Excerpt of the Week #1

This week I’m intro­duc­ing a reg­u­lar fea­ture I’ve had on my mind for quite a while. With Excerpt of the Week, I’ll share around 100 words from one of my active projects every other Fri­day. You’ll be able to find them all by click­ing here or fol­low­ing #ExOTW on Twit­ter. Feel free to share your own excerpts in the comments!

I thought of my apart­ment, the stairs creak­ing and flex­ing as I hauled my feet up the two flights to my door with its three locks and its crooked let­ter­ing bear­ing the char­ac­ters “3F.” Soon, I told myself. Soon. You’re almost there. Out­side, an ambu­lance shoved its way through a line of cars. I tried to steal a look into the yellow-illuminated inte­rior, where I could see a para­medic mov­ing to and fro, head down. An ex-boyfriend had called this habit sick, voyeuris­tic, but in truth I was feed­ing my anx­i­ety, try­ing in vain to see if every­one was okay.

– from The Test (flash fic­tion)


Novel progress: one step forward, two steps back, and right where I should be

…stop­ping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emo­tion­ally or imag­i­na­tively, is a bad idea. Some­times you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and some­times you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re man­ag­ing is to shovel shit from a sit­ting position.”

– Stephen King, On Writ­ing

It came to me in the shower: how many suc­cess­ful YA nov­els are writ­ten in third person?

novel manuscript ready to mail off to agentsThe man­u­script wasn’t fin­ished. I had to stop query­ing agents and rewrite it in first person.

I’m thank­ful for these bit­ter­sweet dis­cov­er­ies because they help me take my man­u­script to the next level, but oh, how part of me wished I’d never had this one.

Hav­ing writ­ten so many drafts over so many years, I’d assumed Stand­ing on the Precipice was done.

Before the birth of my first child, I quit my job and took a month to fin­ish this novel once and for all. When I returned from the hos­pi­tal with tiny R. in tow, my first rejec­tion let­ter awaited me in the mailbox.

I con­tin­ued to receive rejec­tions, most of them encour­ag­ing. Agents wrote notes about how my pro­tag­o­nist seemed inter­est­ing, but my novel wasn’t a project they could take on at the moment. They apol­o­gized for slow responses, praised my work, and wished me well.

Fel­low writ­ers con­grat­u­lated me and said, “you’re get­ting so close! Keep revising!”

I smiled and thought, nah, Stand­ing on the Precipice is done. I just need to find the right agent.

Then came my lit­tle rev­e­la­tion in the shower, and you know what? I owed it to the story to make it happen.

manuscript with a note from an agentAs I dipped my toes back into the man­u­script, I saw the gap­ing dis­tance third-person per­spec­tive cre­ated between my main char­ac­ter and the reader. This rewrite was the oppor­tu­nity she’d been hop­ing for all along.

In short, I saw the book Stand­ing on the Precipice had to be, even if it meant comb­ing through the entire man­u­script sen­tence by sen­tence to uncover the story that needed to be told.

Some days, this work feels mar­velous. After all, if I was get­ting friendly rejec­tions before, surely Stand­ing on the Precipice will see an agent’s desk after such vast improvements.

Other days, it’s painfully clear I’m dump­ing more hours into a project that won’t see the light of day for a long time. I’m tempted to use this time for a new piece that could put my name in print sooner.

Novel writ­ing is like the world’s longest game of Chutes and Lad­ders. Just when you’ve read­ied your vic­tory dance, you hit that long chute that starts the whole game over.

Then you have a choice. Some writ­ers would shove that project away in a dark drawer and call it a fail­ure. Oth­ers would keep query­ing any­way. Oth­ers would sim­ply get back to work.

If I’ve learned any­thing in the nearly five years since my first draft, it’s that if writ­ing a novel feels easy, you’re far from the fin­ish line. If you keep an open mind, your book will lead you there — how­ever cir­cuitously. As you lis­ten for its direc­tion, your only task is to remem­ber that no request, no revi­sion, is too great.

Book review: Create Your Writer Platform by Chuck Sambuchino

cover art - create your writer platformThis is part of an ongo­ing series of book reviews. To view all of them, click here.

Want more peo­ple to see your writ­ing? Start by keep­ing Cre­ate Your Writer Plat­form within arm’s reach of your desk. Even if you think your work will stand on its own with­out self-marketing, this book should give you a firm-yet-friendly nudge in the right direction.

Chuck Sam­buchino cov­ers all the major plat­form avenues — web­site, blog, e-newsletter, non-fiction arti­cles, pub­lic speak­ing, and social media — in just under 250 pages. While that length doesn’t allow for a deep explo­ration of each topic, it pro­vides plenty to get you started.

