Monday, February 29, 2016

Presentation Essentials for Writers: Part 2

If you recall, I had the privilege of kicking off February here at Across the Board with a post about how authors can integrate a few presentation tips into their writing process. As promised, I’m back with the second installment to give you some presentation tips for those moments when you actually have to talk about your writing.

To be successful in any industry you have to have a solid network. Establishing a relationship with your readers and other industry professionals is the most effective way to build that network.

And building a network requires communication.

Today I’m going to point out some of the most common mistakes in presentations, and why you also want to avoid these in conversations about your writing.

Poor Preparation
The need for preparation is obvious for some events, such as book signings, and I’m not going to discuss those here.

What I want to focus on is that chance encounter with a potential business partner or a reader. You should always know exactly what you would say in any given situation. In many corners of the business world this is known as an elevator speech. The idea is that if you are stuck in an elevator with the CEO of your company, what would you say to form a lasting impression?

You should have elevator speeches for your bio and for your writing. You might even have a couple different elevator speeches for each, depending on who you are talking too. Here is an elevator speech for my first book, Kingston’s Project:

  • Kingstons Project is a poignant look at how one woman overcomes grief after a significant loss in her life and the relationships she builds along the way.
I mention the primary theme for the novel while (hopefully) giving just enough detail to make the person want to ask more questions. You will want to practice your elevator speech to the point that you can deliver it with ease and confidence.

Poor First Impression
It’s important to give a good first impression because that sets the tone for the conversation. Let’s say an author is doing a reading at a book signing and she cracks a joke as an ice-breaker, but it turned out to be offensive to some. Right away the author made some people uncomfortable. The result is that they may feel they wouldn’t like anything she wrote.

In addition to how you act, first impressions are affected by how you look. Think about what you wear and what it says about you and how it makes you feel. I personally dress as business casual to all book events. That’s what makes me feel most confident, and I know I perform at my best when I feel confident.

At book signings, you also need to think about the kind of first impression your table/display creates. If you don’t know, you can always take a picture and post to your social media sites and ask people to tell you want they think of your display—too busy, too bland, disorganized, awesome...

No Enthusiasm
I wish I didn’t have to point this one out, but I’ve seen this happen. When I participate in a book fair, I always make it a point to go around and talk to the other authors. There are always a few who just don’t seem excited to be there. I’m sorry, even if only one person attends the event you need to show passion for what you do. If you don’t have enthusiasm for your work, why would anyone else want to read it?

Lack of Engagement
Always remember—a conversation is not defined as only one person talking. It’s an exchange of words between people. Get the other person talking. Ask questions. “Do you like to read?” or “What types of books do you typically like to read?” are two simple questions that can easily open the door to communication. Building a solid network requires making a connection with others, and you can’t do that if you do all the talking. Also, pay attention to the other person’s body language. If a person is backing away or showing other signs of not wanting to engage, don’t push it. And don’t jump out in front of them as they walk past you or your table!

Weak Close
Spend some time thinking about what you can use as handouts for your various events. It might be a bookmark with the name of your novel, pen with your name on it, or a printout of a writing sample. The type of event will determine what’s appropriate.

I personally keep two forms of ‘handouts’ with me at all times. The first are business cards that contain my email address and phone number. The second are what I call book cards (see images below).They are the size of a standard business card, but instead of personal information they have my book cover on the front and my social media information on the back.

I can’t tell you how many times someone told me the name of a book or author that I’d forgotten by the time I got home. Professional looking handouts can significantly increase the chances of someone taking action later, either by reaching out to you for future opportunities or by buying your novel.

I could make this list a lot longer, but these are the core mistakes I’ve seen other authors make. I’ve even made a few of them myself! Take the time to plan ahead and practice, practice, practice!

~ Carrie

Thursday, February 25, 2016

My Master Writing Workshop Experience

Last night, in the middle of a snowstorm, I drove to my first organized writing experience in a long time: The Master Writing Workshop at the Lafayette Writers' Studio in Lafayette, Indiana. Actually, now that I think about it, outside of memberships to a few online forums (like Backspace) and professional associations (like the SCBWI), this was the first real developmental thing I'd done for myself and my writing since attending a conference in NYC about eight years ago. Talk about dusting off the cobwebs.

As I knew it would be, it was so refreshing and so validating to meet other writers and to just talk about writing in person. Sometimes it's so easy, being the introverts we are, to sit behind our computers, commenting on this or critiquing that, and feel like we're connecting with one another. Much of the time that's all we can do, but sometimes it's nice -- and perhaps essential-- to break the cycle and get out into the world and rub elbows with our fellow writers.

The workshop started off with introductions, at which time I had the chance to vent and lament about working on the same damn project for the last ten years. It wasn't all about that, of course, but when I talked about some of the struggles I've been having, managing work, fatherhood and my writing dream, pretty much everyone at the table understood and could relate. It felt good to know I wasn't crazy.

We then went into a writing exercise where we were pushed to write in detail about the places we've lived, our emotions at the time, the smells, etc. Being a fiction writer, I try to avoid writing anything based in reality, but I went along with it anyway (growth opportunity and all). It was really cool to sit around a table with eight other writers and bang out a few paragraphs. Not writing alone was a huge change-- something I wish all writers could experience.

We finished off the workshop by reading an emotional short story called the Trespasser, about a meth head who breaks into a family's summer home on Lake Michigan (part of a collection titled American Salvage), and talked about the author's word choice, POV, etc. Then we got our new writing swag (pictured below) and signed up to have our own work workshopped. I plan to submit one new piece and one old piece, then see where it goes from there. I'm super excited and a tad bit terrified.

The Master Writing Workshop runs all the way to June 1st, so this is like a half-a-year commitment I've made to become a better writer and hopefully a published one someday. If you're reading this, wishing you could do something similar, I highly suggest you look into local opportunities, take a chance and branch out. It is especially important for us newbies to keep improving ourselves and to do things that make us feel connected to the writing community. It's a solitary life, but it doesn't have to be that way all the time.    

