KAYLIN MCFARREN has received more than 50 national literary awards, in addition to a prestigious Golden Heart Award nomination for Flaherty’s Crossing - a book she and her oldest daughter, New York Times/USA Today best-selling author Kristina McMorris, co-wrote in 2008. Prior to embarking on her writing journey and developing the popular Threads action/adventure romance series, she poured her passion for creativity into her work as the director of a fine art gallery in the Pearl District in Portland, Oregon; she also served as a governor-appointed member of the Oregon Arts Commission. When she’s not traveling or spoiling her pups and three grandsons, she enjoys giving back to her community through participation and support of various charitable and educational organizations in the Pacific Northwest, and is currently the president of the Soulful Giving Foundation - a non-profit focused on cancer research, care and treatment at hospitals throughout Oregon.
Throughout history, in every form of media, the most integral and explored theme is the epic battle between good and evil. There are examples of this theme in classic literature, children’s fairy tales, poems, mythology, art, music, superhero comic books, pop-culture movies and Disney classics. Whether it be Robin Hood defending the poor from the injustices of the Sheriff of Nottingham or Obi-Wan Kenobi sacrificing himself at the hands of Darth Vader, stories and legends have greatly reinforced the concept of diametrically opposed forces of good and evil where good eventually prevails.
Evil takes many forms and runs the gamut from strong-willed characters who forcefully overpower their enemies to the more subtle, sly characters who use persuasion and manipulation to get their way. Be it for greed, lust, power, vengeance, etc., the evil will gain advantage for their desires at the expense and sometimes attempted total destruction of good. Good on the other hand, plays the under dog and is suppressed and abused for the early part of these dramas. We ascribe our own personal desires upon these good characters by sympathizing and relating to their struggle. Victimization is an important component to the good versus evil struggle, which provides justification to standing up against the evil force with sometimes brutal results. There is a sense of justice when evil characters “get what they have coming to them” at the hands of the Dirty Harry’s and Harry Potter’s.
These dichotomies are not isolated to fictional stories but spill over into the political, social, economic, theological, ideological and international struggles of everyday life. Each struggle has polarized sides of oppressors and victimized overcomers, who fill the roles in this epic battle. The lines of morality and ethics are obfuscated to compartmentalize people along a partisan divide. This can be achieved through use of a variety of influences that affect the behavior of individuals or whole groups of people. Some influences are inherently negative while others are neutral and situationally dependent as to whether they are positive and negative on society. All of these influences together determine the totality of our life on Earth by aligning people into these two dichotomies of good and evil.
But is it really so easy to categorize people when, according to scripture, we were given “free will” to make our own choices? Some of the decisions we make affect the lives of others and might be interrupted as good, while others are labeled bad, but what about the people we tend to align ourselves with? Are they responsible for influencing our decision making process? Actually, there really is no choice in the matter. You, and you alone, are accountable for your actions with very few exceptions, such as actual mental incapacity. Every action you take is because you choose to take that action. It may be a series of choices that get you there, but it still comes back to you. So be wise about the decisions you make and consider the consequences of your actions before you make them. The battle-line between good and evil runs through the heart of every man, woman and child.
While in the midst of creating a new novel, I recently found myself struggling with the purpose of my story. Was I writing it to educate readers, to entertain them, or to transport them to another place during a difficult time in our lives? Perhaps, in a strange way, I was attempting to do all three without even being aware of it–without concentrating on the basic steps required for good storytelling. And what, say you, was the final result? A longer writing and editing process that no author wants to endure.
So, what’s the fastest way to create a memorable, page-turning story? Here is my simple answer. Years ago, while researching the secret to successful writing, I came to the conclusion that the key ingredient to creating great stories is constant practice. While I maintain this habit on a regular basis, I’ve come to the conclusion that the nature and unanticipated behavior of my characters often dictates the eventual outcome of their stories in any given situation. To further clarify, I have absolutely no control over my endings while I’m writing them. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be entertaining or well written.
As readers, we seem to be satisfied when stories achieve certain effects, such as moving us emotionally, inspiring us, and encouraging us to think outside the box. With the advent and explosion of self-published books, there are now virtually millions of books of all genres on the market. So, as a writer, how is it possible to make your book stand out or be different? How do you keep readers coming back time and again, searching for your latest novel or upcoming release. Well, after reviewing stacks of notes from RWA workshops and various writing conferences, I believe I’ve discovered some great suggestions for turning a good story into an unforgettable, compelling one.
Are you ready??
