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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Cathy C. Hall, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. The Importance of Now

I received the sad news last week that a writer friend had died.

To be honest, we weren’t very close friends. We’d attended the same weeklong workshop and had been in the same small critique group. I had read her work-in-progress and been impressed—and even after these two years, after reading hundreds of books and blogs, I remember her story. But we hadn’t kept in touch except for an occasional note in the social media world, a comment on a blog. And yet, she lay on my heart, and I grieved for her, leaving much too soon.

I started skimming her last blog posts, reading comments of those who knew her well. She had been writing, working on a manuscript, all through the challenges of her illness. I read where many of her friends were buying her books and donating them to schools and libraries so that her legacy would continue, and I loved that idea.

She was a children’s writer and loved making school visits, so I thought of the SCBWI Amber Brown Fund, too, and how donating to that fund would surely please her. But mostly, I thought the best way I could honor her was to work hard at writing.

She was passionate about her writing; it was a passion that came through from the first day of that workshop, from the first moment we spoke. It drove her to work on being a better writer, even though she had several published books. In fact, I wondered why she needed the workshop. She’d already accomplished her dream.

But that’s not the way she saw it. She wanted to be a better writer, wanted to get her new stories out there. She wasn’t ready to rest on her laurels; she was ready to work, and work hard!

Remembering her drive brought that iconic shoe slogan to mind. You know the one I mean, right? I think it could’ve been her motto.

And so now, I’m taking you to task, friends. If writing is what you really want, do it.

Quit talking about how you want to write when you have the time, or when you can quit your day job, or when you have a really good idea. Put a plug in that endless stream of excuses and plug into your heart’s desire.

You know what? It doesn’t have to be writing. Whatever is in you, whatever it is you really, really want to do, start working on it. You can start with small goals, little steps, day by day.

As long as you start today.

~Cathy C. Hall

0 Comments on The Importance of Now as of 3/25/2014 8:37:00 AM
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2. Counting Blessings with Hannah Hall

Spring arrived a few weeks early here in my little corner of the world when I found God Bless Our Easter by Hannah C. Hall.

And no, Hannah is no relation to Cathy C. Hall. But I’d love to share a cup of tea and talk writing with her. Too bad Hannah’s all the way in Arkansas! Thankfully, her lovely book is here on my doorstep, so let’s take a look.

In God Bless Our Easter, the most adorable baby animals ever playfully romp through a spring day. The rhyming text tells of their discovery of God’s blessings in rain puddles and shady naps, in sunny daffodils and soaring butterflies. God Bless Our Easter is the perfect book for a toddler’s springtime basket, though it’s sure to find a place in your child’s heart through all the seasons.

And thanks to the blessing of email, I did have a chance to chat with Hannah and ask her a few questions.

When did you begin your writing journey?

My mom predicted when I was a very little girl that I was going to grow up to be an author. I was always, always reading. I didn't get serious about writing, however, until college. When a professor I both respected and was terrified of told me I should to switch my minor to Journalism, I did as I was told! I wrote for my college newspaper and then transitioned into freelance writing for a few small magazines after graduation.

When I started having children, my mom again encouraged me that I should write for kids. Having never taken a creative writing course, I didn't think I had the imagination to do it. However, as my kids and their imaginations grew, I found my inspiration.

My "official" writing journey began after I pitched my first manuscript for a picture book at a conference. Though that particular story has yet to be published, I met an editor at a meeting there that resulted in the God Bless series, of which I'm now in the process of writing the fourth book.

Moral of the story: go to conferences and listen to your elders!

What’s your writing process?

My process is certainly not very technical or structured. I'm a stay-at-home mom, so I do a lot of writing in my head while I fold clothes or wash dishes. I always keep a pad of paper and an ink pen by my side or in my purse. There is something about gliding a good ink pen over nice paper that inspires my creativity in a way a computer screen never can.

Since I write a weekly blog, I am always thinking on that as well. What am I learning in the day-to-day from my children or about parenting or marriage that might be useful to someone else? I would hate to have these experiences (good and bad) and someone not get something out of it. I want to be real with people, and I really want them to learn from my (many) mistakes!

How did you find your agent?

I queried many agents, and I'm not sure I got even so much as a rejection letter from any of them. They simply never responded. It was very disheartening. I stumbled on to the amazing Sally Apokedak while checking out a conference that she happened to be speaking at. (Conferences, again!) She responded to my query very quickly, and I appreciated that so much. She is a writer herself, so she respects writers and the time (and nerve) it takes to send out queries. She is down-to-earth, truthful, and truly a blessing to me.

A big thank you to Hannah Hall for sharing her blessings with us here at the Muffin!

And P.S. Sally Apokedak is our amazing judge for the Spring Flash Fiction Contest. So if Hannah’s inspired you today, why not pick up your pen and give springtime writing a whirl? You might be blessed with a winning story!

~Cathy C. Hall

0 Comments on Counting Blessings with Hannah Hall as of 3/15/2014 7:15:00 AM
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3. Catch Blog Readers With a Title and Hook

You know how you can make one of those ridiculous professional mistakes, and you’re all set to kick yourself in the pants, but then you figure out something terribly important from the mistake? Yeah, that happened to me the other day.

It all started a year ago, when I’d accidentally disabled the publicizing feature on my personal blog.

But then last week, I realized the mistake and got to work, getting all my promotional tools up and running again. That’s when the terribly-important figuring out began. (I mean, besides the terribly important thing I figured out about checking the status of your publicizing tools on various social media.)

First, I noticed my blog post titles. When I double-checked my blog feed on the afore-mentioned various social media, and saw my blog title pop up, I had this moment where I thought, “Would I stop to read this blog post based on that boring title?”