Good luck, and wish me the same! 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Getting By With A Little Help From Your Friends

I officially completed my entry for a half-marathon last week. As in, filled out the form, sent payment and told my training partners I'm in. Can you say, "Oh my God. What have I done?" No? Well, I can. :) Oh my God! What have I done? 
I've run full marathons before, but that was pre-kid. Considering the kid's going to turn 11 a few days after I cross the finish line, that's A LOT of years without running any real distance. In fact, I looked at my running app the other day after a 6-mile training run and the last time I ran that far was October 2014. Sad, but true. But, I'm running -- and training -- with 2 friends, which makes it So. Much. Better. I don't know if I would do it alone, but I don't have to. Which got me thinking about marathon training and writing -- and how, for health reasons (mental and otherwise), it's advisable not to go it alone.
People say all the time, "Writing a marathon, not a sprint." and it's true. Writing is a long game. Some people hit it out of the park with their debut, but most writers build an audience book by book and success comes from putting in the proverbial miles. There are aches and pains, occasional tears and breathlessness along the way. People also say writing is a solitary endeavor and this, too, is true. At the end of the day, no one but you can put those words to the page. But, that doesn't mean you don't need support along the way.
My running partners keep me committed to a running schedule. We celebrate the good runs and cheer each other on when one of us is flagging. We share random facts and stories about our kids/husbands/dogs. They keep me sane -- and get me out there on days when it's cold and rainy. My writing tribe -- a closed Facebook group of twenty other writers, most of whom I had the good fortune to meet in person at RWA last year -- isn't so different, even though we're spread across time zones. I'm one of those people who loves/hates Facebook (Or is that everybody?) but I look forward to notifications from this group more than almost anything else on social media. When I've had a bad writing day, need inspiration or even just see something online that makes me go hmmm, this Facebook group is my happy place. 

Another part of my tribe are critique partners (whom I also love to the moon and back). We send each other blurbs, snippets, pages and, yes, cheer each other on, share successes and rejections/bad reviews. My critique partners are gold and I don't know anyone who would make it through the ups and downs of finishing a book without them. 

This blog, which I came to because a writing friend suggested I get in touch with Brianna, who then asked if I'd like to participate regularly, is part of that all-important tribe, too. As are certain friends on Twitter, real-life friends who aren't writers, themselves, but who get it. My husband who puts up with my perpetual attachment to my laptop, and even my kid, who really really thinks I should write a book without kissing for a change, but thinks the fact I write books at all is kind of cool. In other words, this solitary marathon of book writing isn't so solitary after all and I'm better for it. 

I went for a run alone this morning -- my first solo run in ages. I had my music blasting and even though it's cold, it's sunny here in NW England today. I ran a loop I struggled with when I started running again after the Christmas holiday, and even though I wasn't fast by racing standards, I was fast by my own standards. My Nike app has cheers turned on at the end of every run and today, Rafael Nadal said, in his very sexy accent, "Your training is really paying off." and I couldn't help but think, I'd be nowhere in my training if I was running alone.

Then I came home and started trying to write the blurb for my current WIP. I got a draft done and after I fiddle with it a little more, I'm going to send it to a critique partner and another writer friend. By this time tomorrow, I'm pretty sure I'll have a completely different blurb and it will be so much better. And I can't help but think, I'm so glad I'm not doing this alone.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Women in Horror Month Special Interview: Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, Editor, Publicist, and Writer

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey all!

"What's going on here?" you're no doubt intoning to a great deal of muttered misgivings, "And where the hell is Tara?"  Don't worry; your favorite (or possibly second favorite, depending on if you're a Brianna Booster™) resident reader will be back next month.  Right now she is moving, which, if I recall correctly from my time as a clerk at the substance abuse clinic, is the second or third biggest stressor in a person's life (behind marriage and divorce.)

Luckily, I had a post ready to go for my personal blog, so you will not have to go wanting today, dear followers.  In case you were not aware, February is Women in Horror Month, and I have been doing a series of interviews with such luminaries as Rhiannon Frater, Rachel Aukes, and Sharon Stevenson.  In fact, response to my call for participation has been so robust, that I have more interviews than there are weekdays in February, so I've decided to make use of the group blog since we have this open spot.  Hopefully this way we can get a little exposure for WiHM to a different audience, so remember, if you like what you see, there are plenty of other WiHM events going on all throughout February so make sure to check them out.  Today I'm going to be introducing you all to Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, so let's dive right in.

About Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi:

Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi has Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, Journalism, and History. She has 20 years of experience in the communication fields and is currently a writer, a journalist, a publicist, and an editor among many other things.

She writes fiction, essays, stories, and poetry and is an avid reader of many genres. She has edited poetry anthologies, novels, fiction pieces, and other various non-fiction and journalistic pieces. As a journalist, she’s written, interviewed, and edited for various newspapers, magazines, media outlets, and online news sources at both ends of the spectrum in media and public relations.

As an entrepreneur, she owns two businesses: Addison’s Compass Public Relations and Hook of a Book Media and Publicity. Her third pursuit is writing her own work for publication. She volunteers her time in the community and sits on the board of directors for a local mental health center and domestic violence shelter.

She is the mother of three school-aged children and lives in Ohio and her passions are reading, writing, book hunting, and entertainment such as movies/film, television, and music. Oh, and she bakes, because you can’t do any of that without cookies.

You can e-mail her at hookofabook (at) hotmail (dot) com and find her easily at her website. Type in Erin Al-Mehairi and you’ll also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterestwhere she loves new friends.


1. What are your horror bona fides? Who have you scared?

If this means ‘how am I a member of the horror community,’ then at this point I’d say I’m known for being part of the supporting cast. Though I’ve been a professional writer, editor, journalist, and more for over 20 years, the last five years in horror I’ve reviewed and interviewed many horror books and authors, developmentally consulted and copy edited many horror authors, assisted authors like Hunter Shea with development, served as a pre-submission and short story collection editor for Glenn Rolfe, helped many first-time authors mold their craft, served as a publicist for more than two handfuls of successful horror authors, conducted interviews for the website Beneath the Underground of horror screenwriters, actors/actresses, and directors, and all while working away on my own body of work.

I’ve been pretty quiet with the many manuscripts I’ve been working on over the years, as well as my poetry, but this year I began to put out some of my own dark poetry online, to which I had a really good response. That was scary for me as I am so private about my writing. It was a way to take on my fears and a funnel to handle emotions. I plan to put out a book of poetry if I can this year, probably on my own since some of the work was already online, but in the future I’d like to publish one with a press.

