If you plan to excel in big things, you have to develop the habit in the small ones. ~Lecrae

Have you ever felt like a message was trying to break through the noise and clutter? Something you saw, heard about, read? And it appears, over and over?

Maybe the first two times, I can dismiss the signal as a coincidence. But when it keeps pinging, just keeps showing up, or, as Jim Rubart says, makes it past the Broca filter in my brain, I pay attention.

As writers, we know how hard it can be some days to sit down, get focused, and churn out words. Distractions pull us away far too easily. The latest-and-greatest shiny thing grabs all our attention. Meanwhile, our work in progress languishes.

So, how do we ignore the interruptions? Resist the diversions? Stay focused?

Two things (and yes, I get the irony) have recently popped onto my radar for the fourth and fifth times, respectively. When I get the same message, over and over, I pay attention. Both are books, and both deal with retraining our habits into productive lifestyles.

So, what are the two things, you ask? One is the book Atomic Habits, by James Clear. And one is Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, by T. Harv Eker. I’m not so concerned about becoming a millionaire. But to become one, I assume, a person has to do some things right. I am interested in learning how a successful person thinks.

Both of these books have shown up on my radar repeatedly, so I plan to listen to the message.

I’m starting with Atomic Habits. The idea of creating good habits appeals to me. I want to learn how to control my mind and focus. The book is on its way to my home. However, I know myself, and I’m easily distracted, so I need accountability to keep me on track. Is anyone interested in joining me, like a book club, to read through each chapter and then meet (virtually) to discuss? I’m envisioning reading three chapters a week. The book has twenty chapters, so that would be almost two months.

Want to join me? You don’t have to be an author to benefit from this. Envision having a daily routine that works smoothly and productively. See yourself setting goals and then meeting them. Luxuriate in the idea of completing a project. And then another.

Subscribe to my blog, and you’ll receive the updates when we get ready to start. Just let me know in the comment field that you’re interested in the book club. Let’s do this!

Hamilton (the musical) taught all of us about history. It also teaches English grammar.

Anyone else out there a Hamilton fan? I’m obsessed. Not only is the music appealing, emotional, and interesting, but it’s also so incredibly smart.

For example, the rhyming shows up in odd places. Patterns are unusual and unexpected.

Watch this one—

“She courted me
Escorted me to bed and when she had me in a corner
That’s when Reynolds extorted me
For a sordid fee
I paid him quarterly
I may have mortally wounded my prospects
But my papers are orderly.

And Lin-Manuel doesn’t give a pfft about echoes—

“I never spent a cent that wasn’t mine
You sent the dogs after my scent, that’s fine.”

Brilliant. Simply genius. I could listen to this musical every day for the rest of my life and not grow tired of it.

But when I first listened to the music, one part confused me.

I received a Hamilton CD for Christmas in 2019, just as I started my writing journey. I hadn’t joined a critique group yet, hadn’t started relearning all my grammar rules, so I didn’t get what Lin-Manuel Miranda was saying. Read this verse Angelica writes to Alexander:

“In a letter I received from you two weeks ago,
I noticed a comma in the middle of a phrase.
It changed the meaning. Did you intend this?
One stroke and you’ve consumed my waking days.
It says, ‘My dearest, Angelica.’
With a comma after dearest.
You’ve written,
‘My dearest, Angelica.’”

This puzzled me. What’s the big deal with a comma? I’m so glad you asked.

To explain this, we must use fancy English-class words we learned 40 years ago. (Okay, maybe that’s just me. You may actually remember this word.) We have to talk about appositives.

I heard you sigh from here. Keep reading. I’ll show you how I simplified this rule so I can remember it, thus saving myself from looking it up each and every time I come across it in my writing.

First, the definition. An appositive is a noun that describes another noun.

My friend Lin-Manuel Miranda dropped by.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, a famous writer, created Hamilton.

When an appositive is essential to the meaning of the noun it belongs to (restrictive), don’t use commas. When the noun preceding the appositive provides sufficient identification on its own, use commas around the appositive.

Let’s look at my first example again.

My friend Lin-Manuel Miranda dropped by.

I have more than one friend. If I leave out the appositive, my sentence says, “My friend dropped by.” Saying “my friend” is not enough information for you to know who dropped by. I don’t put commas around the appositive because we need that information.

However, in our second example, it’s different. Read it again.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, a famous writer, created Hamilton.

Lin-Manuel Miranda IS a famous writer—we all know that—so we don’t need that information. We use the commas to set aside the extraneous information (non-restrictive).

Let’s do another one.

Our vice president, Kamala Harris, is the first woman elected to the position.

