Friday, July 30, 2010

You Might Be a Shy Writer If...


Please welcome romance author Jill James to the blog. Jill recently sold Tempting Adam, a contemporary romance, to The Wild Rose Press.

You Might Be a Shy Writer If . . .
(Borrowed shamelessly from Jeff Foxworthy)

. . . You use your children to ask questions of the salesclerk at the store.

. . . You need your husband to give you lessons on how to talk to people on the phone.

. . . You think a few drinks at RWA National to loosen you up are a good thing.

In my case, all of the above is a true statement. For years, my painful shyness caused me to use my children to ask questions, to not be able to talk to people on the telephone, and to think a drink or two or more was a good idea.

Any true introvert knows that the extrovert that comes out after a few drinks is not a good one. A true extrovert is friendly, outgoing, and knows how to act in public.

At my first RWA National in Reno I was painfully shy. I used to joke that I would rather face a firing squad than speak in public. That doesn’t mean a speech. I’m talking about talking to others in public. Unfortunately, some introverts are not experienced in the public arena so we say stuff and do stuff we wish we could desperately take back.

So, some hints to be just a little extroverted.

1. Ask others questions that they will like to answer and leave you free to just nod and listen. For example: what are you working on? How are you enjoying the conference?

2. Compliment their wardrobe. Be sincere. Mean it when you say you like a necklace, earrings, or dress.

3. Be confident. At any large gathering of writers, we introverts have the numbers. Remember lots of agents and editors are introverts too.

So, readers, what hints do YOU have that make you feel more extroverted and outgoing?

Jill has loved to write since she first began putting on puppet shows in her garage for a nickel a person. Her first love was poetry until she picked up her first romance novel, after that it was all romance. She writes contemporary romance, romantic suspense and paranormal romance. She is a member of RWA since 2004 and a member of the From The Heart chapter, Black Diamond chapter, Kiss of Death chapter, and ESPAN chapter. She has been writing romance for a few years with a few poetry contest wins and a published short story, Lunch Break. When Jill isn’t writing you will find her reading, her other passion. She lives in Northern California with her husband, who is the inspiration for all her heroes.

You can find Jill James at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Shy Writer's Guide to Promotion, or Why I Love the Internet

Please welcome historical romance author Victoria Gray to the blog.

Personality tests tell me I’m an extrovert, though I suspect I actually straddle the line between extrovert and introvert. It may seem a contradiction, but I’m a reserved extrovert. It takes me a while to warm up to people, and I don’t look forward to making small talk with people I don’t know. Once I’m comfortable with you, watch out – I’ll talk your ear off. But before that time arrives, I’m rather quiet. So, the idea of book signings and face-to-face promotion isn’t incredibly appealing to me. I’ll do what it takes to promote my book, but I’m a writer, and I communicate best through the written word. That’s where the Internet comes in.

The Internet is a wonderful tool for writers, shy or not, to promote their work. Whether you’re pre-pubbed or a bestselling author, the Internet is a tremendous promotion resource. However, with so many promotion opportunities offered by the web, sorting through the options can be a bit mindboggling. There’s no way you can keep up with every Internet promo option that comes along. So, prioritizing is essential.

In my humble opinion, every author needs a website. Your website is a way to showcase your work and give your readers and prospective readers a look at you as a person and a writer. Fortunately, the cost of a website is extremely reasonable. Internet hosts offer domain names (the name of your site) and often feature templates that make it easy to design and maintain your own website. It’s possible to set up a multipage website and maintain the domain name for about $100 per year. I created my webpage in one weekend and periodically update it. I’m looking to fine-tune and expand in the near future – for this upgrade, I may obtain the services of a web designer. Many web designers are reasonably priced and create beautiful sites. Ask other authors with sites you admire to recommend a web designer or share hints on designing your own site. You’ll be surprised at how affordable a great website can be.