I’m writing short stories in the horror genre too. I just finished one up that needs the editing touch still that I described as being Hitchcockian and “Twilight Zone”-esque and I’d like to make it my goal this year that no matter how busy I am, I crank out some more of those and get them published. I am not sure I’m really out to frighten anyone as my main horror writing goal, but maybe to reach into the depth of emotion, opening the dark and grief-stricken side of all of us. With one of my most recent dark poems I showcased on a website, people were a little frightened, I heard, of the villain and wanted me to turn it into a short story.

Because I stay busy in the supporting role and work more than full-time hours with three children to raise, I tend to put my writing on the back burner, but it’s my goal this year that no matter how much sleep I don’t get, I’ll do it. Doing interviews like this and talking to others about it makes it really that much easier to prove myself and stay on task.

2. Who or what terrifies you?

Over the years, I’ve read a lot of horror and I think eventually, especially if you know many of the authors, you become more desensitized to being scared! It’s a thrill and entertainment and an adrenaline rush, but for me to be truly terrified it needs to pertain to evil ghosts, serious evil demons, and certain serial killers. I can only say that now living in town and not in the deep wood as I did growing up! Pitch black night scares me, being alone, and also being buried alive. People being tortured in graphic ways scares me and predators of children truly scare the crap out of me and I don’t even want to read about it. What I do want to read about that will scare me is malevolent ghosts.

If you want to terrify me with horror, turn on the visual. Movies frighten me so much that I could pee my pants, and so, many times I can’t even watch them. I once went to a haunted forest as a teenager and literally did pee my pants. I will never go on an overnight with the cast of “Ghost Hunters.” Give me a visual of something horrifying, with my photographic memory, and you can be sure I’ll wake up in sweats and screaming in the night. Especially when I feel a tap on my shoulder…

3. Are there unique challenges to being a woman in horror or do you feel like gender is irrelevant?

I feel there are challenges to women as a whole in society and in business, and since I portray writing, books, publishing, entertainment all also as business, then the answer is yes. We, as women, still need to assert ourselves and it can take double the time to get a man to trust you. And people have to trust others to bring them into their tribe. I think they might read a story by a woman and think it’s great and they will support their writing, but then, when it comes to the business side of it, it’s different. I observe that some people think they treat women equal, but don’t see all the nuances they do that shows that really in fact they don’t. It’s why I don’t agree with other women who say they won’t support February as Women in Horror Month as we should all already be equal and be showcased equally 365 days of the year. That’s true. However, well, we aren’t. It’s why Women in Horror Month was created seven years ago, to bring awareness to what women do. If everyone would just honor everyone as equal, then the world would be great right? Good thinking, but not happening. It’s why African-Americans are fighting for their rights, LGBT community is fighting for their rights, and women still can’t get the equal pay bill passed. Though men appreciate women and talk them up more than ever, we still have a long way to go and that means that women still must entertain and support any feature of them. It’s not pointing out the fact they are women and we only read them in February, but in actuality just showcasing their talents with an appreciation month. I use this analogy. We all know that people die of heart disease. We all know men die of it and women and men both fight for awareness of it. But it also is the number one killer of women. For some reason, women don’t like to talk about themselves and always think of themselves last. So February is Go Red for Women for the American Heart Association. Should we fight 365 days a year for heart awareness for women? Do women die only in February or all year long? The latter, right? By setting a month aside to do double the awareness, it sets a buzz that hopefully will last all year long to stop women from dying. So I feel the same about women in horror. It’s a way to meet and greet women horror authors and create more camaraderie that will inspire to do it all year, all the time. Maybe it’s all my PR work over the years, but having one set time to focus on something is how our human mind works in our deadline-driven society. Like how we all eat pizza on National Pizza Day even if we eat it every Friday the rest of the year too.

There are many, many more women authors in horror than I think people realize. In fact, in doing my own Women in Horror project, in conjunction with David at The Scary Reviews, I have met at least 15 new women horror writers I wish to read and connect with that I wouldn’t not have known otherwise! That’s another reason why a specific feature splash is good. I follow them and always learn new things. I’ve worked with many men in the last five years because they are the ones who approach me. Women don’t. I think it goes back to again the fact that women are more uncomfortable selling themselves or asking for help even than men. I’m so thrilled to meet so many more women in horror this month, I don’t feel so alone.

4. Who are your favorite female horror icons?

I grew up reading mostly gothic horror of the human and dysfunctional family variety, like V.C. Andrews, but I really have always admired the work of Shirley Jackson. I think that Victoria Holt and Daphne du Maurier are really inspirational in regards to gothic writing and creating atmospheric, psychological horror. Many of du Maurier’s works were directed as horror movies by Alfred Hitchcock. Mary Shelley, of course, writing FRANKENSTEIN, is an obvious of choice of a woman forebear.

Joyce Carol Oates is a classic author, as well as Toni Morrison, who have either written some horror or utilize elements of horror in their books. Other classic writers who danced the line into horror are Charlottë and Emily Brontë. Many times men, or the population, have equated these works to the romance or classic lit categories, but in reality, they are horror. A lady most inspiring for many reasons, one of which her ability to write mainstream thrillers and horror, is Heather Graham.
These are icons to me because they’ve either had books that have the test of time, pushed their boundaries at a time women certainly weren’t created equal, or have been prolific, best-selling and a role model for all women. Many of them I’ve studied in order to improve my own gothic or atmospheric writing. Horror doesn’t have to be all blood and guts. It can be very ethereal and emotional, touching the most vulnerable places of us.

5. What are you working on/promoting currently? Why should folks check it out?

Right now in horror, I’m editing a book by a first-time writer, teaching some writing, and editing a short story collection. I’m also consulting and beginning new publicity tours for some books by Samhain authors Brian Moreland, Matthew Franks, and Hunter Shea for April and Kristin Dearborn’s from DarkFuse, Jonathan Janz and David Bernstein currently for Sinister Grin Press, as well adding a Kensington horror or two this summer along with more Sinister Grin, Mirror Matter Press, and Samhain and whomever else comes my way. I’ve just conducted two interviews with a upcoming female horror screenwriter and with a director. As for my writing, I’m writing more dark poetry to create a cache for publication and have a short story that needs cleaned up. I’m working on a gothic tale featuring a lake monster which will be a short story or novella. Besides that, I’ll be working on a short story collection inspired by Van Gogh, as well as still plugging away on my supernatural revenge novel that features Emily Dickinson. My mind is ever seeing stories in so much around me though that I never know for sure what my pencil will decide to write as a priority. Yes, I still use paper and pencil! As for why should folks check it out, I ‘d have to say that I hope they might check it out to be entertained, in regards to my stories, but mostly with the poetry, to help them deal with their own fears or to help them heal from emotional trauma or grief.