#1) Make the dramatic content of your story strong. Example: ‘The neighbor’s bacon and eggs breakfast’ is not a story idea that is going to have readers clawing for a copy of your book. It is also highly unlikely that this subject matter would sustain an entire novel. But if the bacon is made from human flesh, the story scenario has greater dramatic potential as demonstrated by Thomas Harris’ popular Hannibal novels. Once you’ve discovered the resulting actions and the eventual outcome that develops out of your primary story scenario, you have a real, compelling story idea.
What are the key elements of a great, dramatic story? Conflict, Tension, Surprise, Extraordinary Characters, Flawed Behavior, Controversy, Mystery and, of course, Suspense. The list is commonly known, however, building a story with these components can be challenging when your goal is to create an intriguing, page-turning bestseller.
#2. How do I keep a reader’s attention? Try varying your prose’s rhythm and structure. Writing instructors often advise creative writing classes to write smart, punchier sentences. Short sentences are great for increasing pace and for helping to make scenes more exciting. Yet this could become monotonous for both the writer and reader, if a whole book is written this way. Changing the length of a sentence adds interest and can intensify drama, especially in a narrative story.
Something as simple as this can be intriguing. ‘He waited all day. It was cold and growing dark by the minute. Would anyone come?’
Exploring the rhythm of your writing consciously can help you write better sentences. Carefully crafted, creative prose makes a book better in any genre.
#3. What about characters? It’s important to create believable, memorable characters that readers either love or hate. Why do we find some characters more memorable than others? Because they have something that makes them stand out. It might be a unique voice, a persona or expression, a goal or motivation, their distinctive appearance or behavior, a flaw or weakness or perhaps a hidden strength.
Authors such as Charles Dickens is famous for creating larger-than-life, memorable characters. So what does each character in your book crave or long to accomplish? Why do they desire this and what do they have to do in order to gain it?
#4. Each part of a story needs to be effective in order to make it great. The best openings create fascinating introductions to the authors’ setting, characters and plot scenarios. Often times, the middle of a story sags or lacks plot movement. But a brilliant middle, might introduce new characters who help or hinder your primary character. This is good place to add subplots that supplement your main story arc, to reveal why your characters have certain goals, to indicate what’s at stake or to reveal the effect outside pressures are causing that hinders your main character’s success.
#5. Most important of all, make every line of dialogue count. When characters speak, we gain a sense of their personalities, viewpoints, vulnerabilities, quirks, and attitude about any given subject. Having two or more characters sit at a table talking rarely moves the story forward unless the conversation has a purpose such as deepening or developing connections between them. In a great story, characters get to the point as quickly and realistically as possible. There are very few pleasantries and even fewer filler words because dialogue serves the plot, while holding onto the reader’s attention.
#6. Who is the unseen and most influential character in a story? Believe it or not, it’s the immersive setting. It’s not just a house with shape and color. It’s about details–about a place with personality. Is it old and dank, shutting out the light of the world, or is it light, charming and elegant? Besides giving a setting personality, it’s important to make it fascinating, inviting, challenging or just plain frightening.
Also, keep in mind that old neighborhoods change with passing years. Characters might feel different about a place from their childhood. You know…lack a personal connection they thought they would have after revisiting it. If you write about a real, historical or contemporary place in particular, you need to know the landmarks, the demographics, the underprivileged areas and the rich ones. Do the required research to understand what it is celebrated or nefarious for, as readers will recognize inaccuracies and will often point them out.
#7. What is the conflict in your story? When we read the word conflict, we often think of harsh words, violence or physical fights between adversaries. But there are many kinds of conflict that can be used to improve a story. Internal conflicts create tension, leaving readers wondering if the characters they’re rooting for are capable of overcoming emotional roadblocks or the hurdles in their lives. The same characters might also grapple with their environments or struggle with a natural phenomena.
#8. How do I leave my reader wanting more? The best tip of all is to deliver a knockout ending, as it leaves a lingering impression. The final lines will either entice a reader to seek out other novels you’ve written or result in recommendations of your work to other readers.
So what exactly goes into a great ending? The best answer is the resolution of the primary conflict. But it’s also important not to make the story’s closure so tidy that it’s predictable or a cop-out by ending the story as quickly as possible or with for a happily ever after resolution when it’s not needed. Sometimes, leaving a reader guessing is the best ending of all. Just make sure that any dramatic tension is held off until the end. This can be done by keeping your readers guessing or not revealing the identity of a villain until the very end. However, if you use a surprise plot twist, remember to keep the surprise believable and the last line as powerful and remarkable as the first line in your story.
