Monthly Archives: January 2009

Why Do You?

In traveling down my blogging past for potential articles, I noticed how my overall focus has changed, expanded and evolved. 

For my first one, I concentrated on my walk with God. For my second I focused my husband and my desire to conceive a child (succeeded after three years, wahoo!). 

Now with the second one ongoing, this journal and my third, political blog, my subject matter has branched out to include almost everything.

In some ways, however, I miss the single focus being on God. No longer attending Bible study courses, and admittedly ditching church more often than not, newer entries about God are few and far between.

Although I don’t necessarily feel my faith lacking, there’s much room for growth. The only way to achieve that is to listen more to God’s voice. In re-reading my previous entries I notice many of God’s whispers sound out of the words I’ve written. For as long as I can remember, whenever I wrote, especially about God and the lessons he taught me, I felt him looking over my shoulder with a smile.

I long for God’s smile.

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Two quick questions for you, my dear reader.

If you write a blog, what’s your main purpose?

As a reader, what attracts you to a specific blog, and why do you return?

Words. Use with Caution

"The pen is mightier than the sword."

When a friend goes through troubling times, I sometimes wonder if this is true. I so long to salve the wound, but every word I say or write seems inadequate at best. Most of the time, though, the friend lets me know my words indeed made a difference. They showed I cared and understood.

I recall my earlier days when school friends and enemies alike would say something that sliced deep into my core. I tried to remember the old saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me," but I instead wished they had punched me in the face instead. Bruises heal faster than cruel words. In some ways I still carry those scars.

Words can inspire as well as destroy, and I am guilty of doing both.

When I write about politics, I take the chance of insulting those who take the opposite point of view. I’ve done so on more than one occasion, to the point some readers have proclaimed never to read another word. It saddens me, but I also understand.

At the same time, my words can inspire others. I received a glimpse of that when I wrote about an ongoing controversial and highly emotional issue. I hesitate to describe further, or even point you to the entry in question, because I don’t want to appear braggadocios (one of my all-time favorite words).

One lady responded (in part): "I stand and applaud you, Andra for saying, once again, what I want to….but I’ll leave the writing to the professionals..I’m just glad I have voices out ‘there’ that makes me feel not so quite alone in this."

She then wrote her own entry with a single sentence: "Thank you, Andra, for being the voice I long to be."

I was touched by her comment and entry, but at the same time a little fearful. It’s one thing to be my own voice, but to also speak for others, that’s quite a responsibility — and a burden at times. It raises expectations, and I will not always succeed in echoing the sentiments of others.

Words indeed have power. They have built nations by inspiring others to act. They have also torn down nations by inspiring others to act. I’ve seen people destroyed with words, and others uplifted.

I hope I never take for granted the strength and power of the double-edged sword of words I wield.

Up Next:  . . . No idea . . . I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants blogger.

Just when I think I know it all . . .

Someone comes along to shatter my happy little delusion.

I’ve written blogs now for three years, and at this time regularly write in three of them. Each one has a different focus:

Politics: almarquardt.wordpress.com (mirrored on myspace at www.myspace.com/pbthththth)

Personal: www.writing.com/authors/amarq/blog

Writing: Here.

While there is some overlap, I like to keep this one especially separate from my political entries. My opinions can be strong and often inspire disagreeing passions in others (that’s not a complaint. I want and expect opposing views). With this the main entrance into my business, the last thing I want to do is alienate potential readers with my political views.

Faith (some would call religious) is different, because God is integral with what I write.

Anyway, with all my experience with blogging, I can (and need to) learn how to improve.

Cathy Bryant wrote three entries (so far) focused on how to drive more people to our blogs. She included a lot of advice I never before considered – or imagined.

If you write a blog or are thinking of starting one, her entries will definitely be worth your time:

How to Drive Traffic to Your Blog – Part 1

How to Drive Traffic to Your Blog – Part 2

How to Drive Traffic to Your Blog – Part 3

Thank you, Cathy. I now have one less delusion to contend with.

Up Next (stolen idea one): Words. Use with Caution.

 

Pitch Me Out The Window

I’m attempting to write a pitch sheet for my novel. In it I’m supposed to write a one-sentence summary, and a longer summary one-to-two paragraphs long.