Anyone can find me at Oh, for the Hook of a Book for my reviews, interviews, and for information on my Hook of a Book Media and Publicity business, find me writing at Beneath the Underground, or on social media on FacebookHook of a Book FacebookTwitterInstagram, or Pinterest. My e-mail is hookofabook (at) hotmail (dot) com. I love to make friends so contact me anytime.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Thank You, Mr. Presidents

As a homeschool family, we don't have scheduled school breaks, thus leaving me unaware of today's holiday (thanks, Facebook, for reminding me!). Fortunately, we happen to have several books on United States presidents and have been able to pull some interesting facts out of them.

For example:

John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe all died on July 4th. Zachary Taylor died on July 9th, following a Fourth of July celebration.

Martin Van Buren grew up speaking Dutch, so he had to learn English later in life. He was the only president who had to do so.

Millard Fillmore's wife started the Presidential Library at the White House.

Ulysses S. Grant changed his name to avoid having initials that spelled HUG.

With those fun facts in mind, I've elected (ha, see what I did there?) to take a mental health day. By that I mean I sewed some sleep masks simply because I wanted to sew. Here's a picture for attention/some of these are book-relevant.

Now I'm going to go snuggle up in a few blankets, pretend it isn't snowing, and finish reading Fight Club so I can move on to Kristina Cook's second Undone by Love book, Unveiled

What about you? Did you learn anything nifty on this holiday? If you have the day off, what are you doing? 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Twitter Tips

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey all!  A while back my multifariously talented fellow ATB blogger Carrie Beckort asked if I would blog about some tips, tricks, and best practices for using Twitter.  I made a video which you can watch here on my personal blog, but since different people learn different ways (and it doubles the number of blogposts I can squeeze out of the same topic) I thought I would include a Cliff's Notes version here. 

Now, just in the interests of full disclosure, I am by no means a tastemaker or power user on Twitter.  So if you are, please, by all means let us all know some better ideas in the comments.  But here's what's worked for me in the past:

1.  Always follow back. 

That means if somebody follows you, you should follow them back.  I make exceptions for the following: spambots, porn stars, obvious right wing loons, and when their bio says something like "cheap sunglasses" or "I can help you find thousands of Twitter followers overnight."  Those are usually bots, too.  And everybody probably has different tastes.  You might despise left wing loons or pickup artists.  Don't follow somebody distasteful just because of the followback "rule."

2.  I tend to avoid following back foreign language accounts, too. 

Occasionally I'll follow back a French or German speaker because I speak French and German, so at least I can know what their deal is.  But when the account is in a language I don't speak, I have no idea who I'm following.  And these accounts tend to conglomerate.  When I follow one or two foreign language accounts, sometimes I come back the next day and there are hundreds more following me and I have no idea what any of them are saying.  It's nice to have followers, but for all the good having a bunch of followers who I can't understand is doing me they may as well be bots.

3.  A "favorite" is basically a dry hump. 

It doesn't do anything for anybody.  It's basically like saying "I saw what you did there and I acknowledge it."  Favorites don't improve somebody else's tweet.  The only time to use a favorite by itself is when you mean to say, "I have nothing more to contribute to the conversation, but I acknowledge you said something."

4.  I always retweet any time someone shares a link related to me.

I actually keep a regular search for the name of each of my novels, as well as the urls of my blog and Across the Board.  When I find somebody shared something of mine, even without tagging me, I favorite, retweet, and say "thanks!"  I look at it this way: what you ultimately want is exposure.  If you share your own stuff too often, it looks narcissistic/spammy.  If you share somebody else sharing your stuff, you appear gracious and the end result is the same.

5.  Always tweet a thank you when somebody else mentions you in a link. 

By which I mean: a reviewer reviews one of my books I always say "Thanks, @carriebeckort, for the great review: (link)."  Similar to above, you want exposure but you don't want to seem self-centered or spammy.  So you act grateful, make sure to include the person's handle (and they'll most likely retweet you because it's exposure for them, too.)

6.  Don't ever start a tweet with a handle. 

At a minimum, put a period before the handle if you can't figure any other way out how to do it.  Basically, any time you start a tweet with a handle it treats it as though it's a private conversation.  People can still see it, but they have to go look (by clicking on "tweets and replies.")  And what you really want is for as much of your stuff as possible to be public, in case any of it catches someone's eye or ideally goes viral.  If you truly want to have a private conversation, Twitter has a direct message feature.

7.  Make an account on ManageFlitter, CrowdFireApp, or another app that lets you control your followers.

With Manageflitter and CrowdFireApp you can unfollow 100 people every 24 hours.  Make it part of your routine to do so, too.

8.  Here's the (basic) deal with building a followership. 

There are hard limits to the amount of people you can follow.  It starts at 2000.  Then when you break 2000 followers it becomes more algorithmic.  So you should go out right away and follow 2000 people.  You can do a search for accounts that contain the sorts of things you're looking for - say "reader," "YA," "NYT" whatever seems good.  Another method is to find somebody you want to be like, and just go down their follower list (or their following list if it seems better curated) and follow everybody on there.  Here's what's going to happen.  Due to rule #1 above, a certain percentage of those people are going to follow you back.  It might only be 50%, but people are usually pretty good about followbacks.  You'll also suck in some flotsam and jetsam.  People (and bots) will see that a whole flurry of people are following you, and they'll go to follow you, too.  Then you just use your Manageflitter or CrowdFireApp account to unfollow 100 people every day until you've unfollowed all of the jerks who didn't follow back.  Then you go back and follow a bunch more.  In this way you'll gradually expand your followership.  Ideally we'd all be Stephen Colbert and have a million followers while only following 1 back, but it just doesn't work that way for average joes.

