Monday, August 31, 2015

Using Poetry to Improve Prose, Part 1 (guest blogger)

I'm Aline Soules, writer, singer, and librarian.  As a writer, I choose subjects that move me and I choose my genre according to my subject matter.  My latest chapbook, Evening Sun: A Widow's Journey, emerged from my many years of widowhood and I sought, through poetry, to honor my late husband and speak about the inner journey of widowhood.  Poetry is not my only genre, however.  Currently, I'm working on a novel and I also write academic articles and reports as part of my work as a librarian.  Regardless of my writing genre, I benefit the principles of poetry to improve my end result and you can, too.  In part 1 of this blog post, I offer general ideas to polish your work and discuss grammar, usage, and word play.  Check back later for part 2.
General Ideas
·         Show, don't tell.  Whenever you can explain your point through a concrete, specific example, the more likely your reader will get the point.
·         Choose point of view with purpose.   If you want a conversational, informal approach, "I" or "we" may be your best choice.  If you are writing a formal piece, an objective point of view may serve you better. 
·         Choose the right title.  Some titles come easily; some are more difficult.  Make sure your title feels "right" to you.
Grammar, Usage, Word Play
·         Verbs.  Do you want the immediacy of the present tense or a description of something that happens in past tense?  Once that decision is made, make sure you choose the correct tense for time relationship:  sit, sat, has sat, had sat.  Check for consistency.  Do you want direct action or a more passive sentence structure?  Avoid participial forms, if possible:  "sit" is better than "is sitting." Are there "punchier" verbs you can choose?  Verbs are the action and strong words of your sentence.  Make the most of them.
·         Concentrate on verbs and nouns.  Adjectives and adverbs have their place, but be sparing.  For description, make sure the adjectives contribute to the meaning and aren't just "there."  Adverbs should be avoided whenever possible.  The best way to check is to remove them all as part of your final check list.  Put back only those you need.
·         Choose the right "little" words—prepositions, conjunctions, definite and indefinite articles.  Again, as part of your final check list, take them all out and put back only those you need.  This will help to make your work more dense and give it more impact.
·         Check your "references".  It's amazing how misplaced modifiers can creep into your writing.  Clauses should refer to the immediately preceding word or phrase.
·         Switch things around:  words, phrases, clauses, whole blocks of text.  Rearrange and reverse to test the order. 
·         Experiment with paragraph lengths and chapter lengths.  Shorter is lighter; longer is more dense.  What feeling do you wish to convey?
·         Highlight your best sentences and see if you can bring the rest of your work up to the level of what you highlighted.
·         Use repetition with care.
Aline Soules, Author
Goodreads:  Aline Soules

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

To Pseudonym or Not to Pseudonym by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

