stand back and laugh right in your face? That was me these past two weeks.

No sooner had I announced the release date for Rite of Revelation, then my life blew up. Mostly good things with a little bit of crazy mixed in. But the end result is Book Two is not coming out in November. 

I know, this stinks. But trust me in that you want me to take this extra time to make sure I give you guys a book you'll love. I could rush it and get it out there, but we'd both know it wasn't as good as it could have been.

The new release date is December 4th, on the one year anniversary of the release of Rite of Rejection. So it's all kinds of symbolic and what-not.

I do have a bit of good news today. I've finally selected the new Acceptance Street Team (to be named something jazzier at a later date). Thank you to everyone who applied. Please join me in congratulating these fantastic people!

Ethan Gregory
Ashley Giroux
Shannon Harris
Kari Smith
Marlene Moss
Katie McKinney
Sarah Weaver

Now, go out there and have an amazing weekend!

How I started building my platform

If you've been reading this little slice of the internet for a while, then you know that my blog wasn't always as organized (or helpful) as it is today. Like most new writers, I figured I needed a blog and jumped in with both feet...and no idea what I was doing.

The result was a mismatched, hodge-podge of posts with little or no coherence, zero identity, and nothing to set my blog apart from the thousands of others out there.

I needed a change and the answer came in the form of the Platform Challenge hosted by Robert Lee Brewer. The daily challenges guided me in the process of finding my identity as an author and figuring out what I had to say that other people would want to read.

That was several years ago, but good news for you, Robert is running his Platform Challenge again this month. Starting today!

If you've been thinking of starting a blog, have a blog that needs a make-over, or just want to see if you can improve your current platform, I highly suggest checking this out. Not only will you get amazing advice that is easy to follow and sure to set you on the right path, you'll also find a community of like-minded authors all aimed at helping each other grow and improve their footprint in the literary community.

Good luck and happy platforms!