9.  Engage in (and seek to join) conversations. 

Keep them going as long as possible, too.  If you see someone chatting about something interesting, just jump in.  Or strike up a convo with someone you know.  You can go down their feeds and respond to one of their tweets that sound interesting, or you can just start cold.  The other day I just cold tweeted one of my friends because I know she hates braggarts on Facebook, so I spontaneously started faux bragging to her on Twitter.  So what happens is people will see that you're not just a bot, you're a human being.  And if you say something clever in a convo (again, make sure not to start with a handle or it won't get seen) maybe that'll get some retweets.

10.  Use hashtags. 

Honest to God I wish this weren't a rule, but it is. 

11.  Don't misuse hashtags. 

If you're not sure what something means, google it.  It's usually out there.  You don't want to accidentally be using "#tcot" or "#notallmen" and not know what those mean, or the implications they've picked up.  When in doubt, just use something simple that can't be misinterpreted.  I tag most of my posts "#horror" and "#zombies."

12.  Don't overuse hashtags. 

They say two is ideal.  Too many hashtags and it just looks like gobbledygook.


What about you?  What have you found to be tips and tricks and best practices for using Twitter?  Let us know in the comments below!

Monday, February 8, 2016


A post by Mary Fan
Hey everyone! Mary here. It's my turn to put some pages up for critique once again... eeeeeeek!!! I
thought it would be easier this time around since this story has already through to a handful of beta readers but... yeah, putting your stuff out there never gets any easier. Not for me, at least *bites nails*.

Okay, here goes. For your scrutiny, I present the first chapter of MIDNIGHT SWAN, my YA retelling of Swan Lake. Except it's contemporary fantasy instead of the traditional fairytale. And it's from the black swan's POV. 

If I've done my job right, you shouldn't need to know the original fairy tale in order to get my story, but here's the high-level synopsis anyway: Once upon a time, an evil sorcerer cursed a girl to transform into a white swan by day, returning to human form only by night. A vow of true love can free her, but her prince is seduced by her evil twin (who can transform into a black swan). He makes his vow to the black swan instead, dooming the white swan to death (in some versions she kills herself, in others, the curse kills her). Cheery, ain't it?

There are many variations on the tale (I've seen the ballet multiple times, and no two companies have used the same ending), but the above is the version I used as my basis. And here's my take... Any and all comments are appreciated :-)


And in a flurry of light, the maiden was transfigured by enchantments beyond her knowing into a graceful white swan. Only by moonlight would she be able to return to her true self, and only upon the lake could the magic take place.


