Monday, January 30, 2017

Miscellaneous Monday

It's been a while since I've done a Miscellaneous Monday, so I thought it was about time to share a few helpful links. Hope they will be of interest to you too.

Do you or a writer friend need encouragement? Edie Melson's post, 10 Things to Say to a Writer Who's on the Ledge lends great encouragement. Even if you aren't on the "ledge", her wise words will keep you going.

Whether you're looking to get a book published or not, The Hard Truth About Publishing - What Writers and Readers Need to Know, is a worthwhile read. Kristen Lamb examines the interesting history of publishing and how it isn't as profitable as it used to be for most authors. She offers tips on how we can help authors be more successful in the industry. 

What advice can a graphic artist offer writers? Jennifer Brown Banks' Ask the Experts column highlights a few tips in this recent interview with designer David Lange. They discuss cover art and branding, among other things. And yes, David's my son. Thanks for tolerating this shameless plug. :)

Want to improve your writing skills? "Learn more and earn more"? The Coffeehouse for Writers addresses the needs of writers of all levels and genres. Check out their offerings at the Coffeehouse site

Speaking of the Coffeehouse, I'm sharing my thoughts on Dale Taylor's The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in America on their blog. This book is part of the Writer's Digest Everyday Life series; it covers 1607-1783 and is a great resource for fiction and nonfiction writers.

Do you have any helpful links to share? What are you working on this week? 

Happy writing,


Photo credit: Free Images

Monday, January 23, 2017

How to Write a Query Letter by Carol J. Alexander

Freelance writer and editor Carol J. Alexander joins us this week, offering tips on a popular (or maybe not, lol) writing topic, writing the query letter. 

How to Write a Query Letter - Step-by-Step 

By Carol J. Alexander 

I wrote many query letters before finally landing an assignment. Even then, I’m not sure what the editor saw in that pitch. (Other than the idea, that is.) Since that time, 10 years ago, I have studied and practiced enough that 96% of all my queries have led to published articles—eventually.

As the editor of a regional lifestyle magazine, I get a lot of those “diamond in the rough” kind of pitches. Sometimes they come from students at the local university. If I know that, I help them along the way by drawing them out with questions. But sometimes, these anemic queries come from seasoned freelancers. Those, I delete.

Sound harsh? Consider this pitch I received recently: 

Subject line: Article idea—Apple Festivals 
The valley is loaded with them, from Winchester to Lovingston. Would be a good article and pix could be taken now for next year. 


Varieties of Virginia apples (more than you might expect and more than you'd find in the grocery store)
Apples in the history of the Valley
Apples today: produce, craft fairs, Appalachia, tourist destinations 

What does this writer want to write about—apple festivals, varieties of apples, the history of apples or what, exactly? I also want to know who she might mention in the story and who she might interview. Finally, Lovingston is not in the valley—our coverage area.

See what I mean?

Since I didn’t know what this experienced journalist wanted to write about, I would have to ask. My response would prompt many back and forth emails hammering out exactly what she intended to write, the points she wanted to include and who her sources were. I could see myself spending over an hour of the magazine's time helping this gal formulate her ideas and pitch so that we both understood what the story would cover.

Most magazines, mine especially, cannot afford for their editors to spend time holding the hands of freelancers who do not know how, or are too lazy, to write a proper query letter.

So if your queries are getting no response, keep reading. 

How to write a query letter 

There are five main parts to a query letter. They include:

  • Advance planning
  • The hook
  • The pitch
  • The outline
  • Your credentials
  • A call to action 
Let's take a look at these five parts a little closer. 

Advance planning 

While not exactly a part to the letter, advance planning is still an important part of the process. Many beginning writers balk at the thought of putting time into a story that has not yet found a home. But it pays, I promise. 

I heard a guy in my beekeeping group planted a truffière. I had no idea you could grow truffles in North America, so I wanted to write about it. Since I knew little about truffles, I did a little research. I then ferreted out experts in the field and secured interviews. I did all this so I would know what I was talking about before I approached an editor with my idea. 

The hook 

The hook is your introductory paragraph. Write it as compelling as the lead to your story. This is where you capture the editor's attention so he or she doesn't get bored and delete you. 

The pitch 

The pitch paragraph tells the editor what you want to write about. Here is an example: 

A truffle is a type of underground fungus, or mushroom. There are hundreds of varieties of truffles. … They are harvested using trained dogs, or pigs.  