Like­wise, even if you already know some basics — like how to use Face­book or set up a blog — you won’t need to skip any­thing. As a for­mer pub­lic rela­tions and social media pro­fes­sional who has built sev­eral web­sites, I still gained valu­able insights into how these tools should serve me as a writer. Cre­ate Your Writer Plat­form also intro­duced me to key social media ana­lyt­ics tools to quan­tify my progress.

Sam­buchino crafts his mes­sage so read­ers grasp the impor­tance and mag­ni­tude of the task at hand, yet don’t feel so over­whelmed they don’t know where to begin. Per­haps some of this approach­a­bil­ity stems from the fact that Cre­ate Your Writer Plat­form reads like a blog: more like lis­ten­ing to a friend than read­ing a text­book. I couldn’t pick it up with­out my note­book close at hand — not just because I was tak­ing notes for this review, but because I kept jot­ting down ideas and next steps for my platform-building efforts.

The only big dis­ap­point­ment came with Sambuchino’s treat­ment of Face­book. He presents read­ers with a choice: accept every friend request and use your Face­book pro­file as a pro­fes­sional tool, or keep it closed off and miss an impor­tant plat­form oppor­tu­nity. Face­book pages bridge that gap, allow­ing you to cre­ate a pro­fes­sional pres­ence for your­self with­out open­ing your per­sonal pro­file to the pub­lic. I was dis­ap­pointed that this fea­ture received only a cur­sory men­tion while Sam­buchino described the per­sonal pro­file as an ideal plat­form tool.

pull quote - create your writer platformI was tempted to gloss over the case stud­ies at the back of the book, but I’m glad I gave them a thor­ough read. Fic­tion writ­ers may strug­gle with Cre­ate Your Writer Platform’s bias toward non-fiction plat­forms, but will find them­selves well-represented in the case stud­ies. The pre­sen­ta­tion will be famil­iar to any­one who reads blog inter­views: answers to a stan­dard list of ques­tions are included, largely unedited, in the interviewee’s own words/voice. This makes even the best­sellers feel human and relat­able and will leave the reader think­ing “hey, this is some­thing I can do, too.”

It would be easy to fin­ish a book like this feel­ing like I could never rise to the level of the case study authors, or like there was sim­ply too much to do, but I felt just the oppo­site. Cre­ate Your Writer Plat­form will leave you feel­ing ener­gized and ready to get started, even if your niche hasn’t fully revealed itself to you yet.

4 WordPress widgets that will improve your author website today

This is an ongo­ing series of easy tech tips for writ­ers. To view all tech tips, click here.

Google “Word­Press plu­g­ins for writ­ers” and you’ll find sev­eral lists of good­ies for your Word­Press site. The prob­lem is, most of these arti­cles fea­ture plu­g­ins to help you build a stronger plat­form long-term: edi­to­r­ial cal­en­dars, Google Ana­lyt­ics, spam fil­ters, byline managers…

Head spin­ning yet? What if you’re short on time — or your help­ful, tech-savvy friend is short on time — and you want high-profile improve­ments your vis­i­tors will notice right away?

You need to look for wid­gets.

Wid­gets, a type of Word­Press plu­gin, appear in web­site side­bars: lists of recent or pop­u­lar posts, search boxes, Twit­ter feeds, e-newsletter sign-up forms, etc.

As a recov­er­ing PR and social media pro­fes­sional, I’ve main­tained five very dif­fer­ent Word­Press sites at some time or another. A lot of wid­gets have crossed my path, and I ask some­thing very sim­ple of all of them: per­form a use­ful func­tion while inte­grat­ing seam­lessly with the rest of the site.

Here are four keys to a suc­cess­ful author web­site and the wid­gets to make it happen:

  1. Social Media Widget screenshotMake it easy to find you on social networks.

    Social Media Wid­get
    Your web­site pro­vides a hub for your writer plat­form: a direc­tory vis­i­tors can use to fol­low you across the web. Social Media Wid­get sup­ports over 50 social media ser­vices and pro­vides a space for cus­tom entries if you belong to a site that isn’t listed. You can adjust the size of the icons to fit the size of your side­bar and the num­ber of sites you have listed.

  2. Offer sev­eral ways to read your content.

    Feed­burner Email Wid­get
    Think no one wants to receive your blog posts via email? Think again. Peo­ple are in their email inbox sev­eral times a day look­ing for new con­tent. If you don’t offer a way for vis­i­tors to your site to receive email updates, you’re los­ing read­ers. The Feed­burner Email Wid­get con­nects to Google’s pop­u­lar Feed­burner ser­vice and allows you to offer a sim­ple signup form on every page of your site.