My heart is out to screw me over. Getting chatty with patrons always comes with the risk of them liking you, but I never thought the tables would turn on me. Clearly, I was wrong.
It’s not just that he’s cute. Cute I could handle. Especially since I’ve found that guys who look like him, the ones who could have they stepped out of a Ralph Lauren ad, are best observed from a distance. Get too close and the elitist douchebaggery comes out.
Yet if there’s any of that hiding behind his bright hazel eyes, I can’t see it. There’s something true about him. I know myself well enough to recognize what it means when my pulse is speeding, my palms are sweating, and my lips are stuck on a smile.
Seeing another patron—twenty-something pixie with eyebrow rings who’s more our usual clientele—wave at me, I go take her order and tell my heart to shut the fuck up. I’m not allowed to like anyone. Because liking can lead to love, and, for me, love can only lead to death.
His eyes—infuriatingly pretty and too earnest for his own good—linger on me as I grab a glass for Eyebrow Rings then approach the tap. I wonder what his name is. His real name, not the one on the fake-ass ID stating he’s a 28-year-old named Siegfried Prince with a photo that looks nothing like him. Not only does Siegfried Prince sport cropped black hair instead of tousled chestnut locks, but I can’t imagine this boy ever looking as smug and punch-worthy as the man in the picture.
Whoever he is, I can’t judge him. I find it stupid that at 18, I can serve booze but can’t drink my own cocktails. Plus, I’ve got a fake ID of my own, saying I’m a 30-year-old named Odile von Rothbart. It’s ridiculous how often I get away with using it.
Still, part of my job is to flag anyone underage, and I should have done so when I saw him slip past the bouncer, Josh, who was busy telling the homeless woman who hangs out by the bar’s door that the boss won’t allow her in here. Something about the boy’s wide-eyed appearance told me right away that he’s too young for this place, but he looked so stressed that I decided to cut him some slack. When Josh noticed him half a minute later, I made a show of checking “Siegfried’s” license. Though Josh is an intimidating presence—reminiscent of a Klingon with his large build, shaved head, and brown beard—he’s a softie at heart. Which is probably why he sat back down with a knowing grin that said, I know you’re bullshitting me, Kali, but I’ll let it slide. He probably figures I have a crush on the guy. If only I could say he’s wrong.
I hand Eyebrow Rings her beer, and she gives me her credit card. “Want me to close it or keep it open?”
“Keep it open.” She turns back to her friends, and they clink glasses. She grabs a shoulder to lean in and tell a secret. Gets a light elbow to the ribcage in return. Laughs.
It’s a familiar sight—close friends, practically family, having a good time together. It’s something I can never have.
A pang runs through me. As I go to the register, an angsty indie rock ballad billows from the speakers. The air is thick with the smells of beer and bodies, though it’s still early. No matter how hard we scrub, the scent lingers in the walls, the floor, the furniture. In this bar, I’ve seen old friends gather and new friends connect. I’ve watched today’s acquaintances become tomorrow’s love stories and strangers build ties that could last a lifetime.
Funny thing is, I ran away from Red, my so-called mom, because I learned what she’d done to make sure I’d always be alone. Yet here I am, alone anyway because of who she is—and what she made me.
“Hey, are you okay?” Prince Charming—that’s what I’ve been calling him, since I can’t say “Siegfried” with a straight face—leans against the bar, his face creased with worry.
I didn’t realize my expression had changed, but it must have crinkled itself into something pretty miserable if he can see my gloom through the feathered black mask the boss makes me wear over my eyes. It’s part of our gimmick; the bar’s called Masquerade.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Dragging my eyes across the banged-up tables, the cheap masks plastered over the walls, and the artfully graffitied windows, I search desperately for something that needs my attention. Finding nothing, I grab the hair tie from my wrist and spend far more effort than needed tying my thick, black locks into a bun. Anything to avoid talking to him.
To be fair to Prince Charming, I’m the one who invited him to chat. He had that need-to-talk-to-someone look on his face, and he looked rich enough to leave a nice, fat tip in exchange for a pair of ears. With rent due in a week and not a lot else to occupy me, I decided to be sociable, so I gave him my best Wise Bartender smile and said, “I’m Kali, by the way. What’s your story?”
I was expecting something from the usual grab bag of relationship troubles and work stress—or, more likely in his case, school stress. What I got instead was an existential crisis.
“I needed to get away,” he said when I asked what a preppy guy like him was doing alone at an East Village dive bar. “I needed to see real people with real problems, living real lives.”
Between that and his banker blue shirt, which fit too well to be anything other than designer, I pegged him right away as a one-percenter. Probably goes to a private school and has a Wall Street internship for the summer. But in his eyes, in his voice, I perceived a kind of pain I know too well—the kind that comes with not being who you’re supposed to be. Some of the things he said could have come straight from my proverbial diary. Like how he’s so entangled in the expectations of others, he doesn’t know if he exists without them. How his life was picked out for him the moment he was born. How he’s trapped by a destiny he never asked for.
Maybe these aren’t huge problems in the grand scheme of things, but when it’s your life that’s being stolen from you, it’s the biggest deal in the world. Thanks to Red, I’m trapped too. She’s like a cancer in my mind—both part of me and not. Impossible to get rid of. And slowly eating me alive.
Eyebrow Rings calls me over, and asks me to grab her friend a beer. I try to focus on my task, but it’s too mindless to distract me from the gentle yet magnetic presence reaching toward me from Prince Charming’s direction.
What’s wrong with me? When did he go from Pretty, but not my type to Shit, I’m starting to like this guy? Maybe it was around when he made his little speech about how he wanted to change the world, which went something like this: “I know I ‘have it all,’ and I know don’t deserve it. No one does. This life, this… privilege… it isn’t earned. It’s given—by luck or by blood—because at a certain point, there’s nothing you can do to earn so much. Especially people like me, whose only talent was being born. But I can’t ignore what I have or what I am, and I want to use it to make the world a better place. Maybe if I were better with words, I’d find a less lame way to put it, but it’s true. I want to earn my place in the world.”
Like I said—existential crisis.
I don’t know why, but the way he said that got to me. I wish it were only because the crooked tilt of his mouth as he said the bit about being lame was adorable beyond all reason. If anyone else had spoken as he did, I would’ve rolled my eyes so hard they got stuck. Maybe he struck me because he has this halo of honesty around him, and I’ve been lied to so many times, seeing someone genuine is like finding a goddamn unicorn.
Or maybe it’s because hearts are irrational as fuck, and mine’s a traitorous sonuvabitch.
Hearing a cacophony of shouts, I glance at the door. A group of guys saunters in. They’re your typical skinny-jean-wearers in bold t-shirts and dude jewelry, but noisier than usual. Probably already buzzed.
I rub my nose, brushing the small, silver ring in my right nostril. “What can I get you guys?”
“Where’s the hot girl?” one guy demands. He has a lion tattoo on his bicep. How cliché. Not that I can talk—the black feather on my left collarbone isn’t exactly original.
“Yeah, we want to see the hot girl!” another shouts.
Thanks a lot. Too bad telling customers to fuck off is a one-way ticket to unemployment.
I glance around for Ava, feeling kind of bad for her. I certainly don’t want to deal with these assholes. But either she spotted them checking her out and fled, which I wouldn’t blame her for, or she’s in the bathroom. “Ava will be back soon,” I say as politely as I can.
I glimpse Prince Charming giving the Asshole Brigade a death glare and for some reason, that makes me smile.