How do I break a 100,000 word document down to a single sentence, let alone two paragraphs, or even one? More importantly, how do I write it so a reader will want to know more?

Writing a full-length novel is simple by comparison.

My attempts so far have met with limited success, wasted paper, pencil leads and erasers. I could use my computer to eliminate the need for office supplies, but I think better sitting in a comfy chair away from the things that distract me too easily — such as the internet and email.

Besides, I like office supplies. Using it all up means I have a good excuse to peruse Staples or Office Depot and purchase more — lots more. Some would say I have, well, a problem, but never mind about that.

When I reach the limit of my endurance to write the perfect pitch, I search for possible articles to take with me. A great source I found is in my other blogs on writing.com (see Catching Idle Butterflies and The Undiscovered Country if you have an excess of time). 

I read through a few entries written over a year ago, and I not-so-humbly admit they’re good. They need editing for sure, but good candidates for some of the magazines in attendance at the conference.

Sure beats trying to come up with something from scratch with only one month to go.

And I don’t have to write a one-sentence summary for any of them.

My Closet Monster is Green and Likes to Eat Strawberries

Silly title, I know, but it fits in a roundabout way with this entry.

My closet monster is green because he’s jealous. He’s in the closet because I don’t let him out much. He likes strawberries because I do.

Ever read something and wish you could write so well? How dull and shallow your own writing seems by comparison and you wonder, “Why bother?”

Some blogs I’ve read of late cause my little green monster to kick down the closet door, forget his love of strawberries and torment me.

He’s difficult to fight off once he sinks his teeth in.

God doesn’t let the little guy suck too much motivation and confidence out of me though, and he uses my own words to lock the monster back in my closet.

I wrote the following article years ago when I allowed Closet Monster chew on me too long – God’s way of smacking me in the back of the head:

Selling Me Short

Christmas morning. You pass out all your presents to loved ones and watch with breathless anticipation as everyone tears open their perfectly wrapped packages. You spy the one person to whom you gave the most touching gift. The moment you saw it in the store, you knew it was perfect and she would treasure it forever. You hold your breath, eager to see the bright joy in her eyes once she discovers what sits inside. The wrapping paper falls away. She rips open the box with an excited grunt.

Silence.

She looks up at you with disappointment and even disdain. Without a word, she tosses your gift aside. It lands with a thud amidst all the forgotten wrapping paper and empty boxes. She unwraps another gift from someone else, something you know she thinks will be much better than yours.

I doubt if many of us have experienced a similar even or so impolite to treat someone we love in this way. But how often do we treat God’s gifts this way?

Sometimes we do throw aside His gifts and for a variety of reasons. For instance, I sometimes grapple with envying what others possess. I’ve always been aware of this, but knowing it and working to do something about it are entirely different things.

Perusing the internet while doing some research, I found a website offering a monthly poetry contest. As a prize, it offered a blue ribbon and publishing the poem on the site. I figured I had nothing to lose by submitting a poem of my own.

The end of the month came and went, and I received no response. Figuring I didn’t win, I returned to the website to discover what sort of poem beat out mine.

The winning poem brought tears to my eyes and for several reasons. First, it was one of the most beautifully written poems I had ever read, and I saw the beauty of God in the author’s every word. To my surprise I discovered the main cause of my tears came not from the winning poem, but how pathetic mine was in comparison. I switched off my computer and sat at my couch to indulge in self-pity. I wondered how God could have given me only a smidgen of talent while He showered so much more on others. It simply wasn’t fair.

Hardly any time passed when God set me straight. After venting my frustrations to God, the Christmas story above unfolded within my mind. If I could be heartbroken over someone treating a gift from me so callously, why would God feel any different when I do the same to Him? I was that petulant, selfish child expecting a wondrous gift to take my breath away. When I received something I felt didn’t measure up, instead of appreciating it, I threw it aside.