A blog is another vital tool for authors. You can set up your own blog or participate in a group blog. I’m a monthly contributor to Seduced by History, a blog comprised of historical romance writers, and contribute to other blogs on a guest basis (thanks, Rebecca!). I’ve visited several blogs in the past few months to coincide with the release of my historical, Destiny. I’ve posted historical articles, interviews about me, interviews about my characters, and a few posts that were just for fun, such as my tribute to bad boys on Seduced by History last month. An author can readily set up a blog within a few hours. Oh, did I mention that blogs are free? Sites such as WordPress and Blogger offer free blog space with a variety of bells and whistles for a price no one can deny is a bargain. What could be better than free?

While we’re thinking about free resources, an author should invest the time to set up Facebook and Twitter accounts. All it takes is an email and a little time, and you’re good to go. I’ve noticed many top bestselling authors have Facebook and Twitter accounts, and they post a great deal more than information on their books. One of my favorites, Teresa Medeiros, frequently posts pictures of her pet cats and reports brief anecdotes on their antics, reflects on recent movies and book releases, and posts pictures of gorgeous men. Her posts and tweets display a personal touch. This is endearing and makes her all the more relatable to her readers. To be honest, I’m working on this aspect in my posts…I’m a work in progress. I’m held back by the question – Why would anyone care about this? After all, I’m not famous or bestselling. But hopefully, if one or two “friends” can relate to something I’ve posted, they might become interested in my writing.

Twitter is another resource I use. I have to confess to being very limited in my tweets. I try to focus on writing, not watching the Twitter feed, which can become somewhat addictive. Some authors are masters at using the tiny bits of information you can put out with Twitter to promote their work. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it.

Online loops are another great free resource. I post excerpts and information on blog postings, new releases, and other items of interest (at least, I hope they’re of interest!) on my publisher’s online loop and also on my RWA interest group loops. Online loops are also terrific sources for networking, support, and research. The Hearts through History group is a treasure trove of writers with expertise in everything from medieval weaponry to the proper way to address a Baron. Other special interest groups discuss everything from erotica to the paranormal. Whatever your writing interest, there’s a group for you.

What Internet resources do you find most useful? What would you suggest to authors for promotion? What about advertising on websites? Have you tried it? Would you recommend it?

Victoria Gray wrote her first story soon after she started elementary school. When she was in the third grade, her mother bought her a Smith Corona manual typewriter. She was officially a writer! A trained librarian, Victoria uses her research skills to explore other eras in time. Her interest in research is a perfect fit with her work as a writer of historical romance. Victoria lives in Virginia with her own hero, her husband, Greg. The mother of two sons who are used to their mother burning food to a crisp when she runs back to her computer to write just a little bit more, she enjoys cycling, hiking and long walks on the beach when she’s not writing, reading or burning dinner. You can learn more about Victoria's writing on her website, her group blog, and her book trailer.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Don't Be Intimidated


My name is Marianne Strnad and I am not a shy writer. However, I have spent many years being extremely intimidated by people, which can outwardly resemble shy.


I thank Mom for giving me the “outgoing personality” gene, but curse Dad for the “Why yes-I’d love to take your crap and not say anything” gene. Sometimes the former can be a curse when I presume too much familiarity with someone I hardly know, and the latter a blessing when trying to diffuse a very bad situation. More on this concept later.


I’m quite new to the pursuit of authoring my first novel and realize that I have just thrown myself headlong into a steep learning curve. The first thing I learned was that authorship and “all things writerly” has its own unique lingo; I’m hearing terms I’ve never heard before. Secondly, there are sub-genres of romance writing out there that I never knew existed. Don’t even get me started on all the legal stuff and self-promotion concerns that now lie ahead of me-yikes! Thankfully, the one bit of advice I have heard repeatedly is to never give up, and to avoid allowing the inevitable rejections and critical reviews diminish your dreams of writing. Unfortunately, that which registers as sound advice to some folks may not sink into the psyche of others, and those who are easily intimidated are the first among them.


