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Archives for August 2011

Stirring Up a Plot? Learn How to Thicken It

Aspiring novelists long to write page-turning books with thick plots that  keep the reader engaged until the end. Before you submit your manuscript to an editor you must first stir up a plot that gets a literary agent intrigued. So who better than an experienced literary agent to reveal the story elements that will capture her attention and get her to agree that your manuscript is ready to be published and sold.

When I was on vacation in Coupeville on  Whidbey Island, WA a few years ago it was my pleasure to meet literary agent, Andrea Hurst, who was leading a writer’s workshop. You can now benefit from Andrea’s 25 years of experience and wisdom without travelling to Washington by registering for her upcoming webinar on Thursday, September 8, 2011.

Register today to attend this live webinar at

The details of this live webinar are

Date: Thursday, September 8, 2011
Starting time: 1:00 pm Eastern
Duration: 90 minutes


If you are serious about getting your novel or memoir published, you can’t afford to miss this webinar. Its value far exceeds the affordable fee of $89.

1. You will have access to the archived version of the presentation and materials for one year.

2. All registrants are invited to communicate your questions to Andrea after the event. She will answer them too.

3. After the session, you are invited to submit your query letter or short synopsis of your novel or memoir and receive a critique from Andrea.

4. Once you sign up for the session even if you can’t attend it you will still receive everything listed above.

So, learn now how to draw attention to your novel or memoir, with a plot that pulls the reader in and holds his attention until the end.


Yes, if you fit into one of these categories:

  • You are in the process of crafting a novel or memoir
  • You are ready for an agent to see your work
  • You are interested in learning more about how an agent reviews submissions
  • You are actively submitting your novel or memoir and want some tips to strengthen their plot

Register today to attend this live webinar at

Entering a Writing Contest Helps Your Writing

Entering a writing contest helps your writing. The prizes may be great, but they are not the main benefit. Writing well develops over time and requires practice. In addition to your writing projects, contests and competitions give you practice in meeting guidelines, deadlines and sometimes even result in helpful critiques.

In the last few years I’ve entered a 100 articles in a 100 days contest as well as 10 articles in 5 days competitions on EzineArticles.com. Even though I didn’t finish all 100 articles in the HAHD contest I did churn out dozens more than I would have otherwise. I did complete the 10 articles in 5 days and won a mug with coaster. Yippee!

I recently entered a six-word challenge at
http://www.smithmag.net/work-inspiration/memoirs.php?q=passion. From now until Labor Day, Smith has teamed up with Mercer to issue a six-word challenge every 2 weeks. Along with your six-word entry you may also submit a photo and a back story. I entered the following six words about work challenge and the photo above.

Here’s my entry in response to the question about what inspires your best work:

Pupils leaning forward minds wide open


After teaching junior high through college level for 40 years I still get a tingle when students lean forward, curious and eager to learn. Teaching is a learning exchange.

I’m seldom motivated by the prizes in a contest, but in case you want to know, the prizes are the choice of an iPad2 or Blackberry Playbook. All entries are eligible to be part of a “Six Words About Work” book, along with receiving a free copy of the book.

Hurry if you want to enter. The current theme is Lessons and ends on Labor Day. Get more details at Smith.

Master the First Law of Writing: Create a Compelling Hook

Stop worrying about the thousands of words that will fill your book.

Focus instead on creating a juicy hook that will grab your reader so completely that she will ignore her email, her buzzing cellphone, and that screaming baby down the hall.

A hook is an opening sentence that pulls the reader in. It may not be the first sentence you write when creating the rough draft, but it must eventually appear at the beginning of the proposal to a publisher or the final draft of your self-published book. Without a hook you risk losing readers before they ever get into the heart of your book.

Memorable books throughout history have memorable opening first lines. Do you recognize these?

  1. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
  2. If music be the food of love, play on. . .
  3. To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.
  4. All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is  unhappy in its  own way.
  5. You better not tell nobody but God.

In all fairness to the rest of us writers, these famous lines were etched in our minds not always because we were lured into the books. Some were forced upon us as required reading in high school and college or we remember them because the books were made into movies.

While your book may never be turned into a blockbuster movie, you do want your book read. The challenge, then, is how can you write a hook that compels readers to continue beyond the first page.

How can you create a hook?

Arouse curiosity

All the opening lines cited above have an antecedent, a reference to a previous time, person or event of which we are not yet privy. They make us want to know the conflict, the problem or the situation that lead the author to utter that line. Who is she, it, and what is it we better not tell?

Hint at conflict, a problem or tension in simple language

The hint at conflict is best done with simple words. Even when the first line seems to be just an everyday introduction such as the opening of Moby Dick or telling us that the behavioral science department that deals with serial murder is half-buried in the earth as in the beginning of Silence of the Lambs, we immediately expect and yearn to know more.