European white truffles can cost as much as $3,600 a pound. … And I recently learned that David Cassford, a member of my beekeeping group, also farms truffles. Whoa. Growing truffles could be a lucrative business for the modern homesteader; so why aren’t more people talking about it? I want to talk about it.  

Your Outline   

Once you tell your editor what you want to write about, spell it out for him. Give him your three key points, the story length, what you will include in a sidebar and who you plan to interview. 

Your credentials 

A lot of new writers get hung on not having clips. Unless a magazine comes right out and says they only publish established writers, you don’t need to worry about it. If you don't have any clips, don't mention it. If you do, share what is appropriate. Also share life skills or experiences that make you the best person to write the story. For instance, when I pitch parenting magazines, I tell them I have six kids—it makes me look like I know what I'm talking about. 

A call to action 

Ask for the assignment. Short and sweet: "Would you like this piece for your holiday issue? I can have it to you by June."

And that’s it. Not quite easy-peasy, but I can pretty much guarantee that if you follow this outline your query will get read. What about you? Have any other query letter writing tips or secrets? I’d love to hear about them in the comments. 

Carol J. Alexander has been published in over 60 local, regional and national publications. She is currently the editor of Shenandoah Living Magazine. For more help honing your query letter writing skills, get a free copy of her eight-page tip sheet "How to Write the Query Letter that Sells." 

Visit Carol at her website, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Sending a big thank you your way, Carol, for sharing this great info!

How sharp are your query writing skills? As Carol asked, do you have any tips to share?

Happy writing,

Photo: Free Images

Monday, January 16, 2017

3 Reasons Why You Need a Blog Break

Anyone who's been blogging for a while knows that it takes time, energy, and good doses of inspiration and creativity. If you add blogging duties to all those other items on your normal to-do list, it can be overwhelming sometimes. This is why I'm a firm believer in blog breaks. Here are my top 3 reasons:

1) We need to get away to maintain health and peace.

My husband and I have been self employed for 30 plus years. While there are many benefits, running a business is taxing, and time off is essential to not only our well being, but for relationships with family and friends too.  Our business runs from our home, so despite taking days off, its presence is ever near, a reminder of constant, necessary tasks. My point - we learned early on that "You don't really get away unless you get away."

I think this is true with blogging, too. There are constant reminders everywhere, from Facebook to Google+ and beyond. Taking a break helps us to step back and "get away" by setting healthy space between us and our blogs. For that matter, a break from social media is probably a good idea too. But that's a topic for another post. :)

2) We need time to rediscover our creativity.

Combined with other commitments, blogging's constant demands can dry out the creative well. Keeping up often crowds out creativity, and can cause stress and a drop in productivity. A break provides opportunities to work on other projects, and to rediscover our creative side in fresh, new ways.

3) We need mental and physical space. 

Between my laptop, tablet, and smart phone, I'm potentially connected 24/7. While this isn't a bad thing in the right measure, it can be detrimental to my life and worldview. I compare it to a vacation - sometimes we need a change of scenery, to get away from the "screens" of everyday life.

Distance from the blogging world can be therapeutic. So whether taking a walk, cleaning out a closet, or meeting a friend for lunch, you're gaining healthy space, hands on life experience, and perhaps some writing ideas too.

That said, what's the best way to take a blog break?

1) Just do it. 

Tell your readers you're taking a break. Follow up on prior commitments, such as guest posts or interviews, of course, but make a break a part of the regular schedule. For example, I schedule a 3-4 week break at the end of the year. I look forward to this break - it's delightful! It's not that I dislike my blog friends, it's just that by this time of year, I need a breather. My online classes are on hiatus as well, so it's a good time to kick back, read more, work on projects, etc.

2) Be disciplined.

Determine that this is your time off from blogging. Set boundaries, even limiting time on social media if that aids in your escape from daily demands. Make a list of items you'd like to accomplish if that facilitates staying focused and motivated. Don't put too much pressure on yourself, though. The break is meant to reap healthy benefits.

3) Get off the treadmill.

The blogging treadmill, that is. Sometimes we don't know what we're missing until we hop off. There's a whole other world out there for us to explore. We know this, but sometimes we get wrapped up in cyberspace and forget to direct our energies elsewhere. That "elsewhere" produces plenty of writing ideas for future use.  