Flashback to high school in the mid-seventies. It never failed that when you took a stand for something, there was always an equal and opposite force working to crush your spirit into a compromise of your standing principle. It’s a scene that repeats itself endlessly in the realm of “Us versus Them”, and is nearly always at the heart of teen angst. We’ve all been there, and it is painful to the core. When I was in my junior year of high school and in the throes of my own teenage angst, a science teacher of mine dispensed a short piece of advice to me that became my personal watershed moment in life.


I’ll never forget him. Maxwell Stewart taught physical science my freshman year. I immediately liked his laid-back style of teaching and easygoing way of explaining scientific concepts. However, two years later he witnessed a terrible fight I had with a classmate in the hallway during a class change. The classmate was literally swearing a blue streak at me for a stand that I had taken on a class issue, which of course he was dead set against. The loud brawl left me feeling physically ripped to shreds from the verbal onslaught. Afterwards, Mr. Stewart called me over and spoke this simple phrase to me, “Marianne, when somebody says something bad about you, they are really saying more about themselves than they are of you.” At the time, I remember thinking that his advice was just a “pat answer”- an oversimplification of life and more or less brushed it off. However, his advice sank in and embedded itself into a place in my brain where it lay hidden until later in life.


Over time, I realized how wise Mr. Stewart really was. Using his advice has freed me from the chains of intimidation that used to strangle that fun-loving and outgoing personality Mom gave me. Whenever another horrid situation or point of contention arose, recalling Mr. Stewart’s words released me from the hurt that I would have previously accepted into my soul by thrusting it back on the doer, much like reversing the polarity of a force. When the doer of an evil is taking their own hurt and throwing it onto you, you can either choose to accept it internally and become hurt by it, or disown the responsibility of their words by refusing to accept them. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”.


In the first paragraph of her poem “Life In This World”, my poet friend Daniella Pawl beautifully illustrates my meaning:

Life in this world
Is a journey
We feel the pain
We take it and that fire burns
It is in these burning moments that we have the possibility
To decide what becomes fuel
What becomes ammunition
So it doesn't turn on ourselves

Mr. Stewart taught me that I can refuse to let hateful words become the fuel that will devour my spirit and cause me to cower before bullies.


So, what does this have to do with writing and not being shy? It’s a fear-releaser. If you’re shy because you’re afraid to suffer the hurt of potential ridicule, then the advice I use from Mr. Stewart can possibly be your ticket out of a self-imposed fear imprisonment too. Personally, it has prepared me to avoid becoming too bruised by rejection letters, writing edits, or criticism in general. It’s my go-to coping mechanism, maybe others will find it helpful as well. Still not convinced? Watch the bully’s facial contortions as he or she spews his poison; it’s almost comical if it weren’t so sad. When in full character assassination mode, these folks libel only themselves.


Lastly, if all else fails and you are feeling particularly brave and confident in your use of humor, there’s always my favorite snarky comeback you can use post-verbal barrage, (and saying this straight-faced works best) “Sphincter say what???”


Thanks again Mr. Stewart for an unexpected life lesson. And by the way, you totally rocked that ‘stache back in the day!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Teaching Shy Folk


by Katharine Ashe

There she sits on the first day of class. At the end of the row, close to the cinderblock wall, in the back. Not near the door where others might pass by, but in the corner, the one without windows. Her appearance is neat, her face intelligent, her desk tidy with books, notebook, laptop. She does not meet my eye. She does not speak to the others.
She is The Shy Student.

I have never been shy (except with boys upon whom I had secret crushes). Fifteen years ago when I started teaching college students, I had An Uncomfortable Awakening: not all students are loudmouths like me. Some students write gloriously beautiful prose but cannot string together an auditory phrase to save their lives — or their grades. And that, my friends, is the problem.

Before I explain, a wee bit o’ backstory.