“You know, you’d be hotter if let yourself fill out.” Lion Tattoo presses his elbows into the bar. “I know girls are all about skinny, but you’re starting to look like a stick figure.”
It takes all my self-control not to give him a good old-fashioned bitch slap. I want to yell that I can be a stick figure if I want, and that he’s a total douche.
Unfortunately, he’s not finished with me yet. “So, where’re you from?”
None of your business. “Right here, New York City.”
“No, where are you really from?”
Wish I knew. The New York driver’s license saying I’m “Odile von Rothbart” isn’t my only fake ID. As far as the U.S. Government is concerned, I don’t exist. I’m 99 percent sure I was born here, but when the woman you grew up calling Mom admits to having kidnapped you as a baby, nothing’s certain.
I know that’s not what Lion Tattoo’s asking, though. I’ve been through this drill enough times. While his question annoys me, I just want him to leave me alone, so I give him the answer he’s undoubtedly looking for. “I’m Indian, okay?”
It wasn’t until I was in first grade that I realized my sandalwood complexion bore little resemblance to my mom’s skin, which is as white as the poison she sells. My childhood pestering got Red to admit that my father is Indian-American. Wish I knew who he and my real mother are.
“Indian?” Lion Tattoo cocks his head. “This kind”—he jabs his finger at his forehead—“or this kind?” He slaps his hand over his open mouth.
I’m too astounded by the stupid to even be offended. Now am I allowed to tell him to fuck off?
“Hey!” To my surprise, Prince Charming marches up to Lion Tattoo. “Apologize to the lady!”
Lady?! Can’t remember if anyone’s ever called me that un-ironically.
Lion Tattoo scowls. “For what?”
“For being racist!” Prince Charming looks ready to punch the other guy’s face. He could probably take him. They’re both about six feet tall, and while Lion Tattoo’s got a broader build, righteous rage is a powerful thing.
It’s also irritating as hell.
“Cool it, Prince Charming.” I give him a hard look. “There’s no problem here unless you start one.”
The anger drains from Prince Charming’s face, and he looks away, embarrassed. Josh eyes me from the door, and I nod to let him know that everything’s okay. But it really isn’t. Now that the shock has worn off and the almost-fight’s been diffused, Lion Tattoo’s comments sink in. A whirlpool of fury churns in my gut. I want to call him a racist myself, but I remind myself that I’m at work.
“You okay, Kali?” Ava reappears, sweeping a few blond locks off her sequined silver mask. With her double Ds and luscious lips, it’s easy to see why she’s “the hot one.”
“There she is!” One of Lion Tattoo’s friends points at Ava with a grin.
I give Ava an apologetic look. “If you don’t mind, I’ll let you take care of these guys.”
Ava flattens her expression—narrowed eyes, pursed lips—in a look that’s her way of saying, “I’m so not impressed by this bunch.” Then she plasters on a fake smile and asks the Asshole Brigade what they’d like.
“Sorry about that.” Prince Charming returns to his spot, and I notice his beer glass is still mostly full. “I just… The way that guy was treating you…”
“He was being a dick.” I don’t know who I’m more annoyed by—Lion Tattoo for his assholery or Prince Charming for butting in. “It happens. I don’t need you to be my hero.”
His lips quirk, but his eyes are sad. “Of course not. No one does. They just need me to be their puppet.”
Great, here comes the existential crisis again. I wish my heart could be as irritable as my brain, but despite myself, I feel bad for thinking that. Though I shouldn’t care about him and his first world problems, I just do. “Sometimes you’ve gotta let people fight their own fights. Picking up a battle flag that isn’t yours and using it to make yourself feel good… it’s kind of a dick move when you think about it.”
“That’s not what I was doing,” he says quickly. “I… I had good intentions.”
“The road to hell is paved with those.”
He gives me an almost-smile. “So is the road to heaven, if there is such a thing. I guess heroes and villains start in the same place.”
“I don’t believe in heroes.” I lean my elbows against the bar.  “They’re made when people see what they want to see, when they thrust some high-minded ideal onto a poor sonuvabitch who maybe did something amazing, but is still as screwed up as the rest of us in one way or another. When people realize their hero isn’t perfect, they go nuts, and it’s not fair for anyone. So forget heroes. I’d rather believe a screw-up can do something great than find my illusions shattered when someone supposedly great screws up.”
“Maybe you’re right.” His gaze turns contemplative. “But letting things sit when you know there’s something wrong isn’t right either. Maybe all I’ll do is make an idiot of myself—like I did just now—but is it so wrong to try?”
“Of course not.” I angle my mouth. “And if you end up succeeding someday, you’ll be one of those screw-ups who does something great. Now, that’s a lot less pressure than trying to be great without screwing up, wouldn’t you say?”
This time, he smiles for real. “I like the way you think.”
And I’m starting to like you. Fuck.
Luckily, Eyebrow Rings chooses that moment to call for another round. I start toward the tap, then freeze as my eyes land on a man leaning against the mask-covered wall, his arms folded and his cold gaze fixed on me. He’s not tall—maybe five-foot-eight, same as me—but his bulk is intimidating. Though his face is shadowed, the tattoo on his pale wrist tells me everything I need to know.
A menacing owl glares at me in red ink with its wings outstretched and its talons outreached—Red’s signature. All her most loyal enforcers have it, and if you know what it means, you’ll get the hell out of their way. Piss off one of them and you piss off Red, and if you piss off Red, you end up rotting in some New Jersey swamp.
A shudder runs down my spine. I’ve tried a hundred times to get away from her for good, but she won’t let me leave the city. The first time my train ticket got denied, I thought it was bad luck. The second time, I noticed a subtle shimmer in the air, like I was watching that bit of the world through a reflecting pool. It meant there was magic at work, and it as good as told me that Red was behind my thwarted attempt to get out of New York. Only those who manipulate the Aether through spells can see it. After a few more useless attempts and more “bad luck”—buses with their engines blown, taxis that never arrived, the mysterious shutdown of the PATH train—I got the message.
Red won’t drag me back to her place. But she won’t let me leave her territory either. And she’s watching me. Through this goon, she’s keeping an eye on my every move—and silently reminding me to behave.
“Did you hear me?” Eyebrow Rings’ voice cuts through my momentary shock.
“Sorry… Coming right up.” As I fetch her order, I feel the enforcer’s eyes—really Red’s eyes—and wish I could hide under the bar.
By the time I’m done taking care of Eyebrow Rings and her friends, Prince Charming is gone. Though I should be relieved, disappointment settles in my stomach. A white envelope sits next to his virtually untouched drink, and I grab it, wondering what’s inside. Answer: a shit-ton of cash.
Red’s henchman is still watching me, but I’m not worried about him taking it. If money were all Red wanted, I’d be over the moon. Also, she wouldn’t let her people mess with me. I’m her daughter. More like her property.
The envelope’s not thick; the bills are all hundreds. Guess I was right about Prince Charming being a good tip source. Who carries around that much cash anyway? Only drug dealers as far as I know, and he’s certainly not one of those. I’d know if he were; Red’s the queen among pushers. Or rather, the Baroness.
I should be high-fiving myself. Even though I’ll split the cash with Ava, my half is enough for rent. Instead, I feel slimy. I take all of thirty seconds to decide I’ll give my share to the homeless woman outside. Get rid of that thing that’s making me feel gross and make up for three months of pretending I don’t see her as I come in for work.
Great. Half an hour of talking to Prince Charming and suddenly I’m trying to be the hero I don’t believe in. I have to purge him from my mind and make sure I never see him again. Because if I fall in love, one of two futures will happen: The one where he doesn’t love me back, and I end up heartbroken, or worse, the one where he does, and the curse Red cast on me destroys us both.