I hope this posting finds each of you safe, healthy, and with your loved ones. I understand that this is a very difficult time with many uncertainties, but I’d like to remind you that there are lots of government officials, healthcare professionals, business owners, acquaintances, friends, and family members hoping for the same outcome — a world where it’s safe to travel, safe to shop, safe to enjoy the environment, and safe to lead a fulfilling, productive life. In the meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the following suggestions for things to do with your family while staying indoors. A sense of community and link to others is very important at this time, so I encourage you to stay connected through FaceTime or any of your social media outlets. With patience and commonsense practices, we shall see an end to this test of our endurance and hopefully move on.
Over the course of writing and publishing six books, I’ve been told that each of them reads like a movie. I find this extremely flattering, but not for the reasons you might imagine. You see, I dream up my stories quite literally from beginning to end and write them the way I “see” them. With this in mind, a comment about the theatrical qualities of my books assures me that I’ve successfully completed my goal by developing visual stories. Sounds bizarre, I know, however I’ve been asked by a number of writers to provide some helpful hints for creating “movie-like” books that appeal to readers and can also be translated easily into screenplays.
Tip 1: Write a Driving Plot with a Solid Narrative Arc
You might be wondering what the difference is between plot and narrative arc. The various events that occur throughout the story construct the plot, while the narrative arc is the order in which those events are presented. A driving plot and solid narrative arc are symbiotic elements that exist in all good books, especially those that have what it takes to be made into movies.
It’s crucial that you craft a strong narrative arc. I cannot overemphasize the value of each plot line (including all subplots) having a clear beginning, middle, and end. Don’t get too caught up in how many subplots you have as more is not necessarily better. Keep the plot moving forward at a comfortable pace so readers don’t get bored or feel hurried.
Tip 2: Develop Dynamic, Three-Dimensional, and Compelling Characters
Characters that are both three-dimensional and dynamic are the most compelling because they’re interesting and, rather than being static, they demonstrate growth and change. Also, audiences become emotionally invested in sympathetic characters because they have traits they can identify with, and f readers can see themselves in characters, they’re more believable. But don’t mistake sympathetic for likable; readers don’t always have to admire your characters, they just have to care about them.
Tip 3: Craft a Visceral Setting
The setting of a book is as important as the plot and characters because it roots the story in both time and place. Don’t treat your setting as just the story’s background, instead make it an integral part of the book.
Would the Harry Potter books be the same if they occurred in California in 1850? Would Memoirs of a Geisha have been a best seller if it was set solely in a teahouse? Probably not. The setting of a story is as critical as the story itself.
Authors need to think of their books’ settings as another protagonist—a distinct and visceral world that radiates with the mood and atmosphere the writer envisions.
Tip 4: Show, Don’t Tell
Put simply, this often-repeated adage describes the technique of allowing readers to deduce what you’re trying to say through the use of descriptive details, rather than info dumping or spoon-feeding readers the information. As films are an inherently visual medium, books that succeed in showing rather than telling tend to translate easier to the screen.
Here’s an example of “telling” where the author flatly states what’s happening:
John waited for June at the restaurant. When she walked in, he noticed that she was tall and looked cold.
Although readers are told substantive details about the characters and setting, a rewrite that invites us into the book’s world and shows us the same information is much more captivating.
John watched as June had to duck her snow-covered head to comfortably fit through the restaurant’s doorway. Her cheeks were red and chapped, and her hands were balled into frozen fists.
Authors that show, rather than tell, craft distinct narratives that allow readers to see, feel, taste, hear, and smell what the characters are experiencing. By harnessing the senses, the audience is invited to actively, rather than passively, engage with the prose. As Mark Twain said, “Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.”
However, writing is an art in and of itself, which means rules are meant to be broken. In books that employ a strong narrative voice or that need a great deal of exposition, telling can be the most efficient choice. In other words, just go with your gut on this one. Keep in mind that film is primarily visual, so telling instead of showing could get messy in the adaptation.
Tip 5: Don’t Write a Screenplay Masquerading as a Book
My greatest recommendation is this: if you want to write a book, write a book, and if you want to see your story told through film, write a screenplay. Don’t write a screenplay masquerading as a book. Although both authors and screenwriters are storytellers, a book is a fundamentally different medium than a movie.
If you’re uncertain about if you should write a screenplay or a book, ask yourself these questions:
Can my story be told in two hours or less? If so, a screenplay may be best.
Does my story involve a lot of narration or internal dialogue? If the answer is yes, write a book.
Do I want my writing to be followed by another robust creative process to translate it to film? If that’s your plan, go with a screenplay.
