Monday, April 21, 2014

What Makes Writing Great?

What is the secret to great writing?


Tight writing?

Good editing?

Engaging prose?

A heart full of ideas?

An active imagination?

Smart critique partners?

A flair for putting the right words together?

I believe it takes a friendly, liberal blend of these ingredients to produce great writing. While individuals might differ in their opinions, one element remains constant. We must engage the reader.

Perhaps poet Matthew Arnold had the right idea when he said,

"Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret."

Writing for ourselves is a wonderful - even therapeutic, activity.  Most writers, myself included, would still write if no one ever read our work. However, if we desire to reach others, to be published, it is crucial to provide reader appeal. Easier said than done, but doable with patience and a healthy combination of the elements listed above.

A Spring Contest

Want to practice some great writing? Check out the 83rd Annual Writer's Digest Competition. WD is offering great prizes with categories that include fiction, non fiction, children, poetry, inspirational, and more. Early entry deadline is May 5, 2014. Find details here.

A Break

I'll be taking a break until May 11, 2014 as I need to work on my next book, do some spring cleaning, and just take a breather. See you soon!

Do you agree with Mr. Arnold? Would you add any items to the list above? What are your secrets to great writing?

Happy writing,

Photo credit: Stock Exchange

Monday, April 14, 2014

Steps to a Great Book Launch by Carol J. Alexander

Author Carol J. Alexander knows a bit about book launches. Her latest ebook, Homestead Cooking with Carol was released in January and has caused quite a stir (no pun intended!). It boasts fifteen five star reviews already. Readers are thrilled with Carol's friendly, down to earth style, helpful advice, resources, and recipes. I was pleased when she suggested sharing her book launch experience. Whether you have aspirations of writing a book or not, I think you'll find Carol's tips and insight inspiring.

Steps to a Great Book Launch
By Carol J. Alexander

Labor Day, 2013 marked the beginning for me. That weekend, while vacationing with my sister in Denver, I started my book Homestead Cooking with Carol: Bountiful Make-ahead Meals. I didn’t intend to begin while at my sister’s. I enrolled in a class to get this thing done and that is when the class began. 

From start to launch, the process took five months. I didn’t begin from scratch, though. I began with a handful of blog posts that I thought would make a great book. The instructor helped me to turn them into something folks would buy. If you’re interested in a class in micro-publishing, check out the offerings of Christina Katz

This post isn’t about the process of writing an e-book that sells; it’s about how to get that book in front of the masses, in front of those folks that will pay for your hard work. So follow along as I take you on my journey to launch.

Have a Tribe

In 2007, I began a blog. I had no interest in blogging. I did it because I read in Writer’s Digest that writers need a platform. The platform that I’ve worked to build since that time is what sold my book right out of the chute. 

I don’t have big numbers. A few thousand, total, if you add my email list with my blog and Facebook followers. But I capitalized on those numbers, and those relationships, when it came time to spread the word. If you don’t have a tribe, it’s foolish to think that your book will be found among the millions of others on Amazon’s shelves.

Collect Testimonials

When I had a final draft, I contacted folks in my niche and asked them to read my book and give me two to three sentences I could use on my sales page. I asked every day folks, and I asked top name bloggers. Once I had the testimonials, I created emails to send out to my list and I created the landing page for my website.

Soft Launch

Before the digital version was ready, I did a soft launch of the PDF version to just my tribe. I had a giveaway for a free copy on my blog; I offered a special introductory price just for my followers; and I hosted a Facebook party to talk about homestead cooking. By doing this, I was alerted to anything that needed adjustment (like pesky typos) before the digital conversion. The soft launch also helped me to earn the money I needed to pay for BookBaby to handle the digital distribution.

The toughest part in the process of a book launch is waiting on others. I wanted to launch my book in time for the Christmas shopping season. That didn’t happen. The hardest part was waiting on BookBaby, and then for it to hit Amazon shelves. Use this waiting time to get your ducks in a row. It will pay off later.

Hard Launch

For the launch in digital formats, I had a team of 18 bloggers waiting to do a blog tour. Some of them simply reviewed the book. Some interviewed me, some tried out recipes. As soon as I saw the book on Amazon, I emailed them to get reviews up. You want as many reviews on Amazon as you can get before anyone goes to buy your book. 

We started the tour the next Monday and it ran for two weeks. Every day on Facebook I announced the next stop in the tour. The bloggers shared with their tribes, added the reviews to blog hops, and pretty much went out of their way to promote my book. They did this because they wanted to help. It goes back to those relationships I built over the years. These folks also know I will do the same for them when they need it.

