Tips for Participating in Reading Challenges

woman reading harry potter book
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At the start of the year, I wrote a post about my annual reading challenge. The challenge is fairly simple: to read a diverse selection of books up to 26 books, or one book every two weeks. The challenge contains a mix of book choices from genres (romance, mystery, historical fiction) to prompts (a book with a person’s name in the title, a book set in your hometown, a book with a one-word title, etc.).

My goal for the year is 32 books, however, and so far, I have completed 10. I’m well on my way to reaching my numerical goal.

But doing this challenge isn’t about the quantity of books. It’s about expanding my reading knowledge and being accountable for continuing to read throughout the year. No, I do not feel pressure to meet my number goal, and I don’t race through books to check it off my list. If I do race through a book, it’s usually because it’s a fast-paced thriller that is hard to put down.

Opponents of reading challenges say they are too much like homework assignments. I view them more like a game, a scavenger hunt where you’re given clues to find certain items. In this case, book titles that fit a particular description. Others say they don’t want to feel pressure to reach reading goals, even though they can determine what those goals should be.

Search the Internet and you’ll find numerous reading challenges, such as Popsugar, Goodreads or this one at Booklist Queen. If these sites don’t fit your reading goals, you can always create your own. For ideas on how to do that, check out Bookriot’s DIY Reading Challenge. There are different approaches to doing reading challenges that have nothing to do with a set quantity.

Maybe you love mysteries, but want to explore other mystery authors. Choose to read one book each month from a mystery author you’ve never read before. Or choose ten places you’ve never been to before, and choose 10 books that take place in those locations.

You get the idea. That’s the fun part of reading challenges.

If you have done a reading challenge, you know already how it can improve your reading. Here are a few other benefits of doing reading challenges:

— It gets you out of your comfort zone so you’re not reading the same author or genre all the time, and allows you to choose books that you wouldn’t normally read.
— It adds a fun element to reading, much like a scavenger hunt. It’s a game, although there are no set prizes.
— It’s a different way to enjoy reading. It’s really less about the quantity of books and more about enhancing the experience. You can still focus on quality books and you can still take your time reading them. It’s about making a commitment to read more books and read different styles.
— It makes you accountable. A reading challenge gives you a plan for reading more books. Some people perform better if they have a plan in place.
— It gives you a chance to make a dent in your TBR bookshelf.

Meanwhile, opponents of reading challenges cite several objections:
— Having a target goal puts pressure on you to perform at a level you may not ready for or at a faster pace than you’re used to.
— The challenge can seem like a chore, like homework. It’s something you have to do, rather than something you want to do.
— You may find yourself racing through books just to meet your target goal rather than going at a slower pace that allows you to enjoy the book.
— In a challenge with prompts, you may have to do some research to find some of the more obscure titles. It may take time to find a book that takes place in Asia, for instance, or a book published the year you were born. That can be more work than you are willing to put into it.
— Setting reading goals might ruin your enjoyment of the activity.

While some of these objections have some merit, I find that the benefits often outweigh the downsides. In the four years I’ve done this challenge, I can’t tell you how many new authors I’ve discovered, and different genres that I never would have read.

According to an article in Atlantic magazine, people who enjoyed reading challenges the most didn’t seem to care if they finished them or not. They didn’t care if they hit their target of 50 books. If their goal was to read more books and having a target goal helped them achieve that, they were satisfied with the outcome.

If you’re intrigued by reading challenges, here are a few helpful tips for participating in them:

— Set a small goal to start. Maybe choose five books by minority authors, or five nonfiction books if you’re used to reading fiction. Or do a summer reading challenge – one book on a selected topic for June, July and August.
— You don’t have to follow the established reading challenges like Goodreads if it doesn’t fit your reading goals.
— Keep track of your accomplishments. Keep a small notebook or a spreadsheet, and jot down what you read.
— Don’t worry about quantity. If setting a number goal scares you, don’t worry about it. Focus on the diversity or quality of books instead.
— Don’t overthink the challenge. Challenges exist to help you become a better reader. If you set a goal for reading 10 non-fiction books and you only read seven, don’t beat yourself up over it.
— Don’t take it too seriously. Reading challenges are meant to be fun ways to discover new authors and new genres.
— Reward yourself. While most challenges don’t offer prizes, you can always reward yourself when you complete your challenge.