After mulling this over a while, James 3:14-16 came to mind: “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every evil practice.” (NIV)

Harsh words, but sometimes, harsh words force us to pay attention. Not only did I envy the winning poet, but my true intentions behind submitting my poem clarified. I didn’t want to share a profound spiritual experience or a piece of God in an eloquent or even loving way, but to show off. I wanted people to see how well I used my God-given gift. And if I had won, I’d go around bragging to everyone how I won a poetry prize. That’s never what God intends. Glory belongs to God, not to those who serve Him. I now understood that my poem wasn’t meant to win a poetry contest, but merely to help me grow closer to God, or even to touch a friend or family member. As for whose poem was better, it doesn’t matter. However similar my gift seems to another, they don’t compare. God desires for us to walk different paths; to touch different people in completely different ways.

I have no idea the ultimate use God intends for my gifts, nor is it up to me to decide. 1 Peter 4:10-11 describes this best: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaks the very words of God. If one serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”

I admit my longing to see my name in print in every book store, and hundreds of people approach me for an autograph. But at what price? Will I maintain my humble walk with God, or will I concentrate more on seeking the accolades of man, attempting to please them instead of Him? I need to keep in mind that bringing even one person closer to God has greater rewards than the praise of the masses.

This is not about us, but for the glory of God. We must keep our focus on why God graced us with His gifts in the first place. He has a purpose, even if it’s to only reach one person who goes on to reach others. Are we the springboard, or the one who soars? Which do we seek, and is it the same as what God wants? In the end, when we allow God to work through us as we exercise we gifts, He rewards us with at least a closer walk with Him. He may even allow us to see how our gifts have impacted on others.

Isn’t that worth sacrificing envy, pride and selfish ambitions?

Links

Life is a chain. We start as a single link, and each new experience adds a new one. After enough time, we can look back and see how we traveled from one place to another. We see how we’ve grown and what it took to get us there.

The internet is all about links. We start at one page then through either our bookmarks or links added by others we soon find ourselves in an entirely different place. We sometimes travel to a different country and within a surprisingly short time.

One feature to my website host is keeping track of other pages linked to my website. It’s quite illuminating – and surprising. For instance I found web pages I never heard of linking my blog. Some of these sites I wouldn’t visit on my own. For instance one is called Ice Station Tango, a blog with a decidedly left-wing perspective on current events.

How did my blog get there?

It’s not a complaint by any means. In fact, that blog comes in second for the amount of traffic visiting my site.

Today, much to my ego’s delight, someone I never heard of subscribed to my blog. She added her own website in the subscription form, so I ‘checked her out.’ Based on the links she’s added to her own site, I was able to deduce from where she found me.

Since I’m beginning to market my writing, knowing where people are coming from can help me decide what directions I need to go to find even more potential readers.

It also seems only fair to return the favor. I haven’t taken the time to respond to everyone who have visited and expressed desire to come back, but I will eventually. However, keep your eye on the Blogroll to the right as I’ll add their links there.

They will mostly be writer sites, but if you love to read you’ll at least discover new authors and books to devour.

 

A Subject Times Two

I keep a separate blog on another site, and sometimes my entries are the same there as they are here, including the last two I wrote. Two people who normally read my other blog added comments that I wanted to highlight and delve into:

Kara commented in my previous entry:

I think you can write to fit a certain market and still maintain your own voice. Unless of course that market is just too far removed to fit you. Takes the Drabblers, for example. We can’t [exactly] take a piece we have laying around and submit it. Not if we expect them to bother reading it anyway. They have very specific requirements, and a theme. Yet when I write for a Drabble contest, I don’t feel I’m faking it, or selling out, or giving up on my true voice, and I’d bet you don’t either.

An excellent point, and one I wished I had addressed, darn it. Her comment shows that our voice is more difficult to subdue or kill than we too often fear.

Dan commented in my previous previous entry:

So, what’s with these conferences? How do you find where they are held and how do you gain admission? Is it like a job fair?

I want to answer here, because the answer is a bit long, and will include links you might find useful.

A job fair is an apt description. At most conferences, publishers, agents and magazine editors attend. Throughout the conference, writers make fifteen minute appointments and pitch their writing. Competition is high, because there are only so many slots, and many conferences limit the number of appointments a person can make. For the conference I’m attending, the limit is three. I have to make sure I choose wisely.

The conference also provides continuing education classes and elective workshops of a multitude of subjects whether it be fiction, nonfiction, poetry or children/juvenile writing. There’s usually something for everyone.