Well. It was a humbling moment, friends. I’m a creative writer, for crying out loud. I should be coming up with extra-oomph-y titles, right? But I’d been taking the lazy route, falling back on same-old, same-old title patterns.

To be honest, I suspect my faithful blog readers would probably read my posts no matter what I titled them. And yours probably will, too. But do you really want to get in the bad habit of penning ho-hum titles? That’s a writing skill you need to hone whether you write fiction, non-fiction, poetry or blog posts.

And for bloggers like me, there’s another reason strong titles are important. I’m in the business of bringing new readers to my blog. Maybe you’d like to build your subscribers, too. But how can we expect to pull in new readers with ordinary titles? After all, we’re competing with a ton of information (not to mention a ton of cute cats) out there amongst the social media. We’re going to need a title that will grab a reader’s attention—and fast!

Then there’s the first line of the post, the line that also comes up in the blog post feed. I was not too impressed with my first sentence hook. If I were actually fishing with that hook, I’d starve to death.

In the end, I realized that if one is going to go to all the trouble to publicize one's blog posts, it’s terribly important to put one's best foot forward. A strong title can get the casual reader to stop scrolling. A first line with a hook can get that reader to a blog. And if the rest of the post offers something of value to that reader, one is very likely to land a subscriber.

Which is way better than getting a kick in the pants.

~Cathy C. Hall

9 Comments on Catch Blog Readers With a Title and Hook, last added: 3/26/2013
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4. Why Not Just Say Spider? (Or Improving Readability in Your Writing)

Do you try to impress your readers with fancy-pants words? Do you use “arachnid” instead of “spider”? Or perhaps you’ll throw out a phrase like, “wandering eight-legged spinner” instead of “spider.”

It’s a lovely phrase, “wandering eight-legged spinner.” But most of the time, using the simple term will keep your reader focused on your story, rather than your pretty writing. Packing your writing with purple prose phrases and fancy-pants vocabulary is a sure road to rejection. So why not just use spider?

Yes, there are times when our writing should have an impressive slant. But it should never be so impressive that a reader gets lost in our words. For most of us, writing in the everyday world, that means we need to keep our words and sentences clear, simple, and focused. We need to think about readability.

That’s where readability tools come into play. Once you enable these gems in your writing tools options on a Word document, I’ll bet you’ll wonder how you ever managed without them. With one click, you can see whether your text is highly readable—or not so much.

The basic statistics (like words per sentence) will give you a good idea of whether you’re over-writing. I tested a couple passages from a contemporary best-selling novel, Angels and Demons, using paragraphs packed with dialogue to those heavy on description. The average count came to 14 words per sentence. Fourteen words per sentence seems like a good standard. I mean, if it’s good enough for Dan Brown, it should be good enough for the rest of us, right?

Next, I thought it would be fun to try an experiment, to compare my writing against a best-selling novelist’s writing. So I used passages of similar word counts (300-ish) from Angels and Demons and my humble blog post here. Let’s see how I did, shall we?

The words per sentence came to 12.2 in the Angels and Demons sample. And my blog post? 13.9. That’s in the Dan Brown ballpark, so I’m happy.

Next, I can see whether I’m overusing that pesky passive voice. Dan’s passage weighed in at 4%, and my lowly post came in at 0%, thank you very much.

Now it’s time to check out the Flesch Reading Ease score. The higher the score, the better the readability. High scores (A long-ago editor of mine required scores in the 70’s) mean that your fancy words are few, that your sentences don’t run on, and that your text is broken into a couple paragraphs.

So, let’s take a look at Dan’s passage: 69.4 (Impressive). My blog post: 69.6 (So there.).

Finally, I checked the grade level. Brown’s novel sample comes in at 6.6, while my blog post sample comes in at 6.8. I think sixth grade is a good target for any adult market, and 6.8 is pretty close.

In fact, my numbers, overall, are pretty darn close to best-selling novelist’s Dan Brown. And now it’s your turn. Compare your writing against work in the field you’re trying to break into and see how your numbers stack up. With practice and an eye to readability, your writing will improve for your readers.

And then together, friends, we shall take over the writing world. Bwahahahaa!

~Cathy C. Hall

8 Comments on Why Not Just Say Spider? (Or Improving Readability in Your Writing), last added: 4/11/2013
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5. Solving Critique Group Snafus

I have a great writers’ critique group!

Unfortunately, we have fallen into some not-so-great habits.

Our meetings have gone from not-to-be-missed—to missed more often than attended. It’s totally understandable; we lead busy lives. We have kids and jobs and mountains of responsibilities. Life throws its share of curveballs, and sometimes, you just have to drop everything and catch ‘em as best you can.

But when we first started our critique group, we made our meetings a priority. Even if we were juggling those balls and unable to physically meet, we sent our work online. And that accountability—knowing our critique partners were expecting our work—made us work a little bit harder.

Our critiques have gone from detailed notes—to a few lines of simple fixes. And I understand how this sort of critique can creep its way into the group. After all, we know each other well; our partners get what we mean. Why bother to write everything out?

But during the first year of critiquing, our writing seemed to grow exponentially with our detailed and thoughtful notes. So now, we’ve quit overusing adverbs. Our tenses rarely change. We understand “head-hopping” and third person limited. Basically, we’ve moved beyond writing craft mistakes. But for our writing to get to the next level, we need to tackle deeper problems. And that means our critiques need to move to the next level, too.

Our discussions have gone from two hours of writing—to an hour or more of personal rambles. And of course, I understand how that happens. We’ve grown close over the years; we care about each other outside our writing lives. Often, the only time we catch up is during our critique group meetings.