When I think of my story, do I see people reading it or watching it? A good answer would be both, if your aim is to create pictures in your reader’s mind.
What does my story want to be? How does it want to be told?
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. Just follow your intuition. You’ll do fine. But most important of all, write what you know and have fun in the process. That is what writing is all about.
I know it’s inevitable. Every author gets their share of bad reviews. You know, those one-star postings and half-baked opinions of “chosen” readers, indicating that you, as an author, haven’t got a clue how to write a simple phase, how to plot a mystery, or create a believable story. Obviously, we can’t all be as talented as Agatha Christie, John Steinbeck or F. Scott Fitzgerald. We’re simply members of the Homo sapien writing tribe with more than our share of weaknesses, imperfections, and fragile reactions. Quite often, we find ourselves typing non-stop for days on end, allowing trapped emotions and caged creativity to escape in equal portions. We offer ourselves up to the world’s judgment, begging for acceptance—for someone to see the merit of our artistic efforts. But then it happens in an instant, even to the best of us. Critics and wannabe writers take careful aim, releasing venomous words, killing a novel purely for the pleasure of doing so.
I understand that not everyone appreciates the written word and the painstaking effort that goes into fully developing an idea. However, for an author, it’s tedious, time consuming work, and the act of writing can become an obsession in the art of perfection. Every word, scene and character on the page has value, and the ability to bring a story full circle can feel like a miraculous achievement at times. And yet, a single insult has the ability to take down not only an individual’s self-esteem but also their ability to write…at least for the time it takes to recover.
The solution to this madness? I’ve been told the most powerful action you can take to neutralize your brain’s wiring is to prove it wrong. Your brain fears being cast out of the “qualified” author circle, so calm it by connecting to your personal tribes—family, friends, other struggling writers. See brain? I’m not being thrown to the dingos—I have love, talent and the ability to carry on. Once the brain calms down, you can use reason and logic to center yourself. You can also talk to authors who have drifted in the same boat, bordering on the brink of despair.
Writers, like myself, fall into two groups. Those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review and those who hide their reactions well. Usually, I fall into the second group, holding my breath and looking away until the shock value wears off. But when a new book is released, it becomes a balancing act between elation over great reviews and irrational anger for the vicious ones. Some of Stephen King’s latest novels received up to 500 one-star and two-star reviews on Amazon. Was this done out of spite for his success as an author or simply a way to demonstrate powerful opinions?
Book stores are packed with best sellers that have a lot of bad reviews. Prove it to yourself. Do this: Go to idreambooks.com, the “Rotten Tomatoes” of the book world. They aggregate book reviews from important critics like the New York Times and rank best selling books according to the percentage of good reviews they received. Notice anything? Almost all the best selling books have a significant number of bad reviews. Imagine that.
Now think about this. How much could bad reviews affect sales if they’re all best sellers? I’m not ignoring the aftermath of cruel intention—bad reviews are undesirable. But they’re not necessarily the deal-breakers you think they are. Well, that’s what I continue to tell myself anyway. And even more interesting…bad reviews can actually help sell books.
What do you think of a book that has nothing but five-star reviews? I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit suspicious. Just like restaurant reviews, if you see nothing but 5 stars, I’m thinking the author or restaurant owner got all his friends, family and associates to write the vast number of reviews, delving out glowing praise. In a twisted way, bad reviews give a book legitimacy because their very presence indicate that the good reviews must be genuine. Right?
Well, I have to admit that all this venting has helped a wee bit. The sting of the cursed one-star review has eased a bit, and I’m reminded that the toughest critics are often the worst writers. That’s why they criticize, don’t you think? So now it’s time to laugh, enjoy a glass of wine, and move on until the next zinger comes along, and then maybe I’ll have the commonsense to look away.
If your Mum likes to stick to the classics (and appreciates her drinks on the savory side), consider making her the BEST Bloody Mary ever. This one gets a boost from Worcestershire sauce and a little soy, and gets its heat from freshly grated horseradish (plus some cayenne and hot sauce.) Consider making an extra large batch of the mixture and setting up a choose-your-own garnish bar with celery stalks, poached shrimp or smoked mussels, assorted pickled things, and bacon swizzle sticks. So fun!!
And by the way, anyone who flies with me knows that I don’t get on an airplane without consuming at least ONE Bloody Mary at the airport and, if not there, definitely 1 or 2 onboard. So here’s to each and everyone of you, and especially to the rowdy women in the world. God loves ’em all…and so do I.
Makes only 1 cocktail – so multiply as needed!