Remember, you are in control of your reading challenge. You determine how many books you want to read, the types of books you want to read and how much time you’re willing to spend reading them. No one is forcing you to finish the challenge. But imagine how good you’ll feel about yourself when you do.

Ten Ways to Share Your Love of Reading

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For many of us, books are a refuge from the harsh realities of the outside world. Especially during this time of crisis, reading books is a tremendous blessing. Reading is even better when you can share that love of reading with others. They don’t even have to be people closest to you, but neighbors, colleagues, even strangers on the street.

Reading may be an individual activity, but it doesn’t have to be. Reading can be as much of a group activity as you want it to be. These days, it’s more important than ever to stay connected with one another even if we’re living in isolation. Who knew that a solo activity like reading can actually bring people together?

How do you share your love of reading with others? Here are a few ideas to consider.

1. Teach someone else to read. Whether teaching a child to read or an adult who has never learned to read, you’re teaching them more than a skill. You’re teaching them to be curious about the outside world, about language and storytelling. You’re teaching them to tap into their imaginations. And those are experiences that can last a lifetime.

2. Write a blog about books you love. Do a Google search for blogs about books and you’ll find a laundry list of entries. Book blogs abound because people still love to read. Even more important, they love to talk about books and read about books. So if you’re an avid reader who wants to share a love of reading books, start a blog. Write about your favorite authors, or write a review of books you’ve finished reading.

3. Hold book readings in your own home. Invite family and friends over and each takes turn reading from a text. Or just keep it private – like between you and your dog or cat. Reading out loud has several benefits. For one, it can aid memory and learning, according to a study published in the journal Memory. Researchers found that word recall was greatest among those who read out loud to themselves rather than reading silently or hearing an audio recording of themselves reading out loud.

4. Set up a Little Free Library in your neighborhood. It seems a new Little Free Library is popping up in my neighborhood every month. A Little Free Library looks like a little school house built out of wood that holds a collection of books that have been donated by neighbors. You can take a book or two to read while donating a few of your own. It helps keep the books circulating so everyone has a chance to share a book.

5. Host a book swap. Invite people over to exchange books. For each one they bring to your swap, they can choose one from your collection (assuming you’ve already finished reading it.) Whatever books you don’t want from the swap, you can donate to a non-profit organization, a school or the Little Free Library in your neighborhood. Either way, it’s one more way to share books and your love of reading.

6. Host a book review party. Invite friends to review their most recent or a favorite book. Everyone reads their own book, comes to the event and talks about their selection for five minutes. Everyone has a chance to talk about the book they’ve read. Not only are you sharing your love of reading, you get a chance to add to your TBR list with the titles your friends recommend.

7. Set an example for young readers. A friend of mine reads as much as she can in front of her two young sons because she wants to set an example for them. She wants them to grow up to be readers too. When kids see you read, you demonstrate that you have a curiosity about the world, and it’s an experience they want to be a part of. So set an example for kids, and they may likely grow up to be readers too.

8. Re-enact favorite books or plays. Remember Jo March in Little Women? Her head was filled with stories, and she and her sisters created skits to perform her stories. If working with students or kids, have them pretend they are characters in a story, such as Harry Potter, then have them re-enact scenes from the series. Letting them participate in live action stories helps build their brain muscles for storytelling.

9. Use social media to share your latest read. Take a photo of the book cover and post it with a brief review on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Another idea is to form a private group on Facebook for book lovers, maybe of a specific genre, like science fiction or business books. Then host weekly chats among group members.  

10. Host a reading challenge. Every year, Goodreads polls its members about how many books they want to read in one year. The estimations can range from 12 to 120. You don’t have to participate in theirs, however. Instead, you can do your own reading challenge and share that challenge with your friends. Maybe it’s not the number of books you want to read, but how many different genres you want to read or how many different authors you want to read. The challenge is whatever you make it out to be. The result is sharing a love of reading with other like-minded people.