These are usually the larger/annual conferences. You can also find single-day conferences that focus on a single subject. These are usually more local, and a lot more reasonable price-wise. Many conferences are also geared to a specific genre. You’ll find many Christian writers conferences, conferences for science fiction/fantasy writers, and romance to name a few.

Be aware with some conferences, you may need to be a member of the organization who sponsors it. If not, they many times charge more for non-members than members.

One way to find a conference near you is through Writer’s Market. For the online version ( http://www.writersmarket.com ) you need a paid membership. It’s $39.99/year or $3.99/month. If you don’t have the cash, most libraries keep a current hard copy.

You can also do an internet search, and narrow by state. Most conferences, even the small ones, have an internet page with all the information you need.

http://www.writersconf.org/ is another site where you can narrow by state, type, genre and dates.

If you want to attend a writers conference (whether you’ve been to one before or not), I highly recommend you purchase the ebook "The Writers Conference Survival Guide" by Meredith Efken. It’s $15, but well worth every penny. You can find out more about it here: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/info/mefken/

 

Shh. Your voice is speaking.

A few people have expressed concern that I may so focus on an editor’s expectations I will lose my voice.

 

As with everything in life it’s a matter of balance.

 

To help avoid losing my voice, I’m seeking magazines and publishers who would be interested in what I’ve already written. I’m not focusing on a single one and in turn write what I think they want.

 

To do so means failure.

 

Most readers can spot a fraud, and editors are even more attuned to a disingenuous writer. Editors (and readers) want articles or stories that come from a writer’s heart while at the same time meet their subject and grammatical needs. No matter how well written something is, if the heart isn’t in it, the words will always reflect that.

 

Writers also need to be careful not to allow the pendulum to swing in the opposite direction. Don’t bristle when an editor either wants specific changes and/or additions, or says, "Thanks, but this doesn’t meet our needs." Writers aren’t perfect, and many times editors can spot weaknesses we don’t see. An additional paragraph, a reworded or eliminated sentence,  or a different focus on a subject isn’t going to destroy our voice.  In fact, chances are an editor can help our voice sing a little bit louder and more on key. If not, well then it’s not a publication we want our name attached to anyway.

 

If we want our words to appear in a magazine, on the shelf of a book store, or even sell many copies of a self-published book, we need to believe in our words, but at the same time leave our ego at the door.

Taking Advice

The last time I attended the Christian Writers Guild conference, I made a serious boo-boo.

I decided to research naught into the attending magazine and book editors. I assumed the attitude, "If it’s God’s will, it will happen."

Yeah, that was long before I learned God is not my paladin. He won’t automatically come to my rescue when I dig myself into a hole (or merely sit there as the world crumbles around me). It’s when I follow him and not expect him to follow me that things happen.

Each editor I talked to bombed — okay, not really. I received some positive feedback in that they liked my writing. The problem came from choosing articles that didn’t fit their publication.

Because of this major failure on my part, I’m terrified of making the same mistake this time around.

I began to fight against this terror with purchasing a short book entitled "Writers Conference Survival Guide" by Meredith Efken.

In it she gives sage advice on how to prepare for the conference including not only researching into the publication, but the editors themselves. See if they keep an online journal, or have done interviews.

I searched two book editors so far, and found quite a few interviews by each.

Talk about an eye-opener! I gained insight into what they expect to see in a manuscript including specifics such as writing good dialogue.

The research has boosted my confidence, and my terror has shrunk to mere discomfort. With these two editors at least I can approach them with assurance they’ll like my story. Of course nothing is guaranteed, but it’s not just a guess anymore. It’s an educated one. Because of that, I know I will approach them with less timidity.

Next on my list is researching magazines and the attending editors, and structure any articles according to their needs.

After that I’ll create a pitch-sheet which is basically an open query letter of my manuscript. Having that in front of me as I talk to an editor will keep me focused on why I’m there, and just in case I get so flustered I forget my name.

Am I following God more this time around? Time will tell. The point is I’m working instead of being lazy and expecting God to do it all.

Is This Good for You?

Every month or so I receive a newsletter from Randy Ingermanson. He’s an author who also helps other writers create a "Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius."