To Pseudonym or Not to Pseudonym
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the
newly released second edition
 of The Frugal Editor ( in paperback
Nora Roberts, the author of more than 150 romance novels, was asked why she writes romantic suspense novels under a pen name. Here is her answer:
"It's marketing."
She says that writing quickly makes it difficult for her publisher to publish all of her work with an appropriate amount of time between each of them. So she writes works which are "edgier" than her romance novels under the pseudonym J. D. Robb. She says. "Putting it under a pseudonym helps brand it for the reader." Children's writers often separate their real names or their "other" writing names from their children's work to keep work intended for children untainted.
All these reasons are absolutely valid. And there are lots more. But I believe there are far more downsides to using a pseudonym than upsides. A lot more. Especially from marketing and organizational perspectives.
Writers will find information on the concept of branding in the second edition of The Frugal Book Promoter ( including some of the reasons why you shouldn't use a pen name. You will, of course, have to weigh the pros and cons for your title and your career, but keep in mind that Ms. Roberts has a powerhouse publisher and its marketing department to help her navigate the difficulties inherent in using a pseudonym. If you are considering using a pen name, here's what you should know:
1. It is very hard to keep a pen name secret. Everyone knows who Kristie Leigh Maguire is, as an example, but most know that it is a pen name. If people didn't know that Robb was Nora Roberts' pen name, most of them will now that Time magazine let the cat out of the bag in a featured interview. The magazine also revealed (big time) that Nora Roberts is also a pen name! Suddenly I don't feel the same affinity for her as a person or an author. I don't even know her name.
2. It is very hard to promote a book in person when you use a pen name—especially if you choose an opposite-sex pen name. In fact, promotion of all kinds can become touchy if you use a pen name. You may lose authenticity because you are so intent upon keeping your real identity a secret.
3. Using a pen name isn't necessarily an effective barrier against law suits. But do ask your attorney.
4. Have you ever heard people talk about how hard it is to be a good liar? One has to have an amazing memory and as well as a deceptive nature. Authors have problems enough learning to navigate the marketing, publicity, TV and radio, and speaking skills they had no idea they'd ever need when they started writing. Trying to remember all the little white lies (or big whoppers) you may find yourself telling may not be worth the effort. I mean, Nora Roberts finally gave up on the biggest fib of all—that she uses pen names. In the Time interview, she just ended up being herself.
5. And last but not least is the pure technical, time-consuming quagmire, expensive quagmire of branding yourself over and over again, for every pen name you have. Think Web sites, blogs, e-mail accounts, e-mail signatures. And even worse, think how much less effective those efforts will be because they are diluted. Meaning, you only have so much time to give over to branding each of those names.
Read more about Roberts in Time magazine's "10 Questions" feature, page 6 of the Dec. 10, 2007, issue.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson, is a multi award-winning novelist and poet and has a hard enough time keeping the identities as a writer in these genres separate from her work as the author of the HowToDoItFrugally series of books—one for writers and one for retailers. Learn more about all of them at where you can also subscribe to her free SharingwithWriters newsletter that's jam packed with writing and book marketing tips. She also blogs at,, and at You'll also find how-to articles and tips on every page of the Writers' Resources pages on her Web site


Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Instructor for nearly a decade at the renowned UCLA Extension Writers' Program
Author of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers
Amazon Profile:

The Frugal Book Promoter
Web site:

You pin one of my book covers, and I'll pin one of yours!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Generating New Work: Tupelo Press’ 30/30 Project By Aline Soules (guest blogger)

I'm Aline Soules, writer, singer, and librarian.  As a writer, I choose subjects that move me and I choose my genre according to my subject matter.  My latest chapbook, Evening Sun: A Widow's Journey, emerged from my many years of widowhood and I sought, through poetry, to honor my late husband and speak about the inner journey of widowhood.  After reading numerous books about the practicalities of coping with widowhood, I wanted to explore the emotional journey.  Poetry enabled me to do that.
Generating New Work:  Tupelo Press' 30/30 Project
By Aline Soules (guest blogger)
There's a saying that writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.  My experience confirms that because there are times when writers wonder if the revision process will ever end.  There's always something to re-think, tweak, or improve.  Yet, without original material, there's nothing to revise, making the 10% inspiration a very important part of a beginning process.
Which do you prefer:  writing on a blank page or working with material you've already written?  Some writers revel in the generation phase; some dread the blank page and find it easier and preferable to work with existing material.
Are you able to turn off your internal editor and free flow on the page or do you find that you self-edit along the way?  The best generative work comes from free writing and free flow from your brain to the page. 
When I say "best," I don't mean some inspirational moment when something flows effortlessly from your brain to a perfect final draft on the page.  I'm talking about letting go and creating messy material that you can later revise, edit, and polish.
One way to generate new work is to journal every day: write your inner thoughts on a page first thing in the morning or last thing at night or when you have a break from other activity.  I believe in that and I practice that; however, once in a while, it's great to find a new environment and supportive space for that process.
That's where Tupelo Press' 30/30 Project comes to the fore.  The press describes this as both "an extraordinary challenge" and a "fundraiser for Tupelo Press, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) literary press." 
Each month, approximately nine poets commit to write 30 poems in 30 days.  In addition, they commit to helping the press seek "sponsors" to encourage them through donations.  What the poets create—rough or ready—is added to the page every day and builds through the month, only disappearing to make room for the next month's poets.
I signed up for August, 2015.  As I write this blog post, I'm on day 12.  I not only have the challenge, I have discovered the community as well.  What Tupelo Press' description doesn't say is that the nine of you begin to bond through special Facebook pages and we celebrate each others' successes as we write.  We also share our publication successes in whatever venue we place our work.  As the project "alumni" grow, so does the community.
I had long wanted to do this, but was too busy with other commitments.  Now that I'm in the process, I realize that I might want to do it again sometime in the future.  When I complete the month, I will have poems to revise, to keep, to toss, to be a foundation for a larger work, who knows? 
As I focus entirely on generation and not on revision or editing, I find my mind expanding, letting go, being less critical.  The joy of that is that I'm finding words I wouldn't have found otherwise, even if, later, I change every one of them. 
Inspiration may be only 10%, but it's the heart of where we begin.  At the end of this month, it will be time for me to hand the baton to the next poet, whoever that may be.  Will it be you?  Maybe.  Think about it.  Explore the web site.  See what you think.  If you're interested, email and let her know you're interested. 
And, by the way, a donation would be lovely!  You can support a particular poet by clicking "donate" on the web site and finding the drop down menu with our names.  Any $ amount is much appreciated.
Thanks, and happy writing.
Aline Soules, Author
Meditation on Woman
Goodreads:  Aline Soules