Either way, I’d be totally fucked.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Scouted: a follow-up

What up, guys! It's a rainy day here in the Poconos and while I normally find this weather atmospheric and a boon to mystery writing, my toddler does not. She's simultaneously whining for a snack and climbing over the keyboard. Anyway, I'm about to take refuge in my garden shed because dead bugs and a musty lawnmower have to be more conducive to writing than a 20-month old.  But I digress.

I thought I'd follow up with everyone about how my Kindle Scout campaign ended. You can read the introductory post I wrote here. Long story short, I submitted my YA mystery, Dead and Breakfast, to Kindle Scout (Amazon's crowd-sourcing publishing arm) in December. The book was on campaign for 30 days where it kissed babies and shook the hands of voting Iowans -- kidding! No, in fact, I campaigned for nominations in an effort to get D&B on Amazon's radar. I contacted my newsletter, tweeted my heart out, begged friends to check out the campaign, and basically used up all my lifelines. In return for nominating it, readers will get a free copy of the book before it's released. Which will hopefully bring in advanced reviews.

It used to be that after an author's campaign ended, Amazon would send a quick email either rejecting or accepting the book. Quick as in two days. I waited 12 days for a response -- luckily it was YES!

Dead and Breakfast will be published by Kindle Press. I am super excited on many fronts. The advance, marketing help, and increased visibility will hopefully propel me onto Kindles everywhere. I also get another round of edits, which I always love. I'm not a delicate snowflake when it comes to my writing -- if there is room for improvement, I want to know.

So far, I've joined a secret Facebook group for Kindle Press authors which is a lovely place to get information about the imprint, as well as network. I've mostly received automated emails setting up my banking info. I've also been notified to expect my editorial letter within the next two weeks. And that's about it.

The nice thing about Kindle Press is the books they select are publish-ready. Minor edits, proofreading, and formatting are all that's left. Cover art is secure, and print formatting are the author's responsibility. This means publication is swift. I'm hoping for an early Spring release.

Thanks to everyone who nominated D&B. I hope you enjoy your free copy and I really hope you'll review the book on Amazon and Goodreads.

Peace out,

Monday, February 1, 2016

Presentation Essentials for Writers: Part 1

For some reason, I was thinking the other day about the training sessions I used to lead for my company on effective presentations. These thoughts quickly transitioned into how some of the tips I gave to countless corporate collogues could also benefit my fellow writers.

There’s the obvious—the tips that can help you speak more effectively about your work. This is necessary for not only book events, but also for those moments when you find yourself with a prospective reader, editor, agent, or publisher.

But there’s also the not so obvious—how using tips for effective presentations can enhance your writing.

Thanks to this being a Leap Year, I have the rare opportunity to bookend February here at Across the Board. This gives me the perfect opportunity to break this topic into two parts. Today I’m focusing on the not so obvious—how it can help our writing. I’ll address what you need to know when speaking about your writing in Part 2 on Feb. 29th. My focus will be on novels, but this applies to all types of writing.

4 Presentation Tips for Writing

1. Design the Close First
I tend to agree that the close is the most important part of a presentation. There’s a good chance your audience won’t remember everything you presented, so the close is there to remind them of the important aspects of your message. It’s also where your audience determines if you were successful in making your point.

It’s the same in a novel. As a reader, I’ve read several books where a rushed or incomplete ending killed the rest of the story. Take the time to think about your ending before you even write the first sentence.

I’m not saying that you have to draft out the entire last chapter first. You don’t even have to know the exact outcome before you get started. But you should know the general destination. You should know the primary message of your book. Once you have that, build the rest of the novel to arrive at that point.

2. Grab Attention & Keep the Interest
Studies have shown that in a presentation audience attention is high at the start of the presentation and then again at the end. Attention and interest naturally decrease during the body of the presentation. To deliver an effective presentation, you have to continuously grab the audience’s attention. This can be accomplished by injecting humor, using a personal testimonial, or engaging the audience. The change of pace will naturally regain the audience’s attention and interest.

The same can be said about writing. Readers usually start out a novel with high interest. However, if there isn’t enough ‘spice’ to retain the reader’s attention, they might give up or start skipping sections just to get to the end. I know the reader in me has done this on more than one occasion. I also get frustrated when an author baits me throughout the entire novel, only revealing secrets at the end. Below are some examples of what I’ve done in my own novels to grab the reader’s attention and keep their interest:

  • Revealed a big secret early in the book
  • Added in a one-page chapter after several longer ones
  • Interrupted the narrator at the end of a chapter to start the next one
  • Left a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter
  • Added in humor

Your options here are virtually limitless. I have to say that my most creative (and favorite) way that I’ve structured a novel to retain interest is in my third novel, Shattered Angel. Angel is given a choice where she only has 24 hours to decide. I start the novel at chapter 24 and count down to chapter 0 where I reveal her decision. Many readers have told me that it has kept them engaged late into the night!

Something important to point out here is that you don’t want to add ‘spice’ in every chapter. Too much and it loses its uniqueness and ability to grab attention.

3. Add in White Space
During my training sessions, I could never stress enough how important it was to have clean presentation materials. There is not much that will drop an audience’s attention faster than charts that are too small to read or slides completely blocked with text. If there’s too much on the slide, then the audience doesn’t know where to focus. In addition, the eye needs a place to rest.

In writing, I don’t classify white space as what you find in the margins or between section breaks. Those are important also, but here I’m defining white space as those story elements where the reader can take a breather. For example, I write emotionally heavy books. That means I have to be thoughtful about adding in lighter moments where my readers can escape from the emotions I’m driving into them. If I don’t, they may give up simply because it’s too much. Think about the primary emotions your novel carries and consider ways you can balance that. Even a thriller needs to take it down once in a while—readers may not have enough stamina to go 100mph for the full length of a novel! You don’t want to take the risk of a reader needing to put your book down for a break because they may not come back. Give them the breaks they need within the story.

4. Minimize Distractions
One of the things I had to cover in my training sessions was how our company logo should be respected. Many people thought it was ridiculous to have to remember where it should be positioned, how far text needed to be away from it, or what colors it could or could not be. Their argument was that the logo had nothing to do with the topic of their presentation. While that’s true in general, misuse of the logo was a big deal for the people in the audience who knew the branding guidelines. The result was that all of those people were suddenly only focused on the logo violation and not what the presenter was saying.

Distractions are dangerous because while they seem insignificant, the reality is that they can cause a major disturbance. Distractions in writing include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Mistakes
  • Plot inconsistencies
  • Excessive use of adjectives
  • Use of complex language
  • Rapid changes of PoV

While it’s impossible to predict every distraction for every reader, you can think through some of the most common ones and work to ensure they are not in your writing. A good place to start is to list out the things that have disrupted your reading experience when reading a novel.

Incorporating these four tips into your writing will help you produce your best work, which will go a long way in your quest to build a loyal readership. Keep these tips in front of you as you write. You can also structure some beta reader questions around these points to help ensure you’ve covered them appropriately.

Come back at the end of the month when I’ll give you tips to use when talking to others about your writing!

~ Carrie
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