1 tablespoon celery salt or (or plain kosher salt, if you prefer)
1/4 lemon, cut into two wedges
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or less to taste)
Dash cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated horseradish (or 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish)
2 ounces vodka
4 ounces high-quality tomato juice
1 stick celery
1. Place celery salt in a shallow saucer. Rub rim of 12-ounce tumbler with 1 lemon wedge and coat wet edge with celery salt. Place lemon wedge on rim of glass. Fill glass with ice.
2. Add Worcestershire, soy, black pepper, cayenne pepper, hot sauce, and horseradish to bottom of cocktail shaker. Fill shaker with ice and add vodka, tomato juice, and juice of remaining lemon wedge. Shake vigorously, taste for seasoning and heat, and adjust as necessary. Strain into ice-filled glass. Garnish with celery stalk, or any of the wonderful things I like to add, and serve IMMEDIATELY.
While writing my latest novel, HIGH FLYING, I wanted to create a complex, self-debasing character that struggles with her past and self-image and, at the same time, recognizes her inability to connect with others. Throughout her adolescence, she longs to be “normal” like other people, but self-harm becomes her vice and the quickest, most effective way to deal with the negativity in her life…until she finds a powerful solution.
In the course of researching this subject, I discovered that cutting is a common form of deliberate self-harm and may co-occur with other self-injurious behaviors such as skin-burning, hair-pulling, and anorexia, and that people who cut themselves often use razors, knives, or other sharp objects. However, cutting is not typically an attempt at suicide or long-term self-harm. Rather, it is an immediate reaction to stress that provides release for the person who cuts. They may accidentally sever a vein or artery, which can be life-threatening, but this behavior is not listed in the DSM-IV as a mental health disorder. Instead, it is related to other impulse control conditions such as pyromania (obsession with fires), kleptomania (persistent stealing), and/or pathological gambling.
Self-harm can also be a symptom of borderline personality (BPD), as well as factitious disorders, which occur when a person fakes an illness or believes he or she has a disease they haven’t truly contracted. People who cut themselves may also suffer from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other stress-related conditions.
Outpatient therapy using a variety of methods, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, can be highly effective at teaching people more effective skills for coping with stress. However, unless treated, cutting is a behavior that tends to escalate, resulting in more severe and frequent cutting over time. People who have been cutting for an extended period of time may require inpatient treatment, which involves group therapy, individual therapy, and when necessary, psychotropic medication to help mitigate the psychological factors that contribute to cutting.
Often therapy for treating this disorder involves redirection–a sort of reprograming mechanism, for dealing with stressful situations. This might involve various forms of self-expressive art, tennis, boxing, or other activities as a means for releasing pent-up emotions, tension and anxiety. Support, compassion and understanding by friends, family members and anyone aware of this condition is also very important. Society as a whole needs to understand that anyone who has a history of cutting or other obsessive disorders is fully capable of leading a healthy, normal life, if given the chance to do so.
Every year at Christmas, our family looks for ways to practice generosity and selfless service. This year though, there have been so many causes suggested that our budget simply can’t reach out to all of them. However, a family tradition every year includes delivering fresh cookies to fire departments and police stations, and donating to local toy drives. We also contact the headquarters for Fred Meyer stores and purchase discounted blankets, socks, coats, sweaters and caps. Then we visit homeless shelters throughout Portland to deliver these items where they are most needed. But this year, I’ve wanted to do more and thought that perhaps you feel the same way as I do.
So with this in mind, here are some great ideas to bring the joy of Christmas to others in your community or around the world. Because that is what this special season is really about. Isn’t it?
Follow our lead by visiting a homeless shelter or tent city and donate blankets, gloves, socks, hats, or coats. Each little item keeps someone warm and can help them survive those cold winter nights.
If you don’t have the money or items to donate, simply visit with the folks at the local homeless shelter or tent city. Sometimes just feeling like you matter as a person can lift your spirit.
Sponsor an angel from the Salvation Army angel tree. This can become a special tradition for your family every year by picking out the perfect gift requested on an angel tree card.
If you’re unable to get out to a store to choose an individual angel from their trees around town, you can still donate to the Salvation Army online! A donation online is just like dropping money into those little red buckets. Our local Salvation Army is reportedly very short this year in their projected donations, so every little bit helps.
Shopping Fair Trade for Christmas is a wonderful way to find unique and personal gifts for friends and loved ones and it helps support artisans in developing nations. This is a win-win for everyone.