Monday, August 10, 2015

Catherine MacDonald (guest blogger)


I'm Cathie MacDonald, former school teacher, small business owner, and novelist. Life always presents interesting topics and people, and I am a very good observer, which helps in my work. I am a metaphysical student and Reiki Master, and I always implement a thread of that in my novels. I spend a great deal of time researching, and in Romancing the Vines I traveled to many vineyards and sampled a few glasses of wine. (Okay, more than a few!) Francesca, the main character, becomes the owner and operator of Serrano Family Vineyards, which is known for its zinfandel.  Her mission is to become a top vintner, put their wine on the map, and win the wine competition, no matter what the cost. Francesca, Enrico, and their son, Roberto, spend hours toiling in the vineyard. But the tension that has plagued them for lifetimes returns. They fight, the vineyard struggles, money is extremely tight, and the wine is flat. Something is missing in the ingredients. Wine comes from the heart and hers is in turmoil. Does true love need to exist like the spirit of her dearly departed mother suggested? Francesca doesn't know if she believes in true love, or soul mates for that matter. She is still conflicted over her feelings for Giancarlo, whom Enrico despises. Giancarlo owns one of the most prestigious vineyards in the area and has been called the Bad Boy of Sonoma. Enrico is threatened by his looks, money, and empire. Both men want the same woman, but she can't make up her mind. She takes a trip to Italy, where she is transported into three past lives and learns the truth of the three of them through a seer. Magna reads the energy around her and says that she is conflicted between her head and her heart and this problem has been with her for centuries. "Part of you is in love with a man you think you shouldn't have, and then there is the man you live with. You are a very confused woman, my dear." She tells Francesca she will use past life regression three times in order to solve the riddle of her soul. Magna talks about a time centuries ago when there was a beautiful woman, her son, and the farmer she lived with. The lord of the valley fell in love with her and plotted to take her away. She weaves a colorful narrative, and Francesca finds it uncannily familiar. Magna tells her that the heroine didn't use her heart. She used her head because she didn't want her noisy neighbors gossiping that she was using her heart.
Currently, I am finishing a love story set in 1923, complete with speakeasies, mob activity, bootleg liquor, and Ouija boards, and I've been having fun researching that period. This is a coming of age love story in a very turbulent, violent time period.

Happy reading!

The Season for Planning Year Round Promotion for Your Book is NOW by Carolyn Howard-Johnson (guest blogger)