Our vice president is a relatively precise identifier, so Kamala Harris is not considered essential.

We can live without the information supplied by the appositive. Use commas.

Famous composer Lin-Manuel Miranda won a Grammy Award for the Best Musical Theater Album in 2016 for Hamilton.

The way I constructed this sentence, I must include Lin-Manuel’s name in order to know which famous composer we’re talking about. Since we need his name, no commas are necessary.

Clear as mud?

Now, back to Angelica. What got her so hot and bothered?

“My dearest, Angelica …”

Alexander added the comma, showing he didn’t think it necessary to explain who his dearest was. He could live without that information. In other words, no other person in the world could be his dearest, so including her name was unnecessary. She was his dearest.

Scandalous! My mnemonic to remember?

Need it? No commas. (Both words start with N.)

Can live without it? Commas.

My mother, Sandy, just traveled to Alaska.

I know who my mother is. I can live without the extra information. Use commas.

My friend Tammy Spradley is an even bigger fan of Hamilton than I am.

I have lots of friends. We need the information. No commas.

I’m bookmarking this page because I know I’m going to have to check myself again at some point. Feel free to do the same.

“When you love what you do, it’s not work anymore.” Horse hockey.

American filmmaker Lawrence Kasden, screenwriter for several Star Wars movies, made the following statement, and it’s 100% true.

If you think you’d like to write, the first thing you must do is abolish your ego. That’s hard, but you’ve got to try. Because from day one, someone somewhere will gleefully tell you what is wrong with what you just wrote. And most of the time, they’ll be right. If you allow it, on the first day of your new career, you’ll learn something.

Those criticisms are hard words to hear because you’ve just poured your soul into what is on that paper. You’ve opened yourself up, allowed people to see inside your psyche. You make yourself vulnerable. So when someone starts methodically ripping your work to shreds, it hurts. But the pain is necessary.

I had to go through a very detailed psychological evaluation once for a company who planned to hire me. When I read his report, one line jumped out at me. He said, “Bristles at criticism.”

My response? “I do not!”

Oh. Wait. Point taken.

My default reaction to any criticism is to defend. I have learned to shut that down as quickly as I can and force myself to LISTEN. I don’t have to agree with the criticism I receive from critique partners, and I may decide to ignore their suggestions. But I have to listen. Because the plain truth is, I don’t know everything. Probably, they don’t either, but they might know THIS, so I need to hear their words.

Deb Haggerty, the editor-in-chief at Elk Lake Publishing, Inc., posts helpful articles for her authors on our private Facebook page. I always read them. If the boss thinks something is worth sharing, then I pay attention. She recently posted a link to this article, along with the pithy caption, “Please, please, please read the following article!” (And, yes, she spent a valuable exclamation point, giving the impression she felt passionate about it.)

So I read the article and added it to my growing list of things an author must know.

https://us5.campaign-archive.com/?e=8b905fac2e&u=7b5222d5ce3ad8e5630c9f2d4&id=b17505630b&fbclid=IwAR16a2_ltLLcuIW0vx_H37RM2F2JIbMo8mV5J2Vv0QXvR_vCUx7h8zDiJGE

So, swallow your pride. Admit you just learned something. Now, go forth and start hunting. And may the force be with you.

Oh, won’t you stay with me?

Social Media is a “build it, nurture it, engage them, and they may come and stay.”

I stole that quote from Seth Godin (and that lyric in the title from Sam Smith). Seth Godin is an American entrepreneur, best-selling author, and speaker. He should know what he is talking about, as he essentially invented commercial email. As authors, we know we need to build some sort of social media platform because that is how we will gather our ever-essential followers. Whether you’re an author looking for readers, or a baker looking for cake customers, you need a method of reaching people and snagging their interest. The challenge is then keeping them hanging around for more.

According to marketing experts, if you want to gain name recognition, you need to post something on Facebook or Instagram at least two times each and every day (five times if you live on Twitter.) Ahem… please do NOT go back and notice the date of my last post on any of the above-mentioned platforms.

Enter the major problem most of us have.

Thanks to Terri Main, owner of the WordMaster Academy, I have a list to help you crank out content to fill those thirty posts per month.

Step one: Break your topic/genre into subtopics. Let’s say you write romances that take place in Victorian England. Your list might include:

  • Fashion
  • Economy
  • Architecture
  • Class Struggles (a biggie in Victorian England. Just read Dickens)
  • The Workplace
  • Marriage rituals
  • Politics
  • The legal system
Sign me up! (Not)

Those are a few ideas to get you started. Someone interested in Victorian England might be interested in any one of them.