But when we were new to each other, the focus of the group was writing. We met for two hours, spending the majority of our time on critiques. Now, we rush to get the writing business completed. And so the critiques feel rushed and disjointed, with no time for members to clear up questions. Our focus has morphed into frustration.

Fortunately, August was designated as a special meeting. We discussed making changes; we hashed out new guidelines. We decided that we would meet on the assigned critique day, no matter how many of us could attend (and those who couldn’t attend would send an online critique). We created a critique template (I’ll try to get to critique templates in the next post!). And finally, we’re alternating writers/critiques per session so that we’re each allotted a generous amount of discussion.

I’m like a kid starting a new school year! I’m ready to bust those bad habits, and I’m looking forward to what we’ll accomplish. And I’d like to hear from you about your critique group. What works for you? Or do you have other suggestions to solve our problems?

Because, honestly, I have a great critique group. And if at first, we don’t succeed, I’m willing to try, try again!

~Cathy C. Hall

7 Comments on Solving Critique Group Snafus, last added: 9/15/2013
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6. What People Think Matters (When It Comes To Your Website)

Last week, I heard an agent refer to the importance of a “thoughtful online presence” and at first, the phrase zipped right past me. Yeah, yeah, a website. Got it.

But then, I needed to check a list of author websites. And as I pulled up each name, that phrase came back to me. It was easy to see who had a thoughtful online presence—and who did not. By the time I’d finished checking a ton of websites, I’d learned a few things. But mostly, I learned that a little bit of thought can make a big difference in what people think when they see you on the web.

Like what, you say? So glad you asked:

If you want people to think you’re a dependable writer who’s on top of things, then keep your website information updated. That means posting regularly if you have a blog. If you just can’t get around to posting but once or twice a year, then do yourself a favor and take the blog off your website. (But if your blog is your website, make it static with no dates.)

If you want people to think you’re a professional, skilled writer, then keep your website free of spelling and grammar errors. It’s fine if you have a misspelling as a play on words or if your writing style is conversational in a blog post. But if you have “Welcome to This Writers’ Home’s” in your web title, in big, block letters, you might need to brush up on those pesky possessive rules.

If you want people to think you’re witty or urbane or spiritual or any number of other interesting things that you are in real life, then put your personality/interests into your website. With a blog, it’s easy for your voice to come through. But people don’t often stop to read a handful of blog posts. They will, however, click on that “About Me” tab, so there’s your chance to make a good impression. And if you’re not sure what kind of impression you’re making, ask for honest feedback from friends. (Or better yet, ask someone who doesn't know you well.)

Finally, choose the kind of writer you want people to see. When a person lands on your website, will they know instantly that you’re a romance novelist? Or a children’s writer? A poet or an essayist? Have you honed in on your niche, and does your website reflect that focus?

I think this might be hard for those of us like me, who might pen fiction as well as non-fiction, or write for children as well as adults. But it doesn’t mean we can’t keep writing whatever we want; it means accentuating what we want the world to see--and think--when they first meet us.

I suppose, then, that a website should get to the heart of the writer. That's what matters in a thoughtful online presence. So, yeah, I've got some website work to do. How about you?

~Cathy C. Hall

0 Comments on What People Think Matters (When It Comes To Your Website) as of 3/3/2014 9:18:00 AM
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7. Just for Today, For a Writer

For many years, one of the newspaper advice columnists would run a meditation called Just for Today, on New Year’s Day. Maybe an advice columnist still keeps this tradition, I’m not sure. But I am sure that when I first read the words, I was struck by the powerful message. That if we focus on each day, as it comes, we can accomplish much more than we thought possible. And so with that message in mind, I considered what I, the writer, wanted to accomplish in 2013.

Just for today, I will write. It may not be 20,000 words, or even 2,000 words. Heck, it may be a 200-word blog post or a (very) detailed grocery list. I will write, because I know that writing is a skill that improves with daily practice.

Just for today, I will read. If I have a great idea for an article, I’ll read the market I’m considering pitching. If I’m working on a novel manuscript, I’ll read a novel in that genre, even it’s just the first chapter. If I’m stuck on an aspect in my craft, I’ll take that how-to book from the shelf, blow the dust off, and read the pertinent paragraphs. I will read, because I know that reading is a sure way to writing growth and improvement.

Just for today, I will encourage or support another writer. If I've enjoyed an author’s novel, I’ll write a review on Amazon, or perhaps Goodreads. If I drop by a blog and like the content, I’ll leave a comment, letting the blogger know. Maybe I’ll retweet a writer’s good news or just click on a "Like" button. I’ll encourage or support another writer, because I know how much my writer friends’ support and encouragement means to me, especially when it comes on those days when a stinging criticism won’t let go of me. A couple of kind words can make all the difference.

Just for today, I will take care of business. I’ll answer the emails, update my finances and keep on track with my submissions. I will take care of business, because I know that when I treat my writing as a business, my writing pays me back.

Just for today, I will be thankful that I’m a writer. Despite the rejections, the revisions, the constant hair-pulling and occasional whining, I wouldn't want any other job in the world. I will be thankful that I’m a writer, because when I’m lucky enough to find just the right words, my soul sings.

And what writer wouldn't want to accomplish that, even if it’s just for today?

~From Cathy C. Hall, wishing you bountiful words and blessings in 2013!

14 Comments on Just for Today, For a Writer, last added: 1/7/2013
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8. Win Writing Contests! (Or What I Learned From My Mistakes)

I've always loved contests. Though technically, what I love is winning contests. So imagine my surprise when, as a newbie writer, I found writing contests! I couldn't wait to enter all of ‘em! My little eyes lit up and my fingers flew and I sent in my scathingly brilliant entries and fees, and waited to see the word I knew would pop up in my email subject line: Congratulations!