The best part is that many of these activities don’t have to be done in person, but through a platform like Google Hangouts or Facebook Groups.

So while we isolate ourselves from one another for the sake of good health, reading is a solo refuge that many of us can still enjoy. And sharing that experience with others doesn’t have to make you feel so alone.

 

How to Read Multiple Books at a Time

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March is National Reading Month. Here’s to a celebration of reading.

I suppose one benefit of self-isolation during this unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic is being able to catch up on your reading — that is if you don’t have a gig to go to.

With more time on your hands, and perhaps more books awaiting your attention on your bookshelf, it may be an opportune time to “divide and conquer.” One quick and easy way to do that is by reading more than one book at a time.

Whether or not you want to tackle this challenge depends on several factors: how many books are already on your TBR list, how soon you want to get through them, and whether you have the time to indulge in this activity.

Experts says reading multiple books shows a reader’s virtuosity and their multitude of literary interests. It also shows their wealth of knowledge and curiosity about the world.

For most of the rest of us, reading multiple books is a circus act, like stepping along a high wire, trying to maintain your balance while clutching a book in each hand and perhaps one on top of your head. Or like a clown who starts out juggling two or three items and keeps adding another item to juggle until he can no longer keep them all in the air.

Are you a multiple book reader? Or do you prefer reading them one at a time, with occasional breaks to read something else when you get bored with the first title?

But aside from the circus analogy above, there are several tips and tricks for reading multiple books without losing your sanity — or your balance.

1. Read different genres. This makes the most practical sense. Reading multiple books is easy to accomplish when one book is fiction and another is non-fiction.

2. Read different books in different places. According to Bookriot, setting aside different spaces for different reading materials can help you make progress through your personal library. For example, you might read something light and breezy on your commute to and from work and save the heavier, more serious topics for evening reading.

3. Read different mediums. For example, you might read a lengthy 800-page novel on your Kindle while a novel of 250 pages might be lighter to carry around.

4. Take frequent breaks. Switching between two or three titles allows you to take a break from reading a heavier-themed book so you can come back to it later with fresh eyes.

5. Think big and small. If you’re reading multiple books, vary the length of the books you’re reading, suggests Genie in a Novel blog. So you want to tackle the 1037-page Gone with the Wind? It may take a while to get through it, so supplement your reading with other titles with fewer pages and lighter topics.

6. Explore the benefits of reading. Reading multiple books enables you to enjoy the multiple benefits of reading, writes The Fussy Librarian. You can further your education with nonfiction or historical textbooks, explore the world with a travel book and feel inspired with a self-help book or a book of poetry. 

7. Have a reading buddy or join a book club. Either option can help you access different genres and authors that you might not have considered. While you’re reading with the group, you can only supplement with one or two of your personal choice on the side.

Want to read more about how people read multiple books? Check out this NPR program.

What about you? Do you read one book title at a time, or do you read multiple books? How do you manage them all?

For the love of reading: 20 quotes by women

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It’s been a difficult few weeks, and my brain cannot seem to function properly these days. I haven’t written much this week. So…since March is National Reading Month as well as Women’s History Month, in place of a regular post, I’m sharing a list of quotes by women about the love of reading. Please enjoy and be safe wherever you are.

The world was hers for the reading. – Betty Smith

Reading is a discount ticket to everywhere. – Mary Schmich

In books, I have travelled, not only to other worlds, but into my own. – Anna Quindlen

Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul. – Joyce Carol Oates

She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live. – Annie Dillard

I can survive well enough on my own – if given the proper reading material. – Sarah J. Maas, author YA fantasy

Some say life is the thing, but I prefer reading. – Ruth Rendell

Reading one book is like eating one potato chip. – Diane Duane

A well-read woman is a dangerous creature. – Lisa Kleypas, The Wallflower Christmas

Read a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river. – Lisa See

Literature is my Utopia – Helen Keller

I love the solitude of reading. I love the deep dive into someone else’s story, the delicious ache of the last page. – Naomi Shihab Nye

Some books are so familiar that reading them is like being home again. – Louisa May Alcott

Books are the mirrors of the soul. – Virginia Woolf

You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy books and that’s kind of the same thing. – Anonymous