Step Two: Choose one of those subtopics. (Or use the main topic if you like)

Step Three: Fill in the blanks below.

  • A Joke about _______
  • An Image about _____
  • A video about ______
  • A link to an article about _____
  • A review of a book/movie/TV show about ______
  • A blog post about ____ (Remember when writing blog posts, copy and paste them into the status box on Facebook and attach a photo. Links get fewer views than original posts with images)
  • A cartoon about_____
  • A picture quote about_____
  • A discussion question about ______
  • A survey about ______
  • A poem about ________
  • A piece of flash fiction about _______
  • A background piece about a problem you faced writing about _____
  • Something you learned researching _______
  • A tip for people writing about ______
  • A pet peeve about how ______ is portrayed in movies/TV/Books.
  • A Facebook Slideshow or Picture Gallery about _____
  • A post you made six weeks or more ago about _______
  • A post you made on another social media platform about ______
  • A guest post from someone else interested in the subject.

There are twenty blanks to fill in that list. If you create a post for each one, that gives you 10 days worth of content. Repeat that for two more subtopics, and you have a month of posts.

So how long will that take? I’ll do a run-through right now and time it. Since I set my book in the 1860s, in Texas, my characters either are or interact with cowboys. I’ll answer the first five prompts and see how long it takes to do. Ready, set, start the timer!

Post 1, Day 1: Cowboy cartoon.

Now I’ll think up some copy that ties this to my story. “Manny probably wished for something this easy to catch during his cattle-driving days.”

Day 1, Post 2: An image about cowboys.

Texas sunset

My copy with this photo might go something like this: Texas is known for its gorgeous sunsets (although someone told me it’s due to the completely unromantic reason of dust in our atmosphere). I like to think of what Manny or Abby might have seen each night as they made their way home from roaming on their property. Back then, a family could claim 120 acres just by filing with the General Land office.

Day 2, Post 1: A video of a cattle drive. My copy would go something like this: “In the beginning chapters of Protected, Manny and his best friend, Jonathan, are heading home from driving a herd of cattle to Kansas. They spent two to three weeks on horseback, eating from a chuck wagon, on their way to the meat market. It would’ve looked something like this.”

Day 2, Post 2: A link to an article about the life of a cowboy in 1866. I would write something like this to go along with the article. “The cowboy of Hollywood was far more glamorous than the real-life cowboys of the 1800s. Read on to discover facts it might surprise you to know.” https://www.frontierlife.net/blog/2020/10/26/cowboy-life-in-the-1800s-primary-sources

Day 3, Post 1: A review of a book/movie/TV show about cowboys. I would write: “Ask anyone on a book recommendation website or Facebook page for a book about cowboys, and you’re going to hear about Lonesome Dove. It is the quintessential story about cowboys, particularly for dialogue. If you want to write a story with a cowboy in it, read this book first. Maybe read it twice so you marinate your brain in cowboy-speak. You’ll love it.”

https://www.amazon.com/Lonesome-Dove-Larry-McMurtry-audiobook/dp/B07BGQGG7R/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=lonesome+dove+book&qid=1640747337&sprefix=lonesome+dove%2Caps%2C571&sr=8-1

Stop. My timer was at 18 minutes, 2 seconds. I’m one-sixth of the way through. So, I’d need between 1 hour, 45 minutes to 2 hours to complete a full month’s worth of content for my Facebook and/or Instagram feeds. That’s doable. Set a reminder on your phone for the first day of every month and crank it out. Then it’s simply a matter of copy and paste to your social media of choice, and you’re done!

Let’s do a pinky-swear challenge. I’ll try it if you will.

Authors in Kroger stores program

Are your sales on Amazon flat? Do you feel like you’re shouting into a void when you promote your book?

If only I had access to the general public on a regular basis where I could sell my books.

Have you ever thought that? Indie authors, traditionally published writers, or hybrids—we’re all looking for reliable, effective means of getting our work out into the world.

Well, I have a solution for you! It’s called “Authors in Kroger Stores Program.”

This program partners with Kroger grocery stores. (Right now, locations are limited to Texas and western Louisiana, but Oklahoma is coming soon.)

Authors pay a yearly membership fee of $75.00. You then pay $25 for each book title. This gets your book entered into Kroger’s vendor program. Once you have registered your title, it’s a done deal. You pay only once per each book ISBN.

Authors set up a table inside the store and sell to passing shoppers. You retain 62% of the sale.