Each newsletter contains advice on how writers can improve their writing, and how to market. In this month’s issue about website/blog marketing he said (in part):

If you’re a writer, the purpose of your web site is to sell you. It sells you all day, every day, and it never gets tired.

One of the best things you can do for yourself as a writer is to help your web site help you. But how do you do that?

One easy way is to figure out what your web site is doing well, and then figure out ways to make it better.

. . .

This month, we’ll continue with a look at another way to measure traffic on your site.

. . . "Page Views" tell you something, because each one represents a potential reader for whatever you have to say to the world.

But what if people aren’t reading your stuff? What if they come to your site and then bounce away without reading it? How would you know?

The answer is to look at how much time people spend reading your pages. Traffic Facts gives me this kind of information too.

. . .

In the fast-paced world of the web, people don’t stay on any one page very long. I once analyzed a web site where the average time per page was only a few seconds. Not a very effective site!

If you’ve got readers averaging a minute or more per page on your site, you can be certain they’re actually reading something. (There’ll always be some people who bounce away in seconds, so the reality is that if the average is 1 minute, then a fair number of your readers are taking 2 or 3 minutes to read your page.)

I check my Traffic Facts about once per week. Why? Because it gives me insights into what people like about my site. And if I know what’s working, I can do more of it. If I know what’s not working, I can do less of it, or else find a way to do it better.

As an example, years ago, I began noticing that my most popular page was my article on how to design a novel — my "Snowflake" page.

Honestly, I hadn’t thought much about that article when I first wrote it. People had been emailing me a lot to ask about my Snowflake method, and I was wearing out my fingers typing in the same stuff every time.

So I posted an article on my web site with all the basics. That way I could defer all questions to my site.

When I noticed that the Snowflake page was getting more views than the pages about my books, I realized that more articles on "how to write fiction" were in order.

Eventually, I moved all those articles to a whole new domain, and AdvancedFictionWriting.com was born, along with this e-zine.

All that from looking at my traffic patterns.

I continue to track page views of the Snowflake page. Last year it had a record number of views, over 274,000. In six years, the page has had over 750,000 views!

Do you have a traffic measuring service with your web site? Most web hosting services give you at least some rudimentary traffic data.

Have you looked at it?

If not, now is a good time to do so. Take a look and try to get answers to the following questions:

* How many people visit your site per day?
* How many page views does your site get per day?
* What are your 3 most popular pages?
* How long do visitors stay on each of these 3 pages?

Are you surprised by the answers? What do they tell you about your site? What are site visitors most interested in?

All of the above are good questions, but the most important one is this one: What actions do the and answers to the above questions suggest?

Knowledge is power. When you know what works, you can do more of it. When you know what doesn’t work, you can do less of it.

. . .

There is much more to say about all this, but I think it’s time for me to quit talking so you can start doing.

Look at your traffic reports today. Ignore the thousands of details that you could look at and just go for the big picture.

Answer the four main questions I listed above. Figure out a few actions you could take to make your site better. Pick one. Then take action.

Nothing happens unless you take action.

To legally share Randy’s words I must add the following:

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 14,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit
http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

——————————————————————————-

I removed a lot from the article, because, as Dona requested, I’ll refrain from speaking in code.

The statistics program I use doesn’t show the amount of time people spend on my site, but I still learned a few things.

Using two days worth of statistics, my blog sees the most traffic at 90.

The next most-viewed is the main page at 9, and third is the excerpt to "A Reason to Hope" at 4 views.

For only two days, those are good numbers.

The stats don’t surprise me all that much. I would prefer other pages to jump to the top three spots, such as my writing samples. Then again, I don’t highlight that page like I do the exerpt.

Based on those stats, do I want to try something different to encourage more views, and bring in more visitors?

I’ll have to think on that.

What about you? Would you like to see something different, or added to my website?

One more request, if’n you don’t mind.

If you read "A Reason to Hope," I’d love for you to add a review on Amazon’s website. I think it would help with sales . . . and I am in this for the money, you know.

I also created a Review page, so if you’d like your review highlighted there instead of Amazon, simply email it to me and I’ll add it. 

Thanks muchly!