Also during the launch, I hosted a teleconference to discuss homestead cooking. It was another way to connect with readers, promote the book, and build relationships.

Ongoing Promotion

Book promotion never ends. I have a review/interview scheduled for a national magazine. I write related magazine articles and mention the book in my bio. Also, make sure you create an author page on Amazon and list it in your email signature. Just this week an editor offered me a regular cooking column because she saw “cooking” in my email signature.

Shortly after my soft launch, I noticed a huge spike in blog traffic. A major blog had linked to my granola post and it was driving a lot of folks my way. To capitalize on that traffic, I created a little ad for my book and dropped it at the end of every one of my food-related posts. "For more homestead cooking ideas like this one, get a copy of Homestead Cooking with Carol: Bountiful Make-ahead Meals." I hyperlinked the ad to my landing page.

Print launch

I’ve had a lot of requests for a print version of Homestead Cooking. I’m looking into the possibilities. When that happens, I will have another launch event to get the word out. I will also have books to carry in my bag wherever I go, to sell at conferences, to give as gifts.

A few more random tips that helped me:

  • Make a checklist of absolutely everything, even minor things that you could forget.
  • Test everything: every link, every page, everything.
  • Do not do technical tasks late at night when you are tired. Things that involve coding, setting e-junkie parameters, uploading, downloading, or things that require a fresh mind. If you do, and a reader finds your mistakes, thank her/him profusely. 
  • Send out winning copies from giveaways promptly. When you send out those copies, ask for an Amazon review.

That’s about it. I’d be happy to answer any questions in the comments. Or if you have a success to share, please let us hear about it, too. :)

Visit Carol:

Her website 

Her blog

Amazon author page

Buy Homestead Cooking with Carol

Great advice, thanks Carol, for sharing with us. Wishing you all the best!

Do you have any questions for Carol? Do you have a "tribe"? Are you part of one?

Have a great week,


Friday, April 11, 2014

Book Review - A Beauty So Rare

A Beauty So Rare

by Tamera Alexander                      
Bethany House 

Due to difficult circumstances, Eleanor Braddock is forced to sell her family home and move to Belmont Mansion in Nashville where her Aunt Adelicia lives. Eleanor and her father must depend on her Aunt’s generosity until she can get established and make a living. This is no easy task, especially in post Civil War Tennessee. Making matters worse, her father suffers from dementia brought on in part by his son’s death during the war.

Marcus Gottfried has a secret; his noble roots extend overseas to Austria. He is working in Nashville briefly prior to returning home to assume his expected royal duties. He is enjoying his time in the states - for the first time in his life, he’s able to make his own way and work in his chosen field of architecture. His father and fiancĂ©e, however, are pressuring him to return to Austria sooner rather than later.

Nearing her 30th birthday, Eleanor has long since given up hope of getting married. She’s accepted the fact that she’s plain and practical, not to mention tall, and looks ahead to what she believes God has called her to do.  Marcus and Eleanor meet at Belmont; their first meeting does not go well. Eleanor thinks Marcus is arrogant and too good looking for his own good. They form an unlikely friendship, though, finding they have more in common than they thought.

I liked Eleanor immediately. I cannot say the same for Marcus, but I hoped he would grow as the story progressed. (He did!)  Ms. Alexander has a flair for creating genuine characters, ones you cannot help but care about, especially as the plot thickens. Their struggles, insecurities, and triumphs nearly leap off the page. I like that. Another thing I enjoyed - I learned much about the post Civil War days in Nashville due to Alexander's attention to detail and accurate research.

Alexander masterfully weaves a journey that teaches Eleanor and Marcus about life, disappointment, and love. They learn much about themselves and others in the oft frustrating yet rewarding time they share together.  The combination of a rich plot, setting, and characters add up to another success story to Alexander’s credit. She is an author you can count on to deliver an engaging tale every time.

A Beauty So Rare is available at:

Bethany House


Note: I received a free ecopy of this book from Bethany House for honest review purposes only.

What are you reading this weekend?

Happy weekend,


Monday, April 7, 2014

"The Little Engine That Could!" by Jennifer Brown Banks

Jennifer Brown Banks stops by today to share her wit and wisdom as only she can. I trust her words will encourage you as they have me. :)

My Life as a Metaphor
How I Became “The Little Engine That Could!”      
(And you can too)
By: Jennifer Brown Banks

I’ve always been known to “dance to a beat of a different drummer.”