Wherever I am, if I’ve got that book with me, I’ve got a place I can go and be happy. – J.K. Rowling

One of the many gifts that books give readers is a connection to each other….Books cultivate empathy. – Sarah Jessica Parker

Books are a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are reflection. Books change your mind.  – Toni Morrison

I think that when you can escape into a book, it trains your imagination to think big and to think that more can exist than what you see. – Taylor Swift

Reading and writing have always pulled me out of the darkest experiences of my life. Stories have given me a place in which to lose myself. They have allowed me to remember. They have allowed me to forget. They have allowed me to imagine different endings and better possible worlds. – Roxanne Gay, author of Bad Feminist

Which of these quotes are your favorite? Or do you have one of your own that inspires you?

Want to read more quotes about reading? Check out these other sites:

101 Quotes about Reading — She Reads
Best Quotes about Reading — Oprah the Magazine

What’s Next on Your Reading List?

Great American Read
Photo courtesy of The Regal Writer

March is National Reading Month

Reading a book is much like going on a journey. You travel along with the narrator or protagonist through numerous ups and downs they experience, which hopefully concludes with a happy ending.

But then, you are faced with a new dilemma: what should you read next? Do you pull a title from your TBR list (to be read)? Or do you search the nearby Little Free Library for something that grabs your interest? Or do you go somewhere else?

There are several ways you choose the books you read. You might go by the author. You’ve read their works before and want to read others because you know it will be a satisfying reading experience.

Maybe genre is more important to you. For example, mystery fans will gravitate toward other mysteries and thrillers, even if they haven’t read the author before.

Then there’s the third option for choosing books: the plot. When you read the inside flap or back cover, you get an idea of who your protagonist is, what conflicts they’ll be facing and perhaps, the possible payoff. You start reading with the promise of a strong compelling plot line and hope for another satisfactory conclusion.

There are a number of ways I choose what books to read. Usually, it depends on my mood. One day, I might be in the mood to read a memoir, then next I might be in the mood to be swept away in a romantic suspense novel. Since I like reading a variety of genres, it sometimes makes it difficult to choose what type of book I want to read next.

Sometimes, rather than choosing the book, I simply browse my shelf and let the book choose me. Here are a few other ways I choose a book to read.

* Someone mentioned the book in conversation. When a friend describes a book they’re reading and their voice is filled with wonder and enthusiasm, I usually see it as a sign that I should check it out too. When someone loves what they read, they’ll happily share their book choice with others.

* I avoid reading book reviews. Book reviews are meaningless to me because they tend to over analyze the story. I think to myself, “You got that much out of that story?” I have never been convinced to read a book based on a review. I prefer recommendations from people I actually know and respect who have already read the book.

* It’s an author I’ve read before. This is perhaps the number one reason people choose certain books to read. If the author has an extensive list of books they’ve published and I’ve already enjoyed reading some of those titles, I am more likely to read other titles by them. Several years ago, I read Kristen Hannah’s Winter Garden based on a recommendation from a Facebook friend. I loved that book so much, I’ve read several other titles of Hannah’s since then.

* I pay attention to book titles. Some titles automatically draw me in because they exude an air of mystery and intrigue. Once in a bookstore, I came across a title in the discounted section with a simply designed book cover – plain orange with classic, somewhat ornate writing. The Places Between Us had no book summary or marketing blurb on the back side or inside the front cover, so I had no idea what the book was about, which only added to its mystery. Strangely, I kept pacing past it. After glancing in its direction several times, I finally picked it up and read the first few pages. I wound up buying it, and it became one of the most fascinating reads, worthy of a book club discussion.

* I find authors or book titles I’ve always wanted to read. For me, that includes some old classics that I never read when I was younger. To Kill a Mockingbird had been on that list for several years. Only after its author Harper Lee passed away did I finally pick it up to read.

* I avoid current national best sellers. I’m sure there are some quality books among the current best sellers, but not all of them. I’d rather choose a book because I’m interested in the plot.