One Warm Coat is a national organization dedicated to making sure everyone who needs a warm coat this year gets one. It breaks my heart thinking that someone out there who needs a coat doesn’t have one, and this really shouldn’t be happening in our country. If you follow the link I’ve provided, you can click on the map on the right and then find a coat drive in your area. I checked, and sure enough, there is one in our area!
One of my favorite organizations this time of year is Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child. If you’re unfamiliar with this project, their website offers all the information you need to help. Briefly, Operation Christmas Child sends specially created care packages to children all over the world who need the most basic items as well as some personal gifts to really light up their world. Unfortunately, the national send-off week has passed, but you can still donate to the amazing cause at Samaritan’s Purse on their website. I want to make it a family tradition starting next year to pack a box together for a child who needs it.
Participate in Operation Give, which sends 10,000 stockings to soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. While, unfortunately, the deadline for stockings and stocking stuffers has passed, they are still in a great need for monetary donations right now to pay for shipping charges to actually get these stockings to the troops.
Another opportunity to support to our troops is through our USO program. The USO serves our troops year round, not just at Christmastime. They are always in need of support. You can donate at the link provided. Any online donations to such causes could be a thoughtful gift given in the name of others, such as neighbors or coworkers. It could be included in a card that a donation was made in their name to one of these wonderful programs.
If you’re a pet lover, often local animal shelters hold food or toy drives for the animals housed there during Christmastime. These shelters tend to see an influx of new animals when the weather turns cold, because people are more inclined to drop off a stray for fear of them not surviving the cold. Shelters rely on such food donations well into the new year to care for the animals that wander their way. It would be a wonderful way to teach children to care for God’s creatures by buying cat food or dog food and dropping it off at your local animal shelter this Christmas.
If you have a particular talent that you could share with others, now would be a great time to volunteer at a local children’s hospital or nursing home. If you play an instrument or sing, you could bring Christmas carols to the elderly or bedridden. If you have a knack for sewing, you could make a lap quilt for a child in the hospital.
You could also participate in Project Linus, which provides handmade blankets to children who are terminally ill or have been traumatized, or who could otherwise just use a warm blanket around them. You can participate by donating a handmade blanket to a nearby Project Linus chapter, or by donating online to help pay for shipping and material costs.
Ask around in your community, work, or church to see if there is a family with a particular need that you might fulfill. Perhaps there’s an elderly woman who just needs help keeping her driveway shoveled this year. Perhaps it’s a family who otherwise won’t have groceries this month. Whether it’s things or service, there is bound to be someone near you who could use some help, and there is bound to be some way you can help them.
Shop local. Look for locally owned mom and pop stores to shop from rather than purchasing all of your gifts from large chain companies this year. Shopping at local stores puts money back in your own community and supports families just like yours who are trying to make it this holiday season. You could buy gifts from the local bookstore down the street or shop for your Christmas dinner groceries at the family-owned grocery store in town rather than the large surplus store.
Donate time, money, or food to the local food bank. Food banks always run low this time of year, and their staff is always stretched thin. Consider making it a family tradition to volunteer one Saturday before Christmas at your local food bank. You can hand out, sort, organize or prepare food for families.
Volunteer at your local soup kitchen. The cold weather sends people inside more than other times of year, and it seems harder this time of year for people in need to find a warm meal. Of course our current national economic state doesn’t help either. Volunteering at a local soup kitchen can be a great bonding experience for your family, and can give you a chance to make friends with those less fortunate in our community.
Bake cookies or other yummy goodies for your local firemen, police officers, EMT service providers, or teachers. Public service men and women don’t make a lot of money, but they do a ton of hard work in our communities. It would be a blessing to let them know how appreciated they are by dropping by this year with some baked goods and a smile.
Make up coupons for your next door neighbors that give them one free law mowing, leaf raking, or car washing when the weather clears up. You could slip it in with a plate of cookies. It fosters a sense of community, allows you to get to know your neighbors, and shows them that you are willing to serve them as friends.
Practice random acts of kindness by buying the lunch for someone in line with you at the local fast food restaurant. I’ve done this before, and I love both the reaction of the person at the window when I tell them what I’m doing and the reaction of the person behind me when they realize their meal is free.
Donate to the cause of your choice on behalf of someone else. If a loved one has suffered from Breast Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, or any other ailment, you can make a loving donation in the name of a friend or family member that supports a cause close to your heart. Many people appreciate these kind of gifts instead of little trinkets that will break or be lost quickly after the season.
It doesn’t take much to bless the lives of others, and this is the perfect time of year to make someone’s day and life magical in more ways than you can ever imagine. So bring your family and friends together this month and find ways to participate in the joy of giving. The warmth you will feel inside your heart will be the greatest gift you will ever receive.