So, it stands to reason that my blogging approach would follow suit.

Initially, I had some false starts. I used the direction that other popular Bloggers before me had ventured, as a navigational “G.P.S.” system of sorts. But, doing so caused a few detours.

Though I studied their work, remembered their advice, and sought to emulate their success, I realized that the journey I was to embark upon had to be mapped out for the most part, by me. After assessing my options, I decided upon the road less traveled.

Little did I know that my story would become symbolic of “The Little Engine that Could.”

Here’s why…

I was smaller in size than many of the other Bloggers in my niche; yet, I felt just as compelled to share my message and my gifts.

I believed that power was not defined by size, but by impact. I didn’t allow myself to be intimidated. When I sought to guest post around the blogosphere, (as the experts advised), I targeted award-winning sites and famous folks: Pro Blogger, Men With Pens, Daily Blog Tips, and the Well-Fed Writer. They all gave me the green light and ultimately accepted my submissions. Though I was a small player, I managed to have my work presented on some pretty major stages.

The moral of the story here: You can too. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

I didn’t travel in the fast lane.

My blog’s pace was a bit slow, but steady; the growth was organic. There were no tricks, no gimmicks, no give-aways to get people to sign up. I merely tried to add value to the blogging community. I interacted with my readers, and I kept moving forward; even though at times I felt overlooked and passed up.

The moral of the story here: Blogging is a journey, not a destination. Keep chugging along.

I “spouted” in an authentic way.

Political correctness aside, I shared my own personal truths: whether it was about my relationship with chocolate, or my relationship with God. My views didn’t always mirror the majority, but they always reflected what was in my heart and based upon my (humble) experience.

The moral of the story here: In a world of far too many phonies, avoid “lip syncing”; develop your own true writer’s “voice.”

I said no to SEO.

According to the experts, without Search Engine Optimization, my Blog would be as invisible as a woman trying to get her fellow‘s attention during the Super Bowl. Still, without it, folks have managed to find me, and I’ve garnered some unexpected attention along the way.

The recognition includes…but is not limited to:

* Sybil Chavis, at Possibility of Today, (and a Harvard Graduate) recognized me in her “60 of the Best Minds in the  Blogosphere.”
* Blog World featured me in their “16 Brilliant Bloggers” Series.
* I was selected in the “Power 100” compilation of the Best Blogs for Modern Writers in 2013 by
* And recently my site was chosen as one of the Top 25 Writing Blogs by Positive Writer.

The moral of the story here:

Sometimes we have to be our own designated “expert.” Trust our gut.

We must chart a course that takes into consideration our goals, our strengths and weaknesses, our lifestyle, and our own personal dreams.

It’s the only way to stay on track, gain ground, and go the distance!

Are you on board?

Jennifer Brown Banks is a veteran freelance writer, ghost writer and pro blogger. Her Blog, Pen and Prosper, was recently recognized by, among “The Power 100”---the best sites for modern writers in 2013.   

How about it, are you on board with Jennifer?

Happy writing,


Photo credit: Stock Exchange

The winner of the chocolate giveaway is Keith Wynn. Congratulations Keith! Thanks to everyone who stopped by!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Chocolate Giveaway & Blogoversary Recap

It's been a wonderful 5th Blogoversary Month. Thanks to everyone who stopped by to help me celebrate. I appreciate you all so much! Without you, my blog would be boring.

It's been a busy month! Here is a summary:

On March 3, aka National Grammar Day, we discussed Active versus Passive writing.

The fabulous Robyn Campbell stopped by on March 10 for a fun interview.

Fellow Helping Hands Press author Jen Cudmore shared her thoughts on professional correspondence on March 17. Here's the link if you missed it.

Find March 24th's interview with my writing mentor and friend Dr. MaryAnn Diorio here.

I also made a few appearances:

Celebrating Women's History Month with a post at the Coffeehouse for Writers' Blog.

Stopped by the Wednesday's Writer's Workspace at The Writing Nut.

Visited Gelati's Scoop to discuss The Blogging Code.

Shared poetry writing tips for kids at Carol J. Alexander's Lessons From the Homestead.

The Chocolate Giveaway

What blogoversary is complete without chocolate, right? I knew you'd agree! :)

I will assemble a little custom chocolate package for one follower according to their preference (milk or dark chocolate). Kindly follow the instructions below.