Er...it didn't happen quite that way. In the beginning, I made a lot of mistakes. (But I learned valuable lessons.)

1. One of the very first contests I entered involved a HUGE payoff and a fun prompt. Terrific, right? Only it was a very specific (as in “incorporate these specific characters and this name-brand product into your story”) prompt. I spent hours, HOURS, writing my witty story, and not to brag, but it was pretty darn witty. Imagine my surprise when I did not win. All those hours, and all I had to show for my effort was a story that I could never submit anywhere else. That’s when I learned not to expend too much time writing a story to a limiting prompt.

2. Also among my list of first contests entered was a very literary, la-ti-da contest wherein I sent in a not so literary la-ti-da story. I would have known that my story didn't fit the contest if I’d spent just a little time, researching to get a feel for the contest. I suppose I was too busy researching how I was going to spend my winnings. Anyway, imagine my surprise when I did not win. That’s how I learned not to skip my homework before submitting my entries.

3. And speaking of that literary contest, I paid a hefty entry fee, too. And it was one of those contests like the Highlander: there could be only one. Winner, that is. It just goes to show that possibly, I could’ve used a little humility where my writing talent was concerned, and definitely, I could've used a little lesson in figuring odds. (Just one more reason why one should pay attention during math class.) I’m sure you can imagine my surprise when I did not win that one, solitary prize. But I did learn to pay attention to numbers, whether it was the entry fee, the prizes, or both.

If I’m being perfectly honest, I made more writing contest mistakes than the three I listed. But eventually, after learning a thing or two (or twenty), I spied that email subject line that read “Congratulations!”

Imagine my surprise when I finally won.

(Now that you've learned from my mistakes, you’re ready to try a writing contest! Check out WOW!’s Winter Flash Fiction Contest—an open prompt, twenty prizes, and info about the guest judge provided. Perfect, right?)

~Cathy C. Hall

9 Comments on Win Writing Contests! (Or What I Learned From My Mistakes), last added: 1/14/2013
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9. Don't Forget The Writing Budget!

So you've had a couple weeks to firm up your 2013 writing goals. You have a handle on what you hope to accomplish, and if you’re the really industrious type, you've hit the page running. It’s all good, as my kids are fond of saying.

But I've noticed that whenever my kids say, “Calm down, Mom. It’s all good,” it’s invariably not all good. They've forgotten something (something that’s usually terribly important). And so I thought I’d ask: Have you remembered your writing budget?

Your writing budget is just as important as your writing goals, especially if your goals tend towards the general rather than the specific. For example, let’s say that your 2013 goal is to focus on children’s writing, and to that end, you've decided to write every day, and read more in the children’s genres you’re targeting. That’s terrific, and you will be a better writer by the end of the year.

But if you have a writing budget, you can rev up your goal. With less than a hundred dollars, you can join a professional organization like SCBWI and reap the benefits of membership. With less than two hundred dollars, you can take a class in the children’s writing field you enjoy. Or you can attend a conference, and connect with other writers in your area. You can skip the expensive coffee a couple times a month and use that money to enter a few children’s writing contests. Contests are wonderful motivators, particularly later in the year when your writing get-up-and-go is threatening to get up and leave.

So it doesn't take an accountant to see that a writing budget will pay dividends down the road in your writing career.

But maybe you’re not a fiction writer. Maybe you’re a freelancer, or a poet, or working on your memoir, and you can’t see any benefits in joining a professional organization or attending a conference. But you still want to take your writing to the next level. Yep, you’re going to need a budget.

For less than a hundred dollars, you can set up your own website and jumpstart your online presence. If you can find two hundred dollars, you can take classes on freelance writing, memoir writing, even poetry writing. You might want to join a freelance job opportunities site; these sites can range from free to forty dollars a month. You could research mentorship, wherein writers set their own fees for what will help you the most.

So before your 2013 resolve fades, get out the calculator and work those numbers. Figure out your writing budget and stick to it. Then you can tell me, “It’s all good, Cathy.” And I just might believe you.

~Cathy C. Hall

3 Comments on Don't Forget The Writing Budget!, last added: 1/22/2013
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10. Groundhog Day, Time Loops, and Writing

So it’s Groundhog Day. And though lots of folks will be keeping an eye on Punxsutawney Phil and that whole shadow thing, I’ll be writing—and hoping to keep Groundhog Day time loops far away from my manuscript.

Do you know what I mean, about the Groundhog Day time loop? It’s from the 1993 movie with Bill Murray. The actor plays a journalist caught in a time loop who’s forced to relive the same day—February 2nd—over and over again. Basically, the poor guy is stuck until he figures out what he’s supposed to figure out.

It’s a very funny movie. But getting stuck in a time loop is not that amusing in real life. And now you’re re-reading that line, because you think time loops don’t happen in real life.

But they do, my writer friends. Only we call them…(dum, dum, dum) rewrites.

Now, sometimes a rewrite or two can make the difference between a so-so story and a scathingly brilliant story. But other times, when a writer gets stuck in the same manuscript, over and over and over again, it can drive one right over the edge and into the abyss of…well, I don’t want to think what might be in the abyss.

I have thought about the problem of endless rewrites, however, and I can tell you why I get stuck in a manuscript: I keep trying to make a story (or an article) work without really figuring out what I want to say. And so in my rewrite loop, I move a paragraph here or a chunk of text there. I revise the opening fifteen times or obsess over a sentence until every individual word shines. But when I read what I've (re)written, it still doesn't work. Because moving words around doesn't help me figure out what I want to say.