Tough love is a hard and sometimes sad road we must walk down as parents when facing disruption in our families. It is a process we use when we need to step away from control or stop our desire to help a loved one who has become too dependent on drugs and alcohol or when this individual simply needs a huge wake up call because they are self destructing their own life or destroying the mental wellbeing of other members of your family.
Most unhealthy relationships have a caregiver and a dependent party, whether this is a friendship, a parent/child relationship or a romantic relationship. When the caretaker has had enough, is drained emotionally, physically or financially by the dependent party, a step taken backward by the caregiver is taken to let the dependent fall on their face. In other words, this step taken backwards usually leads to a huge jump forward.
The dependent one is shown that he needs to take charge of his own life. Tough love can be “sink or swim” and can be heart-wrenching situation to endure. But when the swimmer rises from the depths of his dependence and becomes fully his own person, it is a win-win for both individuals.
So what do you do when you find yourself stuck between a rock and a hard place with someone you love? How do you take two steps backward to help them bounce forward? After doing a bit of research, I discovered how to use tough love on your loved ones, and yourself, to help them change their lives for the better.
1) Let go of your needs and wants.
Sometimes we want something very badly for another person. We think we know what they need and what will make their life change for the better. But most times we are enabling the dependent in our relationship.
Learn to let go and let your dependent figure things out themselves. It can be hard, but focus on you and let them find themselves.
2) Establish healthy boundaries.
Know your limits. Be able to decipher your needs and wants and your dependent’s needs and wants. Learn to say “no” when you want to say yes.
3) Do not fall for the victim story.
Everyone loves a great drama or a sad sob story. Do not fall for it. Listen open heartedly and learn to separate your head from your heart.
A sob story is a manipulative way of trying to get negative attention. You want the dependent to become their own hero, so don’t allow them to be their own victim by falling for the story.
4. Don’t do for anyone what they can do for themselves.
Plain and simple! Unless this is an elderly adult or a young child, do not do more than what you need to do in your relationships. Trying to do everything for someone else who is capable is only destroying your own energy levels, confidence and can possibly deplete your bank accounts.
If someone is physically and emotionally capable of doing a task, let them.
5. Seek help.
Seek professional help if you cannot learn tough love or are having difficulty stopping your enabling practices. When you want the best for someone, learn to walk away and get help. Like the old adage says, you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. Only you can find an oasis and enjoy!
So when you are sick and tired of worrying about someone else day in and day out or find yourself disheartened by their angry attacks, try tough love but also try self love and you’ll find yourself regaining your sanity along with your personal happiness.
From an obsessed writer who’s been at it for years and continues to struggle even today, I wave a hand and say good luck. Becoming a successful author, whether you’re self-published or have gone the “normal” route, is not a cost-free endeavor…and in MOST cases, it’s not a miracle that happens overnight. Even after your books are accepted and printed, advertising and basically getting the word out is a high-end, unforeseen expense. As in any success story , whether it’s producing a product, acting in a play, or creating a modern miracle, it’s all about being “discovered” by the right people at the right time. The biggest mistake people make when it comes to self-publishing is that they expect to just put out a book and have it magically sell. They might even hire a publicist and expect something amazing to happen. But to be perfectly honest, it just isn’t so. You have to be a dedicated, relentless self-promoter and, unfortunately, a lot people just don’t have the stomach or time for it.
What’s the secret to marketing your book successfully? Well, the first thing I advise — and I’m not alone here — is to come up with a marketing plan well before you publish your book. The plan should have at least five avenues for you to pursue because chances are you’re going to strike out on a couple of lines of attack. It’s easy to get discouraged, so you have to be ready to move on to plan c, d, and e (and the rest of the alphabet) pretty quickly.
These days there’s a lot of talk about a “blog strategy,” and many well-known authors do virtual book tours where they offer up interviews to various blogs. You probably won’t have that luxury, but you can certainly research what blogs might be interested in your book and prepare pitches for them. There are social media campaigns to wage, local media angles to pursue, organizations to approach, and all kinds of out-of-the-box gambits you can dream up. None of this will cost you a whole lot — except time and perhaps a little pride.
Then there’s the stuff you pay for. And it’s tricky to judge what’s a good investment and what’s not because the results vary so much from book to book. A friend of mine who has a “real” book from a traditional publisher experimented with placing $1,000 in Facebook ads. She’s still trying to figure out what impact the ads had, but Facebook does have some interesting marketing opportunities.
Google AdWords/Keywords is another popular option. And a number of self-serve ad networks are popping up, including Blogards Book Hive, which allows you to target a number of smaller book blogs for relatively affordable rates.