  • You must be a GFC (Google Friend Connect follower) and leave your email address with your comment.
  • Gain bonus entries (+1 each) by posting this on Facebook, your blog, and/or Twitter. Please total your entries and include links with your comment.
  • Open to residents of the United States.
  • Deadline to enter is midnight EST Thursday, April 3, 2014. Winner will be chosen by, notified via email, and will have 36 hours to respond or another winner will be chosen.

Join me next week when Jennifer Brown Banks stops by to share her timeless wisdom. Carol J. Alexander visits in April too to discuss her journey to publication.

What have you been celebrating lately? Have a great week!

Happy writing,

Karen :)

Congrats to Medeia Sharif, Robyn Campbell, and Janette Dolores - they are last week's giveaway winners of MaryAnn Diorio's books!

Photo credit #1: Stock Exchange
Photo credit #2: Stock Exchange

Friday, March 28, 2014

Spring Writing Prompts

Writing Prompts

How do you feel about writing prompts? They intimidate some writers and engage others. Still others have never tried them.

I think there's a common misconception about prompts - that when you use one, it has to be just so. Unless it's an assignment for a class or for a specific project, I say there are no rules. Just an opportunity to write and perhaps build better writing habits.

Prompts help stretch writing muscles in other directions. For example, I don't write poetry. Writing it never appealed to me, so I don't include it in my lineup. But when tutoring a young student required writing limericks, I found the exercise stretched me. And that was a good thing. Writing practice (of any type) can produce growth and generate interesting ideas for other projects too.

One of the simplest prompts is a sentence. It acts as a brainstorming tool, a story starter, headline, or a hook to draw the reader in.

Try this:

She should have listened to her grandmother.


He stared at the marigolds in the garden.


"How much is a pint of strawberries?"

One of my favorite prompts is Hemingway's Challenge. Someone challenged Hemingway to write a six word story. This is what he wrote:

For sale, baby shoes. Never used. 

Not only does this illustrate the six word story concept, it provides great word economy practice.

Want to try a few more? Check out these links:

Writing Prompts 

Writer's Digest Prompts

Daily Blog Tips

Special Note

This Friday post is part of the Blogtastic weekend event from my publisher, Helping Hands Press. Hop over to their Facebook page for more posts from the HHP authors.

Have you ever used writing prompts? How do you stretch your writing muscles? 

Happy weekend,
P.S. I'm sharing tips for writing poetry with kids over at Carol J. Alexander's Homestead blog. Hop over if you are so inclined!

Photo credit: Stock Exchange

Monday, March 24, 2014

Interview with Author MaryAnn Diorio

I am thrilled to host Dr. MaryAnn Diorio for my Good Friends Old and New themed 5th Blogoversary celebration. MaryAnn is an award winning author, novelist, and poet. Her works include A Christmas Homecoming, Selling Yourself on You, and Enslow Publisher's The Student's Guide series that include Herman Melville,  Mark Twain, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. 

MaryAnn was the first writer I connected with in person through the New Jersey Society of Christian Writers. For this super newbie writer back in the 1990's, this was quite exciting. After all, MaryAnn was a real writer, and she was talking to me! She became a wonderful friend, mentor, and a huge influence on my writing. 

MaryAnn has graciously offered to give away three paperback copies of her novel A Christmas Homecoming. Be sure and check out the details after the interview.

Welcome MaryAnn! So glad you could join us. Tell us, when did you know you were a writer? 

Thank you for having me, Karen! I was 30 years old when I knew God had called me to write for Him. Prior to that time, I had been working as a professor of foreign languages, a career I loved. During high school, I had very briefly considered becoming a journalist, but that idea didn’t last long.

When I turned 30, however, I began to have a desire to write. I wasn’t sure if the desire was from God or from my flesh. So I asked God to increase the desire if it was, indeed, from Him or to remove it if it was not from Him. 

Well, the desire increased and became a burning desire to write. So, in faith, I signed up for a workshop at the St. Davids Christian Writers’ Conference. At the time, I had a six-year-old and a two-year-old. Because of a babysitting challenge, I could get away only for one morning of the conference. When I arrived as a “walk-in,” I discovered that there was only one workshop with an opening: the Writing Light Verse workshop taught by Sonia Fries. Since my husband is the funny one in the family, I was not too excited about attending this workshop. But since I had paid to come and since I had traveled two hours, I decided to sit in on the workshop and to make the best of it. While I did enjoy the workshop and learned a few things, I left thinking that I had probably wasted my time since I would never write light verse. I made a good “straight man” by laughing at all of my husband’s jokes, but as for writing something funny myself, it just wasn’t in me.

But God had other plans.