It’s awful, getting stuck in that rewrite loop. And it’s even more awful when it’s a 60,000-word novel manuscript rather than a 2,000-word article or a 500-word essay. But the way to get unstuck is the same, no matter how many words are on the page.

Step back from the words and think. Think about the point you want to make, the theme you’re trying to convey. Strip away the pretty phrases, the chunks of subtext, and get down on the page the very basic idea you started with when you began to write.

Then go back to your work and craft the words into sentences, the sentences into paragraphs, the paragraphs into story. Your rewrite might be a completely different manuscript than the twenty that have come before, but at last you will have figured it out. Birds will sing, the sun will shine, and you and Bill Murray and yes, even Punxsutawney Phil, can finally move on.

~Cathy C. Hall

7 Comments on Groundhog Day, Time Loops, and Writing, last added: 2/5/2013
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11. Getting a Digital Autograph with Authorgraph

When e-readers came out, I put my nose in the air and told all my writer friends, “Not for me.”

But then my writer friends started getting books published, and I wanted to buy their books, and the digital book was often cheaper. And besides, everyone else had an e-reader. So I said, “Maybe I’ll try one.”

My husband gave me an e-reader, and then I downloaded tons of books, because I could carry SO many books with me in one handy, little device. But up popped a glitch. How to get a friend to sign a digital book?

Lucky for authors (and fans of authors), Evan Jacobs was one step ahead of me. He came up with Authorgraph, a fun way to get a digital autograph.

It’s a pretty simple idea, and it’s a free service, too. If you’re an author, all you need to do is sign up with Authorgraph, and then add your books to the site. You can check out the Author FAQ page for all the details, but basically, adding a book is as easy as finding the ASIN number on your book. And yes, Evan explains exactly how to find the number.

Oh! And your book doesn’t even have to be a digital one. It can be hardcover or a paperback as well as an e-book. Plus, you can choose to use the script provided for your signature, or sign your name in your own, unique way.

For readers, it’s just as simple. Go to the site and find an author’s book, then request an inscription. You can even ask for a personal inscription. It's a nice way to let an author know you like their work.

And I think it’s worth the few minutes for authors to sign up. This past week, a non-local writer friend of mine mentioned (via social media) that she had joined the site. I have her first book in a trilogy, a paperback, with a personal inscription. Now, I’ll ask her to sign her second book for me on Authorgraph. I haven’t purchased it yet, but I can still get it signed because the authorgraph is a separate document.

I know it’s not quite the same as getting a book signed. But it’s a fun application for readers, and it might even help authors sell more books.

Because I’ll surely add my writer friend’s newest book to my TBB (To Be Bought) pile, now that I have her authorgraph. And I’ll get the e-book. Because as I said just the other day to my critique group, “You know I’m all for e-readers.”

~Cathy C. Hall

11 Comments on Getting a Digital Autograph with Authorgraph, last added: 2/17/2013
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12. Why Taking a Risk at a Writer’s Conference Is a Good Thing

I’m at a writer’s conference this weekend, and at first, I was disappointed that several of my good friends wouldn't be attending this year. But then I thought, that’s okay. I won’t play it safe. You see, when I don’t know many people at an event, I’m sort of a different person.

It’s funny but true. I stand a little taller, I smile a bit more. I can’t be lazy, falling back on the old reliables. When I look around and don’t recognize anyone, I have to put my best foot forward. I want to make a favorable first impression, so walking into a room full of strangers definitely keeps me on my toes.

Now, maybe you’re wondering why I bother. After all, we go to writer’s conferences to learn writing stuff, right? Isn't it enough to find a chair and take copious notes at the workshops? Maybe pay extra-close attention if you've paid for a manuscript critique?

Well, yes, there’s that purpose to the conference. But a writer’s conference is also a wonderful opportunity to make a few connections. If you play it safe, you’ll never meet anyone. So you have to take the risk, and give yourself a push.

Of course, us writers are notoriously reserved. If we liked the whole social scene, we probably wouldn't be hunkered down in our cubbyholes, writing. So. How to pack a push?

Come prepared to put yourself out there. Bring business cards to share. Sit at the table where no one seems to know anyone. Polish up your elevator pitch. You may not meet many agents to pitch, but every time you meet someone new, you have a chance to fine-tune that pitch, and that’s incredibly beneficial. Because if you’re having difficulty figuring out what your novel is really about, explaining it to strangers, and getting their reactions, can be very illuminating.

Don’t forget to ask people what they’re writing. Writers may not always be the most social creatures, but I've never met one who didn't like talking about the work. And don’t be surprised if you meet a couple true kindred spirits.

Once, I overheard a writer discussing zombies. As it happens, zombies are one of my favorite topics. So we had a lively chat (Yes, I know. That was bad.). She’s a gifted novelist, and a generous writing friend—and I've bought several of her books since that conference.

The thing is, you may meet a couple editors or agents at a conference, and that’s swell. Maybe you’ll meet up in social media, and maybe some day, somehow, that connection will pay off. Meanwhile, the struggling writers you meet, the folks who live in your area and who are on that same publishing journey as you, might become your new best friends. Friends who’ll support you along the way, just like you’ll support them.

It all starts with that moment when you decide to take a risk—and say hello.

~Cathy C. Hall

5 Comments on Why Taking a Risk at a Writer’s Conference Is a Good Thing, last added: 2/25/2013
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13. Before You Write The First Word

Has this ever happened to you?

You pick up a book, one of those books that everyone’s buzzing about, and ten pages in, your jaw drops. Not because it’s such an awesomely written book (although it may well be) but because you've had an eerily similar idea.

Or maybe you pick up a magazine and scan the articles, nodding. Until you stop in mid-scan, your eyes riveted to a title that’s exactly like the article you were thinking of pitching.