Start in the middle

There is no need to start your manuscript at the beginning, but it is important to make the reader care. When a story begins “Once upon a time. . .” we are not just introduced to characters, but are about to witness them walk into danger or conflict. They were already on a course to a problem which we get to see play out and eventually be resolved.

Be patient with yourself

Don’t belabor your opening line, charging it with the duty to carry your whole book. Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction your hook just needs to make us want to know more.

Does this opening sentence make you want to know more?

“Until today, Ava had never stolen anything in her life.”

What does it suggest? Does it meet the basics of a good hook?

How about the opening line of your current project?

Check below to see if you correctly guessed the source of the first lines from above.

  1. A Tale of Two Cities~Charles Dickens
  2. The Twelfth Night~William Shakespeare
  3. Sherlock Holmes: A Scandal in Bohemia~Arthur Conan Doyle
  4. Anna Karenina~Leo Tolstoy
  5. The Color Purple~Alice Walker

What opening line from a book or blog has grabbed you? If you’ve written a great hook, share it with us in the comments.

Inside the Writing Life: What are Your Favorite Snacks When You’re Writing?

Einstein at chalkboard

Writers have many rituals and objects to stimulate their writing. Many have their favorite snacks on hand to signal to their bodies and minds that it’s time to write.

An article in the New York Times Sunday Book Review disclosed some of the favorite snacks of great writers.  The author of the article, Wendy MacNaughton, began with the self-disclosure that she keeps a small bowl of garlic croutons nearby. Here are some other culinary delights that she uncovered. Be sure to check out her great cartoons in the article.

  • Walt Whitman– oysters and meat for breakfast
  • Gustave Flaubert –breakfast of eggs, vegetables, cheese or fruit, and a cup of cold chocolate
  • Franz Kafka–milk
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald–canned meat (straight from the can) and apples
  • Lord Byron–vinegar

I lean toward a cup of coffee which unfortunately gets cold as the writing progresses.

You knew this was coming, didn’t you?

What is your favorite snack when you’re writing?  The weirder the better. You’re in good company.


Tie Observances to Your Niche, Uncover Hidden Riches

Just as news tie-ins can help you get media attention, pairing your writing with monthly observances can help uncover hidden riches in your business.  Every month of the year is full of monthly, weekly and one-day observances.

When you can find a way to share your knowledge, expertise and skills to help your readers, website visitors, workshop attendees, and customers, you enrich your value and uncover profits you may otherwise have missed. These tie-ins are also prime content for compelling press releases.

Here are a few of the ways my clients could create articles, tips, booklets, ebooks or audio guides that tie into monthly observances, followed by a list of  some of the August and September observances.

Back to School Month

  • Feng Shui consultant– how best to arrange college dorm rooms
  • Parenting consultant– how parents can to prepare their youngsters for school success
  • Image consultant–fashion advice on styles on which parents and teenagers can agree

Family Meals Month

  • Plant-based nutritionist–how to transition your family to a whole foods diet

College Savings Month

  • Personal finance coach–ways to begin or continue college savings progams

Self-Improvement Month

  • Life coach–how to set and accomplish personal growth goals

Mold Awareness Month

  • Contractor–ways to prevent, spot and rectify mold in your house or office

Library Card Sign-up Month

  • Author–little-known benefits of using your local library

What are some ways you can use the following observances to uncover hidden riches in your niche?

August Observances

American Adventures Month
American Indian Heritage Month
Back to School Month
Black Business Month
Cataract Awareness Month
Children’s Eye Health & Safety Month
Children’s Vision & Learning Month
Get Ready for Kindergarten Month
Family Meals Month
Golf Month
Motorsports Awareness Month
National Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Month
National Immunization Awareness Month
National Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness Month
National Runaway Prevention Month
National Truancy Prevention Month
National Water Quality Month
Neurosurgery Outreach Month
Pedestrian Safety Month
Psoriasis Awareness Month

September Observances

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Month
Baby Safety Month
Backpack Safety America Month
Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
College Savings Month
Gynecology Cancer Awareness Month
Library Card Sign-up Month
(World) Leukemia and Lymphoma Awareness Month
National Alcohol & Drug Addiction Recovery Month
Mold Awareness Month
National Chicken Month
National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month
National Childhood Injury Prevention Month
National DNA, Geonomics & Stem Cell Education Month
National Coupon Month
National Head Lice Prevention Month
National Organic Harvest Month
National Osteopathic Medicine Month
National Prime Beef Month
National Sickle Cell Month
National Preparedness Month
National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month
National Skin Care Awareness Month
Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month
Self Improvement Month
Shameless Promotion Month
Sports and Home Eye Health & Safety Month
National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15)