About a week after the workshop, my two little girls got into a big fight. They were in the playroom, and I was in the kitchen washing dishes and trying to decide how to handle the fight. I had just read a parenting book about allowing one’s children to resolve their own conflicts. So I waited a few moments to see how they fared. When the shouting escalated to the highest decibels, I decided to trash the parenting book and pick up my little wooden Italian spaghetti spoon. Armed with my “rod of correction,” I marched toward the playroom.

I carefully listened to each of my daughters’ side of the argument and determined that they both needed a little spanking. So I picked up my younger one first and placed her across my knee. As I raised my hand a few inches to give her a gentle paddling on the bottom, my older daughter began wailing. “Please don’t spank her, Mom. Please don’t spank her.” With hand raised in mid-air, I began to laugh. The child who, five minutes earlier, wanted to kill her baby sister now wanted to protect her from a spanking.

As I laughed I thought, there is a funny poem in all of this. So I dispensed with the spankings, got the situation resolved, and wrote a poem about it.

Novice that I was, I sent the poem to The Saturday Evening Post, the only magazine I knew of that published funny poems. I had no clue that it was nearly impossible for a newbie to get published in this magazine, considered one of the top slicks at the time. But, like the bumble bee who, aerodynamically, cannot fly but flies anyway, I sent the poem with full confidence that it could be published in The Saturday Evening Post. After all, no one ever told me it couldn’t be.

A short while later, I received a letter from The Saturday Evening Post stating that the editor wanted to publish my poem in the magazine’s “Lighter Side” section.

In that moment, I knew God had called me to write. 

Wow, that's exciting! You've written fiction and non fiction - do you prefer one over the other?

I definitely prefer writing fiction over writing non-fiction. I find it to be lots more fun yet more challenging. Also, whereas non-fiction appeals to the intellect, fiction touches the heart and transforms it. Jesus taught in parables for a reason.  

Good point. I hadn't thought about it much but this is true. What aspects of each do you enjoy most?

When writing fiction, I love creating a cast of characters living in a world of my own choosing and who struggle with a faith problem whose resolution will point readers to Christ.

When writing non-fiction, I enjoy conveying Biblical truths that will help set people free. 

How did the NJSCW come about?

The New Jersey Society of Christian Writers (NJSCW) came about as the result of a directive our Lord gave me back in 1992 to start a writers’ organization to educate, equip, and encourage Christian writers living in New Jersey. I headed up NJSCW for 10 years then passed the baton to another director. After a couple of years, she had to step down, so I took over again. We are now in the process of rebuilding our base and expanding throughout the State. 

Once upon a time you shared a piece of advice with me. You said, "Call yourself a writer." Though it was hard, from that time on I did and it did wonders for my confidence and writing journey. What's the best writing advice you've been given?

The advice I gave you is the best advice I’ve been given. I got the advice from Romans 4:17: “God calls those things that are not as though they were.” When I discerned I was called to write, I began calling myself a writer even though, at first, I nearly choked on the words, LOL! But God’s Word is true, and as we decree it, we create the future He has destined for us. 

I am grateful that you encouraged me in that way. It was and still is a blessing. Is there any other advice you'd like to share with us?

Yes. There are many things we could write, but there are only certain things we MUST write. The “must” items are those works God has ordained for us to write. In order, therefore, to know what we must write, we must remain closely connected to Jesus Christ. Our writing will flow out of our abiding in Him. BEING precedes DOING. 

Wonderful and wise words, MaryAnn. Thank you for sharing with us today! :)

Thank you for having me over, Karen!

Find MaryAnn: 

Her website 
Her blog 
Facebook Author Page  

A Sampling of MaryAnn's books:

A Christmas Homecoming - Kindle 

A Christmas Homecoming - Audio version

You Were Made for Greatness

A Student's Guide to Nathaniel Hawthorne

A Student's Guide to Mark Twain

A Student's Guide to Herman Melville

Giveaway Info

What:  Three paperback copies of A Christmas Homecoming

  • You must be a GFC (Google Friend Connect) follower and leave your email address with your comment.
  • Gain bonus entries (+1 each) by posting this on Facebook, your blog, and/or Twitter. Please total your entries and include links with your comment.
  • Open to residents of the United States.
  • Deadline to enter is midnight EST Thursday, March 27, 2014. Winner will be chosen by, notified via email, and will have 36 hours to respond or another winner will be chosen. 

Who had an influence on your writing? Do you have any questions for MaryAnn?

Happy writing,


P.S. Congratulations to Susan J. Reinhardt, the winner of last week's giveaway!