I became a professor of history because

1) I love history

and

2) I believe that citizens of a democracy have an obligation to think critically upon matters of state and society. We learn critical thinking skills best by reading widely and discussing ideas with one another.

What does this have to do with The Shy Student?

And now for A Very Brief Foray Into (cue booming voice) HISTORY.

Back in Renaissance Italy, educated folks believed that knowledge should be for the greater good. A man might learn lots of nifty stuff, but more important than just the facts was wisdom. Specifically, the wisdom to know the best course of action to take in any situation. But what good was wisdom if you couldn’t share it? That’s where eloquence came in, the ability to convince other smarty-pants (who haven’t read and discussed as much as you) to accept your wise point of view.

Sapientia and eloquentia. Wisdom and eloquence.

See my problem now? What to do with The Shy Student who writes history so compelling it makes you weep with joy, but who clams up when it comes to talking about these ideas with her classmates? Eloquentia doesn’t serve society very well if you’re only talking to your laptop.

Many writers, of course, face similar troubles. Your novel is weep-worthy gorgeous but no one gets to enjoy it because you can’t make the social and professional connections necessary to get it read.

This is how I teach shy college students, and why it has something to do with writers seeking publication:

First, from day one I tell them my expectations: Their grade depends upon speaking in class. Their grade = your book contract. It is no secret in our industry that networking is crucial. I met my agent through a casual conversation at a conference with an author I barely knew. I signed with my publisher because of that powerhouse agent. This Story Is Real. If I hadn’t chatted with that author, I might not have a book release with my dream publisher this month (and two more next year).

Second, I forbid my Shy Students—especially the women—to apologize. I refuse to hear a single “I’m probably wrong” or “I don’t really know what I’m talking about” as they launch into a thoughtful, well-informed analysis of an ancient text. You wouldn’t believe how often this happens. Women are so darn well trained to devalue their knowledge and talents. I am astounded at how frequently I hear writers do this with their own work. No one will believe your writing is brilliant if you diss it all the time. Speak with confidence. Speak with the grace deep in your soul that is aching to surface. Speak because you love your characters and the story you have told. When others hear this, they will be convinced that they can love your work too. Eloquentia.

Finally, I assure my Shy Students that they needn’t worry about what their peers say in class. Those peers may sound smart. They may sound really smart. But they aren’t grading The Shy Student. I am. And I don’t expect her to sound like them. I expect her to sound like her, to have prepared the assignment and be on her toes creating magic right there in the classroom. I am not a chemistry professor; I don’t grade on a curve. If every one of my students sounds brilliant on any given day, they all get A’s. Editors and agents are like this. They want all their authors to be bestsellers, and they don’t expect you to write like someone else. They expect you to write like you. Don’t let the successes of other authors intimidate you into silence.

You are unique. You are the only one with your voice, your characters, your story. And you as an author are radiant, no matter what corner you stuff yourself into.

You deserve an A, too.

By the way, I also (in private) offer shy students a few tricks to help them participate more comfortably. Since RWA National is coming up, let’s talk conferences! What is the toughest thing for you about writers’ meetings, and what tricks do you use to overcome it?

Katharine Ashe lives in the wonderfully warm Southeast with her husband, son, two dogs, and a garden she likes to call romantic rather than unkempt. A professor of European history, she has made her home in California, Italy, France, and the northern U.S. Please visit her at http://www.katharineashe.com/.

Friday, July 2, 2010

LET FREEDOM RING!

Please help me welcome inspirational romance writer Debby Lee to my blog. This is her very first guest blog, so let's help her relax and have fun. FYI--she's giving away a free book and Starbucks gift card to one lucky commenter who posts by Sunday night (July 4). See her comments near the end of the post.