* I look for an intriguing plot or character. Recently, I read What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarity.  The plot line is what intrigued me most, though admittedly, I also wanted to check out Moriarity’s work since I had seen her name on bookstore shelves. The main character, Alice, heads to the gym one morning and wakes up in the hospital, only to learn that it’s ten years later, and she can’t remember anything that’s happened to her over that ten-year span. She can’t understand why her relationship with her sister is so strained or why she is recently separated from a husband she adores. The plot compelled me to pick up the book and keep reading, so I could find out how Alice pieces together memories from that missing time in her life.

* I consider bookstore staff recommendations. If unsure what to read next, you can always ask your favorite bookstore employee, or check out the bookstore’s staff recommendations section, if they have one. These folks are avid readers themselves and are happy to share their favorite books with you.

* I refrain from depending on book club choices. Sure, a title might be an Oprah Book Club choice, but don’t make that the main reason for choosing a book. Choose it because the title or plot intrigues you, someone you know recommended it, or your local bookshop owner recommended it. 

Remember, it’s helpful to develop your own criteria for choosing books to read. At the same time, don’t be afraid to experiment with new authors or genres. Every now and then, it can be fun to read something outside of your comfort zone. You never know when you discover new talent. 

No matter how you go about choosing a book, it’s exciting to know that we have so many choices available to us, more than we’ve ever had before. Half the fun of reading is deciding what to read next.

How to Get More Out of Your Reading Experience

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March is National Reading Month. It’s a good time to read a book. 

If you’re like me, you have an entire shelf (or two) of books waiting to be read. In fact, at this moment, I probably have about 80 books waiting for my attention. There doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to read them all.

Browse the Internet and you’ll find numerous articles how to read more books. That’s an admirable goal. But I prefer to focus on quality. I’d rather take my time to enjoy the process of reading rather than power through each book just to ramp up my numbers.

Add to that the growing number of responsibilities in our lives. It’s difficult to enjoy a book when your mind is distracted by everyday concerns. What should I make for dinner? I need to call a babysitter for Saturday night. How am I going to pay my property tax bill? You get the idea.

If you want to get more out of your reading experience, here are a few tips and tricks you can try.

Set aside a private place for your reading. Is there a corner of your home where you like to curl up with a book? If not, make a space for yourself with a comfortable chair and good lighting away from noise and distractions. Loving pets and favorite beverages are optional.

Avoid speed reading. Reading is not a race or a competition. It’s meant to be savored, like a cup of coffee or a long walk. If you really want to enjoy reading, slow down and take your time to get through your book. When you slow down, you’ll likely notice more details in the story. Speed reading might help you power through more books, but will it help you enjoy what you’re reading?

Browse libraries and bookstore shelves for inspiration. Looking for ideas what to read next? Or do you want to find out what other people are reading? Check out the shelves at the local library or bookstore to find out what’s new and interesting. It’s not necessary to buy anything at that moment. Keep a small notebook with book titles you want to read, or jot the titles down in your smart phone for easy reference later. When you see what else is out there, it can inspire you to keep reading.

While you’re at the library, find a quiet corner and read. It can be from one of the shelves, or your own book that you’ve carried with you. Spending time at the library can inspire anyone to read more.

Participate in reading challenges. If you really want to ramp up your reading game, find a reading challenge to take part of. These challenges give you an opportunity to read different types of authors and genres. It also help you set a goal for yourself. Maybe your goal is to read two or three books a month. That would equate to 24 to 36 books a year. Make sure your goal is reasonable and reachable, however. Check out local libraries, online book clubs and sites like
Goodreads for reading challenges.

Put away electronics. If you really want to enjoy the latest bestseller, turn off the TV and put away your smart phone. You don’t really need them while you read, do you? By eliminating these distractions, you won’t be tempted to engage in non-essential activities and your mind can focus on the book in your lap rather than what’s on the screen.

Set a dedicated reading time. Find a time of day that works best for you, according to Inc. magazine. What time of day works best for you to read? For some, reading before bedtime helps them relax and sleep better. For others, reading a good book over their lunch hour is more convenient. Sometimes, getting up in the wee hours of the morning or when insomnia strikes in the middle of the night provides an opportunity to catch up on some reading. Reading for 30 minutes during that quiet time before the sun rises can help you fall back to sleep.