The author MJ Rose has a marketing service called AuthorBuzz that caters to both self-publishers and traditional publishers. She says the best thing for self-publishers is a blog ad campaign–it starts at about $1,500 for a week of ads (the design work is included) and heads up in increments of $500. She says: “We place the ads in subject-related blogs, not book blogs. For instance, if it’s a mystery about an antiques dealer, we don’t just buy blogs for self-identified readers — who are not the bulk of book buyers — but rather I’ll find a half dozen blogs about antiques, culture, art and investments and buy the ads there and track them.” Rose claims she can get your book in front of at least a half a million people with that initial investment. She also says that you can’t really spend too much, you can just spend poorly.
I agree. However, I can’t tell you what impact a week or month of ads on blogs will have on your specific book’s sales. There are simply too many variables.
And something else to consider when it comes to self-promotion is the fact that there’s a fine line between being assertive and being overly aggressive in an obnoxious way. It also doesn’t impress people when all you tweet about is your book (the same goes for your Facebook and Google+ posts). As one friend told me, the state you want to achieve is what she likes to call “comfortably tenacious.”
Next, you may have always wanted to see your book in a bookstore but bookstores aren’t keen on carrying self-published books and it’s extremely difficult to get good placement in the store for your book so chances are no one will see the three copies the store has on hand anyway. Furthermore, your royalty drops on in-store sales. Some of the self-publishing outfits offer distribution through Ingram. CreateSpace offers its Expanded Distribution program for a $25 a year fee. It uses Baker & Taylor, as well as Ingram, as well as CreateSpace Direct to make your book available “to certified resellers through our wholesale website.” You also get distribution to Amazon Europe (Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.es, Amazon.fr, Amazon.it, Amazon.de).which is definitely a plus…if your book is seen.
Thirdly, it’s very hard to get your self-published book reviewed — and the mantra in the traditional publishing world is that reviews sell books. But that’s changing a bit. People didn’t take bloggers seriously at first and now they do. And what’s interesting is that reputable book reviewers such as Kirkus and more recently Publishers Weekly are offering special reviews services geared toward self-published authors. In the case of Kirkus Indie, the author pays a fee to have the book reviewed (around $400 – $550, depending on the speed) and a freelancer writes an objective opinion in the same format as a standard Kirkus review. However, be prepared! There’s no guarantee that the reviewer will like your book and you might have just spent a small fortune on one of the cruelest critiques of your life.
As for Publishers Weekly, it offers something called PW Select. While you can submit your book for review for a fee of $149, only about 25 percent of the book submissions end up being reviewed. But for a lot of folks risking that $149 is worth the opportunity of getting into the PW door. Of course, there’s always the possibility that the review isn’t favorable as well.
Another option is BlueInk Review, a fee-based review service targeted at indie authors. Most of the time, the results are honest and kind, and the positive aspects of your book are duly noted, making it possible to share your accomplishments on all your social sites.
Finally, in my opinion, the biggest problem with going the POD route is that it costs more to produce one-offs of your book than it does to produce thousands. To get a rough idea of how much money you can make selling your book, you can check out CreateSpace’s royalty calculator. Today, setting the price at $14.99 means that it costs about $3.70 to produce each book. If you have a longer book, you’ll have to set the price even higher to make any money at all.
Overall, compared with what traditional publishers pay out, royalty rates for self-published books are actually quite decent. But the fact is, to compete against top-selling titles from traditional publishers, your book should be priced between $8.99 or $9.99, and that’s simply not possible if it’s longer than 250 pages.
Many of the self-publishing operations have their own online marketplaces where you can offer up your book and get a significantly better royalty rate. Lulu.com, for instance, touts its own online store, which is well designed and has a big audience. But you obviously have access to a much larger audience on Amazon, which is the first place people generally go to look for a book when they hear about it.
The trick, of course, is making people aware your book even exists. This is where hustling takes over. You become a virtual marketing machine by joining book clubs and exchange groups, producing book trailers, offering giveaways and contest goodies…whatever it takes to get your book into a reader’s hands and that all powerful review on Amazon.
Yes…self-publishing is a rapidly evolving industry with lots of competitors and each of them are constantly throwing out new information. Publishers are continually upgrading their facilities, infrastructure, and pricing, and what I — or other authors say today — could be wrong in just a few months from now. A few years ago, Amazon was only offering 35 percent royalties on e-books. Now it’s at 70 percent for books priced at $2.99 and higher. So there’s no telling what next year will bring.