Here's Debby Lee: Our Forefathers marched through sleet, snow and hail to fight the British with shoddy weaponry, minimal ammunition, and sorely lacking in food and shelter, all to bring us freedom. The odds were against them, but they forged ahead anyway. They had a dream of overcoming tyranny to find a better way of life and they didn’t let fear and intimidation get in their way.

As I write this blog on the week our country celebrates its freedom, I think of some of the issues that have held me captive. Issues that have caused me to draw into the shadows of life and sit comfortable unnoticed.

I wasn’t a real big kid growing up. If anything, I was down-right scrawny. Anybody who knew me then would surely agree. This made me feel vulnerable and thus retreat into the shadows of the school’s hallways and hide in corners. I didn’t think anybody would notice a little thing like me anyway. Well, the Colonials were a much smaller force than the Redcoats, yet look what they were able to accomplish. Although they were hopelessly outnumbered they were able to defeat the enemy. Don’t let the lack of strength or any kind of weakness keep you from dreaming big. Set your goals high and then stretch, and reach higher.

Like everyone else in life, at times I’ve been taken advantage of. Trauma happens. Heartbreak can keep us in the shadows licking our wounds and preventing us from venturing forth and staying the course. Don’t be afraid to grieve properly, it will make you a stronger person. But don’t be complacent with unfairness either. When the Colonials were taxed unjustly, they dumped a boatload of tea into the Boston Harbor. They didn’t stand for injustice and neither should we. Venture forth anyway. Stand up for what’s right even if it costs.

Failures are another thing that has caused me to withdraw. It seems that everybody notices failure making it difficult and scary to try again. Sometimes it’s easier to stop trying than to risk drawing even more negative attention. But where would our country be if our forefathers had given up after the Battle of Bunker Hill or at Elizabethtown? They reached deep down into their hearts and found the courage to try again, and kept fighting until the enemy surrendered. How glad I am that they didn’t give up. Let me encourage you to be bold, be brave, be willing to find courage to stand up and try again.

Lots of folks tend to think of colonial times during the Fourth of July, but let us not forget the sacrifices of other brave souls who have fought for freedom. There are scores of military personnel who have faced combat on a number of battlefields. There are those who have defended this country over the waters of Pearl Harbor, in the jungles of Vietnam, and currently in desserts of the Middle East. These soldiers are every bit as courageous as the ones who fought with rusty muskets hundreds of years ago. They have earned and deserve our respect, our honor and our praise. Don’t be shy about telling them so.

The struggles for freedom also happened in the streets across America as Susan B. Anthony marched and protested to give women the right to vote. It happened in factories as Rosie the Riveter took up the drill and built airplanes that were eventually used to protect our country. It happened on the steps of Washington DC as Martin Luther King proclaimed "I have a dream . . . I have a dream . . . I have a dream!"

In closing, I hope you will bring honor to those who have fought for this country by doing all you can to make it a better place to live for others. Break free from the chains of fear and intimidation and be the best person you can be. Remember to always pursue your dreams no matter how dark it may seem. Like a caterpillar that struggles to free itself from the constricting cocoon, realize that light and freedom are out there. Spread your wings and fly high my friends.

What do you dream of breaking free from? What fears are you willing to face in order to achieve victory? What goals are you willing to strive for in spite of overwhelming odds? Please be willing to share, I’d love to hear your story. Those who leave a comment will be entered in a drawing for a devotional book I’m published in and a 10 dollar Starbucks gift card. Those who visit my website and sign up for my newsletter will be entered in another drawing for an additional devotional book and 10 dollar gift card.

Debby Lee has always enjoyed writing poetry, short stories and in her diary. Her work has been published in numerous newsletters, college journals, e-zine’s and in a book of devotions. Besides RWA, she belongs to the Christian Writers Guild and the American Christian Fiction Writers. She is happily married, has five children and lives in Centralia Washington with her family. Reading is one of her favorite hobbies. Her other interests include traveling, being active in her local church and cheering for the Seattle Seahawks. You can learn more about Debby Lee here.