December is the perfect time to enroll in the program. It takes about thirty days to get everything into the system, so you’ll be ready to sell in January. This will give you a full twelve months of usage from your $75 membership fee. If you enroll in April, your renewal will be due in January, regardless of whether you got a full twelve months out of your membership fee.

How it works:

You pack in what you need. Table, chair, decorations, books, etc. You set up. You pack back out when you’re done.

You make a copy of your book’s back cover where the ISBN number is located. You give interested shoppers a copy of the cover which they use to buy the book at the register. The cashier scans the bar code, the shopper pays, then she brings her receipt back to your table and you hand over a book.

You can set up shop any day of the week, but the most popular are Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Prime times are 3:00 – 7:00 on Fridays, and 10:00 – 3:00 on weekends. However, you can set up whatever day works best with your schedule. If you’re having a booming sales day, you may stay longer than you scheduled. If your sales are flat, you’re free to pack up and head home for the day. They arrange the schedule so only one author is there at a time.

Two of my friends in ACFW DFW Ready Writers have taken advantage of this opportunity, and they’ve both sold books by the hundreds. It requires a time commitment, but marketing our books is a continual hustle, and this one pays off.

Interested? Contact Ray Depew at 845-699-6664 or at rayd792002@yahoo.com. Ray is not affiliated with Kroger. He is an author, like the rest of us, but has put this program together to make the unending job of marketing a little bit easier.

So, get out there and promote yourself. Good luck and may the sales force be with you.

Book launch for Texas Heirloom Ornament

We’re only two weeks away! Several of you have responded. I believe this is going to be a fun night out. Painting With a Twist sent me our registration link, so you can go online now and reserve a spot.

https://www.paintingwithatwist.com/studio/mansfield/event/2897837/

We won’t be the only group there, so register early to ensure you get a seat. Remember, there will be two raffle prizes. Send me those photos of you reading the book (or your receipt from Amazon if it hasn’t arrived yet). You may win a cool frame for your painting, or a free registration.

Can’t wait to see you there!

Texas Heirloom Ornament launch party!

Save the date. More details to follow as soon as Painting With a Twist confirms the availability of the artwork we’ve chosen. When they give me a thumbs up, I’ll pass along a link so you can register.

To make it more exciting, I’m doing a raffle. We’ll have two lucky winners. One will win a frame for their lovely painting, and the other will have their registration paid for. To be entered in the drawing, send me a) a photo of yourself holding (or even better, reading!) a copy of Texas Heirloom Ornament or b) your Amazon receipt from buying it (if it didn’t arrive in time for the party).

Seating is limited, so sign up soon! I hope to see you there.

It Takes a Village

One thing the Bible teaches us is God made us to live in community. The writing community is no different. We have author friends who have already walked the path we’re now on ourselves, and they are more than willing to lend a helping hand. That support is both crucial and encouraging.

Toni Shiloh is one such author. She speaks to writing groups to help bring along new and learning authors. She spoke to our DFW chapter this month about writing with diversity. Her topic is something we all need to learn and honor.

Toni also posts each Friday on her blog, Toni Shiloh – Soulfully Romantic, where she promotes new publications. She included both of my Christmas anthologies on this week’s post, along with others. You can read it here. https://tonishiloh.com/2021/10/15/friday-reads-10-15-21/

Feel free to browse! There are several to choose from. You may find something that piques your interest, and may also find some Christmas gifts. Enjoy. And, thanks, Toni!

I Need Your Help!

I am planning a launch party for my second Christmas anthology book (available October 12 on Amazon). I was invited to take part in the collection with Texas authors Jessica White and Sara Meg Seese. We titled the book Texas Heirloom Ornament, and it chronicles the stories of three generations of Texas women. Each story takes place around Christmas.

The first one, In Small Things Liberty, is set in 1923. Following is In Large Things Unity, which takes place in 1972. The collection wraps up with the third novella, In All Things Charity, in 2015. An heirloom Christmas ornament connects the three women in the stories as they pass it down from generation to generation. There is also just the slightest thread of feminism as each heroine deals with challenges from her particular era.

We are organizing a Painting With a Twist party, but they offer several options. Please tell me your top three choices of the following paintings. Also, let me know if you’d be interested in an invitation!

Thank you for your help, and I hope to see you there!

Option 1 – Bulbs of the Season
Option 2 – Christmas Love
Option 3 – Christmas Once More
Option 4 – Christmas Tree
Option 5 – Enchanted Christmas Tree
Option 6 – Holiday Shine
Option 7 – It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
Option 8 – Rustic Merry and Bright
Option 9 – Simple Christmas
Option 10 – Snow Bird
Option 11 – Trim the Tree
Option 12 – Whimsical Winter