Writers hit on similar concepts all the time, and I’m sure we all have a similar response when we see our great idea published. The pulling-the-hair-out, screeching, “You have got to be kidding me,” and throwing the offending book (or magazine) across the room reaction.

Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, after my little hissy fit, I heave a huge sigh and thank my lucky stars.

Yep, I’m grateful. Grateful that I found that novel or article before I invested my time and effort into all that writing. Maybe I’d only scribbled a few notes about plot and characters, or just a “What if?” question for a pitch. But after reading what’s been published, I know that my idea is not different enough to pursue any further. Time to move on to the next idea.

Researching ideas before you write about them is an important part of the writing process. I know it’s hard when you think you have the best idea ever. You want to pound out that manuscript while you’re super excited. You want to put together that piece for a major market that’s going to make you famous in the freelance world.

Except. Except that your time is valuable. You simply can’t afford not to do your homework. Besides, editors and agents won’t waste their time on something they've already seen.

So before you pound out that first chapter or even that first paragraph, do a little investigating. If you have an idea for a novel, check comparable titles. Consider the broad concept as well as the specific concept. Take, for example, a story about purple people eaters. It may be hard to believe that some other writer has penned a novel about purple people eaters (And P.S. They have.). But there are a ton of zombie books. And if you take away the purple part, you've basically got a people eater, right? Is your story different enough from not only the purple people eater books out there, but also the zombie books on the shelves?

As for articles, an Internet search will let you know very quickly if your idea has a unique angle or the same old, same old stuff that editors get every day.

But take heart. Publishing success can happen for you—if your great idea has an original spin. So do your research before you write the first word. (And cross your fingers that your idea will get out there first!)

~Cathy C. Hall

11 Comments on Before You Write The First Word, last added: 3/6/2013
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14. The Importance of Writing Your Best Words

I received an email the other day that began, “Dear Cathy, Prior to 2007, you submitted a story…”

Wait. What? I read the first line again, just to make sure. I mean, 2007? But yes, six years ago, I sent a story out into the world and it landed on this editor’s desk. She’d liked it then, but the anthology that it was planned for hadn't materialized. Now, she was contacting me to include this same story in another anthology. Was I interested?

I was indeed interested. I’m always happy to have an opportunity at publication. But more than publication, I thought about the words we send out into the world and how important it is to always send out your best.

Of course, we know (or we should know by now) that when it comes to our words, they have a very long shelf life, thanks to modern technology. Whether it’s a comment on a blog post or a submission gathering electronic dust in a virtual file, it’s important to think about what we’re writing and how we write it.

Take a query, for example. It’s just a query, you say. Agents don’t even read those, you think. And that may be true. A polite, professional query may be quickly read and deleted, while a rushed, badly penned query blasted across the agent universe may get you noticed—as the example of what not to do—on an agent’s blog.

And then there are the articles, the stories, and the manuscripts, the words you've toiled over for days, months, and oftentimes, years. Resist the temptation to send out something that’s not quite ready. You know the kind of temptation I’m talking about. The midnight deadline for a themed anthology or contest where you’re working right up to the last minute. Or the deadline on a conference submission opportunity where you’re down to the last possible day. Your words are so close and you think, “It’s good enough.” And you want to click on SEND because you've worked so very hard. But sometimes, the hard part is sitting on writing that’s not good enough—yet.

It will be good enough, some day. Keep working, and make your words the best you can write before you send them out into the world. And success, even if it’s six years later, is sure to follow!

P.S. The anthology where you might see my story included is one of Publishing Syndicate’s Not Your Mother’s Books. They have a ton of titles still open for submissions, and they’re keen on getting as many writers as possible published. Send your best words and see what happens!

~Cathy C. Hall

9 Comments on The Importance of Writing Your Best Words, last added: 4/7/2013
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15. Selling Books: What's Tags Got To Do With It?

There are little things that we can do to help authors, and in turn, help them sell a couple books. Like checking off tags—a small task that can reap big benefits.

But What Are Tags?

Let’s say you’ve just finished a book and you think it’s swell and you want to help the author optimize her/his web presence. So you find the title on Amazon, then you scroll down past the basic info, past the reviews, perhaps past a few more sections, and then bam! Say hello to the Tags.

Here are the tags for the book, Love Comes Later, currently on a WOW! blog tour:

Tags Customers Associate with This Product

Click on a tag to find related items, discussions, and people.
Check the boxes next to the tags you consider relevant or enter your own tags in the field below.
contemporary romance(7)multicultural romance(7)london(6)middle east(6) olympics(6)qatar(5)romance(5)kindle free(1) kindle freebie(1)      Agree with these tags?

So tags are keywords or labels. They have tons of uses and you can find out more here. But you want to know what tags have to do with selling books.

Why Tag?

When you click on a book’s tag, you’re sending a vote. You’re saying, “Yes! I agree this book is about this label or that label.” The more times a particular tag is clicked (like contemporary romance), the more that book will show up in searches (of contemporary romance). So checking the tags helps that author’s book get more exposure. Easy, right?

And authors, you can help yourself by tagging your own book! You can add up to 15 tags, and you make it a little easier for your readers to vote when they can click on that “Agree with these tags?” button.

Is That All There Is To It?

Well, you have to be signed in to your Amazon account for your tags to register. And your tags will only count on whatever edition of the book you tagged (ie. hardcover, paperback, Kindle). And really, you should read the book so that your tags are accurate.

But, yeah. That’s it. So check those tags—and help sell a book!

~from Cathy C. Hall

2 Comments on Selling Books: What's Tags Got To Do With It?, last added: 8/2/2012
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16. Preparation: Don't Leave Home Without It

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.