  3. Auto­mate when­ever possible.

    Kebo Twit­ter Feed
    If you’re invest­ing time in Twit­ter, why not let that work for you and cre­ate a stream of fresh con­tent on the front page of your site? I’ve tried sev­eral Twit­ter wid­gets, and Kebo Twit­ter Feed is my all-time favorite. Many wid­gets have their own look or try to bring in Twitter’s aes­thetic via but­tons, icons, etc. Kebo con­forms to your website’s appear­ance so it doesn’t look out of place.

  4. Make it easy to share your content.

    Share But­tons by AddToAny
    Okay, this isn’t a wid­get. It shows up in your blog posts instead of your site’s side­bar. How­ever, if I read a great arti­cle and there’s no but­ton invit­ing me to share it with my social net­works, I’m unlikely to go to the trou­ble. Don’t miss this oppor­tu­nity. Make it easy for read­ers to spread the word for you.

Share Buttons via AddToAny screenshot


Do you use Word­Press plu­g­ins or wid­gets to enhance your author web­site? Which ones?  Share in the com­ments so we can find some new favorites.

Use Google Alerts to keep tabs on your author platform.

What will an agent see if she Googles you right this instant? Are you track­ing your name in real time as it appears on the Internet?

If you answered no, you have a prob­lem. Luck­ily, it’s easy to solve with Google Alerts. Google Alerts auto­mates the process of Googling your­self and sends updates directly to your email so you never miss a thing.

“I do a Google and social media search for every query I read,” David Rozan­sky, pub­lisher at Fly­ing Pen Press, told me via Twit­ter. He’s not alone. These days, you can be cer­tain agents you query will run a Google search on your name. They aren’t just check­ing for neg­a­tive sto­ries or bad behav­ior; they need to assess your platform.

Platform…is your vis­i­bil­ity as an author,” Chuck Sam­buchino writes in his book Cre­ate Your Writer Plat­form. The bet­ter vis­i­bil­ity you have, the more sal­able your writ­ing looks to agents and publishers.

With that in mind, it’s cru­cial to keep tabs on those Google search results. Here’s how:

If you don’t have a Google account, you’ll need to sign up for one to use Google AlertsOnce you’ve logged into your Google account, go to www.google.com/alerts. Google gives you a form to cre­ate a new alert right away:

  • Search query: Your full name, sur­rounded by quo­ta­tion marks.
  • Result type: Every­thing.
  • How often: Up to you, but I rec­om­mend once a day. This will give you a daily update with any new Google search results for your name. If your name is high-profile or you write about a con­tro­ver­sial topic, you may want to choose as-it-happens to make sure you’re the first to know if some­thing goes viral.
  • How many: Again, up to you and how tightly you need to mon­i­tor your online image. Only the best results – where Google weeds out irrel­e­vant results — is suf­fi­cient for most writ­ers. By default, search results pages are fil­tered sim­i­larly, so choos­ing only the best results gives you some­thing close to what an agent sees when she Googles your name. If you feel more com­fort­able weed­ing out those junk results on your own, choose all results.
  • Deliver to: Choose your email address.

You’ll notice Google dis­plays a live pre­view of your search results as you adjust your alert set­tings. I made a few notes on mine here to demon­strate some impor­tant things you can learn from these results. There are ways I could fix these plat­form issues, but we’ll save that for another tutorial.

alert settings

Click the image to see a larger version

Once you’ve fin­ished fill­ing out the form, click Cre­ate Alert.

You’re all done! Google will keep you abreast of what’s hap­pen­ing when peo­ple search for you. If you want to get really fancy, you can cre­ate alerts for com­pet­ing authors, rel­e­vant top­ics, your agent’s name, and any­thing else you want to monitor. 

Ques­tions? Requests for future tuto­ri­als? Leave them in the comments.

4 things your graphic designer wishes you knew

If you’re a free­lancer, chances are you’ve col­lab­o­rated with a graphic designer at some point. When I worked as a pub­lic rela­tions writer, I was taken aback by the amount of time required to get any­thing right. Most of our design con­tracts spec­i­fied two rounds of edits, but our team always needed at least dou­ble that number.

Want to min­i­mize frus­tra­tion next time you work with a designer? Fol­low these four easy tips.

I’m guest blog­ging on Write Faye Write today — click here to read the full post.