4) Remember that it'll all be there when we return.

The blogging world will continue to spin in our absence. And our friends will be there when we get back. Unless they're taking a break, of course. :) 

A postscript of potential interest - after I wrote this, I spotted these related posts:

Grammarly's You Need a Break: How to Ease Into a Productive 2017
Pen and Prosper's 8 Tips to Maintain Your Blogging Appetite

Do you take blog breaks? Do you think they're important?

Happy writing,

Photo: Free Images

Monday, January 9, 2017

Meet the Blogger with Ceil Ryan

It's Meet the Blogger Monday! This month I have the pleasure of hosting Ceil Ryan, of Surrounded by the Spirit. This lovely writer and I met through blogging, of course, and if there's one thing I've noted about her, it's that she has a genuine heart for others. Her wise and often witty posts always seem to address a need or offer an encouraging word - or both.

Welcome, Ceil! So glad to have you visit. Why did you start blogging? How long have you had your current blog?  

Hi Karen! Thank you so much for including me in your Meet the Blogger Series. I have enjoyed reading about the other bloggers you’ve featured, and I’m honored to be here!  

In 2012, I finished writing four chapters of a book on the Parable of the Talents.  Then I figured it was time to investigate how to get published. Well, that was an eye-opener. I found out I needed: an advanced degree, publications, a speaking career, a blog and a Twitter account before I would even be allowed to submit a manuscript. Yikes. Getting published sounded impossible. I quit writing the book (which was a good move because it was terrible) and started my first blog, Evangelize to Me, in 2013 on the Google Blogger platform. The next year I migrated the blog to Wordpress, changing the name to Surrounded by the Spirit.

The publishing process can be a complicated one, that's for sure. Maybe a revised version of that book will find a home someday. :) What is your current blog about?

I reflect on the events of my life, or the lives of those around me, trying to figure out what God is trying to say. God constantly speaks through our friends, our families, our day-to- day chores, and us. And He keeps speaking, whether we are listening or not, telling us the love story of how we belong to Him and to all created things. His spirit surrounds us!

I agree. That's a great comfort. What benefits have you gained through blogging?

I started blogging to learn how to express myself, and to find focus. I think that’s all I expected, but I’ve gotten so much more than that. There’s such a large world of bloggers out there, all expressing what’s important to them. It’s fascinating to read different posts and learn new things, and new ways of thinking. But most of all, I love the relationships that form with fellow bloggers. I have had the privilege of meeting two blog-friends face to face, and it was like meeting old friends. Blog-land is big, but it’s also one of the friendliest, most encouraging places I’ve ever been.

The relationships are the best! "Blog-land" is big and small, isn't it? That's fun that you've met two other bloggers so far. What projects are you working on now? 

I’m currently writing two talks that are planned for the spring. One is a half-day retreat, the other a one-hour presentation, both for women.  I was recently asked if I’d like to speak at a Ministry Conference breakout session in April.

Sounds interesting - I'm sure you'll be a blessing to those attending. What might people be surprised to learn about you? 

1) I don’t like pie, unless it’s chocolate or pecan. Please, for the love of all that’s holy, stop putting fruit in my dessert!

2) Although I started out writing a book, I don’t think that’s something I should be doing now. I’m very happy writing for the blog, as well as designing talks and mini-retreats.

There are so many good things writers can do other than write books. Sounds like you are keeping busy. What advice would you share with a newbie blogger? 

Be gentle with yourself. When I started, I think I had a headache every day. It’s overwhelming at first, but you’ll get it. Take the time to read other blogs and comment on them too. To me, blogging is not only about developing your own voice; it’s about encouraging others while they find theirs. You’ll meet some wonderful people and make good blog friends too. 

Wonderful advice! It's an interesting journey with ups and downs, and the results are totally worth it. Thanks so much for coming by to see us. :) 

Thank you, Karen!  

More About Ceil

Ceil Ryan is a wife, nurse, mom and nana living in the Midwest. After working more than twenty years, she hung up her nurse’s cap to start writing, speaking and blogging full-time. Her passion is sharing personal stories with an emphasis on faith and encouragement.

Do you have any questions for Ceil? Have you visited her blog? What are you working on so far in the new year?

Happy writing,

Photo credit: Free Images