I am a big believer in preparation, especially when it comes to writing conferences. Probably because I look at conferences as more of “workferences.” I mean, yes, I confer with a ton of people. But honestly, I work that event like a politician in a room full of babies.

Which doesn’t exactly sound polite. And I am very polite. But I’m also a writer determined to maximize my return of investment. And that takes weeks of preparation before I ever walk (nervously) through the doors of opportunity.

Here’s what I do. (Maybe it’ll help you.)

Check the schedule and target the sessions that offer you the advice and information you need for where you are in your writer’s journey. If you’re a sparkly new writer, you’ll want to find classes for the beginner. But if you have a couple of finished manuscripts, you'll want to hear what agents and editors have to say. Most conferences offer plenty of sessions, for all levels of writers.

Research the speakers. Read the books they’ve authored, or at least familiarize yourself with what they’ve published. For agents, know what they’re looking for, and for editors, check the books they’ve edited. Because you may find yourself at lunch (mostly because you planned it that way) sitting next to the editor from a huge publishing house. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could say, “Oh, I loved (fill-in-the-blank-with-a-book-she-edited)!” And a delightful conversation ensues.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You don’t want to be that writer, the one who’s sucking up. But you’re not sucking up; you’re working. Speakers want to help you. They’re happy to share their expertise. They come to conferences, expecting to meet and talk with lots and lots of writers. They’re looking for their next writer star.

Of course, if you know too much about a speaker, you’re saying, “I’m that crazy writer who’ll pick up your used napkin after you leave.” You do not want to be that writer.

You do want to be that writer who says, “Wow. That conference was worth every penny!” So put in the work before the conference and you may find yourself quoting Henry Hartman who said, “Success happens when opportunity meets preparation.”

(I prepare Cathy-on-a-Stick for conferences as well. But she never really behaves herself.)

4 Comments on Preparation: Don't Leave Home Without It, last added: 9/1/2012
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17. Book Review: Finding My Place by Margo L. Dill

I know some of you may find this hard to believe, but here goes. It’s not that easy to get middle-schoolers interested in history. It’s so . . . yesterday.

And then authors like Margo L. Dill come along with finely-researched and gripping historical fiction like Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg and teachers can breathe a happy sigh of relief.

But you don’t have to be a teacher to sigh happily over Finding My Place. There’s plenty for everyone to like in Dill’s authentic and plucky thirteen-year-old protagonist, Anna Green, and her riveting story about the 1863 Siege of Vicksburg. In Anna’s Civil War tale, we’re grabbed from the first page and taken on a journey beyond the battlefields where Rebels and Blue Bellies fight. Anna brings readers to the emotional heart of life during the War Between the States.

Finding My Place literally starts with a bang. Grant’s army is desperate to take the advantageously-situated city of Vicksburg, and so the local citizens have retreated to caves built in the surrounding soft clay hills to escape constant shelling. We feel Anna’s anguish as she, along with her mother and siblings, rush to take cover and wait to see what their future will be. We learn that Anna fears for the safety of her older brother and father, who are fighting in General Lee’s army.

And then unbearable tragedy strikes, and Anna is forced to somehow find a way to keep her hurting family together, all the while trying to find her own place in this new and harrowing world that used to be home.

I so love this young heroine, Anna. She’s courageous, yes, but she struggles with her fears and the deprivations of siege conditions in the way that any thirteen-year-old would. She’s challenged by constant doubts, and yet she finds the determination to do what needs to be done. Anna’s voice carries the story with adolescent honesty, whether she’s describing the horrors of a Civil War hospital, the possibility of eating rats, the inhumane treatment of a neighbor’s slave, or the awakening of feelings she has for a certain handsome young man.

I’m a big fan of historical fiction. I love finding gems of information, the fascinating tidbits left out of the history books. And I especially like when a well-crafted, believable story brings history alive for me. Margo L. Dill has done a great job of providing both in her debut novel, Finding My Place.

Educational resources are included, making this novel an excellent addition to the classroom library as well as the home library. It’s an adventurous read with true-to-life characters and compelling Civil War history that middle-schoolers, boys or girls, will enjoy. And P.S. Even the rather mature way-beyond-middle-schoolers who love history can learn something new in Finding My Place!


If Margo L. Dill sounds familiar that's because she's contributing editor of WOW! Women On Writing, as well as a columnist, blogger, and instructor. We're so excited about her debut novel, and she graciously provided a copy for giveaway! Enter the Rafflecopter form below for a chance to win. Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg makes a great gift for middle-schoolers this holiday season. The contest closes December 6th. If you don't win, you can pick up a copy at Amazon or an autographed copy on her website. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

12 Comments on Book Review: Finding My Place by Margo L. Dill, last added: 12/6/2012
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18. Have You Been Endorsed?

If you've joined LinkedIn, chances are good that you've been endorsed. Chances are also good that you received an email, telling you about an endorsement, and said, “How nice!” Followed very quickly by “Huh?”

Of course, you probably know what it means to be endorsed. But if you want to know the how-to’s of LinkedIn’s endorsement feature, just search “endorsing” in the Help tab.

I’m not sure how I feel about this new feature for writers. On the one hand, LinkedIn makes it very easy for your connections to endorse writing skills and expertise. A simple click and look! Cathy C. Hall’s been endorsed for Chicago Style.

As it happens, I think I have a fairly decent grasp of the Chicago Manual of Style's editing. And for the most part, I've been endorsed by professionals and/or editors who would have knowledge of my expertise. But I've also been endorsed by connections with whom I've never worked. How would they know about my editing skills?

As it also happens, I’m only human. So when I’d see that someone had endorsed me (that’s where the email from LinkedIn comes in), I’d feel all warm and fuzzy inside and suddenly, click! I found myself endorsing that person back, just to pass along the writing love.