The Season for Planning Year Round Promotion for Your Book is NOW
How to Jazz Up a Writing Career with Seasonal Promotions
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the multi award-winning
The Frugal Book Promoter now in its second edition
Have you heard of The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans?
It was originally self-published. Evans believed in himself (and his book) when big publishers didn't. When it did well, "lo and behold," as they say in the Christmas stories, someone saw the light.
The motto here, for writers, is seasonal material can be used effectively no matter what kind of writer you are. It attracts readers to blogs and as we all know from Nina Amir's book, blog posts can become a book—either a promotional book or a book to sell. Books are especially good for holidays that call for gifts because even the most expensive among them are reasonably priced at $15 dollars or less. They lend themselves to the inspirational (always high on the list of gifts people like to give). And they lend themselves to great cover and book design including religious, whimsical, cartoons, and on and on. Oh, and books are easily and inexpensively mailed or e-mailed!
So, are you using the seasons to build your writing career?
There are all kinds of ways to do it. Magdalena Ball and I are seasonal poetry partners. That is, we have written the Celebration Series of chapbooks. She contributes half the poems, I the other half. And we also share publishing and marketing skills. Blooming Red: Christmas Poems for the Rational ( is the Christmas entry for that series. We also have entries for Mother's Day (, Father's Day ( ), Valentine's Day ( ) and even one with a feminist theme (or Women's Day) to celebrate women for—maybe their birthdays ( )? Our full book in the series, Sublime Planet ( is perfect for environmentalists or to give to a green friend like Kermit on Earth Day. But there are so many other seasonal themes you could use. How about:
The spring and fall equinoxes.
Fourth of July
The Signs of the Zodiac—both Western and Chinese. I count a series of 12 books here! No?
New Year's
St. Patrick's Day. Think of all the Irish, all the beer drinkers.
State holidays like the 24th of July in Utah. Something local could have a surprisingly big fan base.
Patriotic books that would work for Labor Day and Veteran's Day
Gordon Kirkland is a humorist (Canadian, bless his little soul!). He has written a couple of very funny (and extremely giftable!) books including Holly Jolly Frivolity and The Plight Before Christmas  I met him when we both spoke at a writers' conference and I know he believes in marketing almost as much as he loves writing.
And that brings me to using seasons, holidays and themes to market any of your work. Here are some ideas for doing that, even if you don't have an entry in the seasonal category (Yet!)
§  Plan well ahead. Print magazines can work four to six months out. This is about the right time for Christmas ideas or for Halloween or Thanksgiving for online journals and blogs.
§  Write articles (like this one?), using your own themes related to your books or whatever else strikes you. They can be used as guest posts on others' blogs or on your own blog or Web site.
§  Offer a discount on a book to be used as a greeting card or casual gift. See how Magdalena and I suggested using our Blooming Red as a Christmas greeting card at Of course, most who send Christmas cards buy them by the box of 25 or so!
§  Cross promote with a fellow author on a book in your genre. People who read cozy mysteries likely read more than one a year. And they often love to give them as gifts. Both authors' contact lists should be full of people who read cozy mysteries so offer them all a two-fer one special—a new one for themselves and another for a gift.
§  Share a list of holiday (or Easter or Valentine's) gift book ideas. Post it on your blog. Put it in your newsletter. As an example see Karen Cioffi Ventrice's list at A list like this is Zen. It helps your book. It helps other writers. It is an ideal way to build a lasting network of authors both willing and able to cross promote. There is even a way to make this idea in a seasonal catalog and produce it as an income-producing venture in the new edition of my award-winning Frugal Book Promoter ( on page 340 (but also check the index for other ideas for using catalogs). It is also a way to benefit the publishing industry
§  Write a little seasonal poem, story, or article to include with your holiday letter or greeting card. Always include a credit line that lists one of your books and a link to a buy page for it. Send your poem to the editors of newsletters, blogs, print magazines both large and small. Everyone loves to have something seasonal to pretty up an issue at any given time of the year.
§  Consider commercial catalogs. There are resources for that in The Frugal Book Promoter, too, but the best resource is the catalogs you get online, in your e-mail box, and in the pocket in front of your seat when you fly. Think, how can I pitch the idea of my book in a way that will fit with their own theme, their own audience? And remember: These catalogs pay the freight on books (bookstores do not). They also don't return books as bookstores do. And they tend to buy a lot of books to cover their orders.
Do you have ideas of your own? Please leave a comment (with your e-mail address) and I'll add them to this article to use next season, to promote my books—and yours.
Have you heard of Charles Dickens? Do you know Scrooge—in person or as a character in A Christmas Carol? If so, how can you argue with what writing for the season can do for you?
Carolyn Howard-Johnson has several decades experience in journalism, retailing (authors are retailers, too!), in publicity, and as a marketer of her own fiction and poetry. She is also author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally series of books—one series for writers and one for retailers. Learn more about all her books and services at For lots more ideas on promotion and craft, subscribe to her blog at


Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Instructor for nearly a decade at the renowned UCLA Extension Writers' Program Author of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers
Amazon Profile:

The Frugal Book Promoter
Web site:

You pin one of my book covers, and I'll pin one of yours!

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