Until after a few of the endorsements, courtesy of people I didn't have firsthand professional experience with, and then I began to squirm, even if I chose writing as an endorsement (which seemed like a pretty safe bet).

See, I’m all for helping my fellow writers, and if that means bolstering their credentials with an endorsement, I’ll happily click. But I’m big on honesty and integrity, too, and I think an endorsement should mean something. So I find that these days, unless I can honestly vouch for a connection, the emails languish in my inbox without the payback endorsement.

I don’t fault LinkedIn that folks have gone overboard with the endorsements, trying to pile up skills like chips in a poker game so that the person with the most endorsements wins. I suspect that the feature started as a good idea, an easy way to make giving our business associates and friends a professional boost. After all, the Recommendation feature takes time. You have to write a whole paragraph or so if you want to recommend someone’s skills and expertise. But the Endorsement feature, now that’s more to our hurry-up society’s style. One click affirmation—you can’t get any more convenient than that, right?

So maybe it’s just me. Maybe the LinkedIn endorsement feature is rocking the writing world and I’m making an ethical mountain of an easy-to-use molehill. So I’m asking you. Have you been endorsed? And how do you feel about this new LinkedIn feature?

~ Cathy C. Hall

12 Comments on Have You Been Endorsed?, last added: 12/11/2012
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19. For The Writer Who Makes A Wish List

It’s the time of year for wish lists, right? And maybe you have a whole slew of great writer gifts on your wish list (and I hope you get ‘em!). But I’m not talking about that kind of wish list. I’m talking about the list you drew up in the beginning of the year, way back in January when 2012 was sparkly and new and you wished for…well, what did you wish for?

A publishing contract? An agent? Maybe a couple acceptances from those magazines and ezines you've been querying?

Whatever your writer’s heart desired, you may have written it all down on a nifty, highly organized list. That’s what I do. And in December, I pull out my list to see how I've done.

So, friends, there’s good news and bad news when it comes to making a list. The good news is that you have this nifty, highly organized list of everything you hoped to achieve in 2012. Everything you wanted to accomplish is right there, conveniently spelled out in black and white (though I’m partial to colored ink pens, so for me, teal and white). And look! You can check off this hope, this dream, this wish! Whee!

But now you must face the bad news. Because there is also everything you wanted to accomplish and didn't, conveniently spelled out in black (or teal) and white.

So checking the list twice is not always a fun activity. In fact, it can be a rather depressing activity. Fortunately, I have a cheer-myself-up activity: I read W. B. Yeat’s poem, To A Friend Whose Work Has Come To Nothing. (Yes, I know it doesn't sound cheery right now, but bear with me. It gets better.)

Now, I have no idea who William’s friend was who needed a boost; it’s likely that this poem was meant to cheer a comrade in a political context. But I've always thought it would work well for those of us in the arts. I know this poem always makes me feel better, especially the last bit: Be secret and exult, because of all things known that is most difficult.

I do exult, eventually, in spite of failures. I know that though long, hair-pulling hours at the keyboard may not be rewarded today, they will bear fruit someday. I know that if I keep pushing myself, and keep making those lists, and checking off the small successes, at some point, the bigger successes will come. I believe that persistence pays off, even if now, it appears my work has come to nothing.

So check your list. And don’t cry or pout. Be secret and exult, friends. You will succeed, as long as you keep working at your writing.

~Cathy C. Hall

10 Comments on For The Writer Who Makes A Wish List, last added: 12/14/2012
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20. A Writing Gift You Can Open Now

Have you ever participated in a blog hop among writers? Or maybe a blog party, where you visit all the participating bloggers? I love dropping in to blogs during these wordy events. It’s a great way to find new and sparkly writers (and blogs).

Last week, I blog-partied, visiting over thirty blogs, and somewhere around the tenth blog, I had one of those “Isn't this interesting?” moments. I realized that most of the blogs were lacking a name.

Now, I don’t mean the blogs didn't have clever names. In fact, writers are extremely clever and so I found many blogs with “punny” names. Like “The Write Word for the Job” (which I totally just made up. The writers’ blogs I visited were much more clever than that). What I didn't find on all these clever blogs was a name to identify the writer, a little something something to tell me who was behind all the clever words. Oh, there were occasional “About Me” tabs, but honestly, when you’re flitting from blog to blog, who has time to stop and click on the tabs?

Or maybe that’s just me. The point is, visiting a mystery blog is like…well, it’s like getting a gift with no idea who the sender is. You know how that drives you crazy? A tag with "To: You, From: Guess Who?" When you receive something nice, you want to know who to thank, right? You do not want to go zipping around here and there, trying to track down the Secret Santa.

Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, eventually, it was more than just my personal pet peeve. Around the halfway mark, I started to feel bad for all these talented bloggers—skillful, funny, madly creative bloggers who were writing their hearts out and not getting the promotional benefits to go along with it. Because see, one of the great perks for writers who participate in a blog hop or a blog party is getting new visitors to the blog. And if those new visitors connect with the blogger, they’ll be back.

So how do you, as a blogger, make that connection? Share a few personal details; give your readers a peek at your personality. Who’s writing the blog? And throw in other information: social media sites you’re on, or your membership in organizations, or where you've been published. And put these details on the front page. Sidebars are a great tool for that kind of info, and ready-made info widgets are yours for the taking (and slapping in your sidebar).

Just a little writing tip, sort of my “To: Bloggers, From: Cathy C. Hall” holiday present. And hey, if you don’t need it, I’m fine with you re-gifting it.

4 Comments on A Writing Gift You Can Open Now, last added: 12/31/2012
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