Read out loud or take notes. If non-fiction is your thing, sometimes it helps to read the book out loud or take notes to get the most out of your reading experience. Taking notes or reading out loud can help you understand the author’s message, develop new conclusions or increase your focus or concentration. You can get more out of your reading in shorter period of time.

Allow yourself a DNF. Every so often, you start reading a book that is simply not grabbing your attention. In that case, give yourself permission to stop reading it, writes a contributor at BookRiot. There’s no rule that says you have to finish every book you’ve started (although I do try to finish everything I read because you never know when the story might get better toward the end). Life is too short to be spent reading a boring book, especially when there are so many other amazing works out there. So go ahead and allow yourself a “Did Not Finish.”

Re-read old favorites. If you need a break from reading newer releases, go back and re-read a title that you read long ago. It feels self-indulgent to cozy up with a book you loved once upon a time.

Recently, I finished reading A Stranger is Watching by Mary Higgins Clark. The book had been sitting on my shelf after I grabbed it from a Little Free Library, but when I learned Clark had died, I knew it was my next selection. I had read it more than 25 years ago and couldn’t remember the plot. Because so much time has passed, I was able to read it again with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective.

Remember, it’s not the number of books you read that matters or how quickly you get through them. It’s the quality time you spend doing what you love. Follow these tips to enjoy reading more.

 

Preparing for a Writer’s Conference: The Elevator Pitch

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Congratulations! You’ve just signed up for a writer’s conference. Whether you’re attending your first conference or you’ve gone to a couple dozen in your career, there’s always plenty of prep work to do before you go. For one, you’ll need to pack your elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch is a brief description of who you are and what kind of writing you do. Most authors agree the pitch should be no more than 30 seconds long, or about 50 to 100 words. Since you don’t have a lot of time to make your points, you need to make every word and every second count.

But creating a pitch for the first time can be daunting. Even more experienced writers don’t always get it right and have to re-do theirs from time to time, especially as their projects change.

Why is an elevator pitch necessary?

There is some debate among literary agents about the purpose of elevator pitches and whether they are truly necessary. At the Book Ends Literary blog, agent Jessica Faust suggests that authors and would-be authors dump the traditional pitch in favor of real conversation. Some agents don’t want to be bombarded at a conference with pitches. They’d rather get to know you as a person and as a writer. They want to talk about publishing and the latest books you’ve read.

I can understand Faust’s point. Imagine being a literary agent at a conference attended by several hundred people. Would you want to be hounded by all these would-be authors? If that were me, I would want to hide out in a corner just to avoid the rush of people clamoring for my attention.

Still, it’s important to have an elevator pitch ready in case someone asks. Why? Because writers like to hear what other writers are working on, and agents and publishers are always looking for new talent and new book concepts. So when someone asks, “What are you writing?” you can be prepared to answer them, briefly and succinctly.

Moral of this story: don’t dump your elevator pitch altogether, but do keep it in your back pocket.

What should an elevator pitch include?

When you only have 30 seconds to make an impression, it can be challenging to squeeze as much information into your elevator pitch. Opt for the most important points. Avoid giving a chapter-by-chapter account of your story; that will simply take too long. Shorter is better, about 50 to 100 words, but have more points prepared in case you are asked follow up questions.

When you prepare your elevator pitch, here are a few factors to keep in mind:

What genre do you write? – Mention what genre story you are writing. Is it women’s fiction, a memoir or a self-help book? For examples of some great elevator pitches in these three genres, see Bookbub’s Insights blog.

What is your current project? Give a brief summary of your story line, focusing on character and conflict. Then add context for the story – where does it take place in relation to the world we live in. Finally, consider why readers should care about your story.

What have you written previously? Even if you haven’t published anything before, say so. Instead, you can say, “This is my debut novel.”

Keep it snappy. Once you’ve written the key elements of your pitch, edit it so it will grab a listener’s attention.

Practice your pitch. Keep practicing your pitch so it feels comfortable rolling off your tongue. One of the worst things to happen is to sound too rehearsed and canned, or like you are speaking lines for a play. You want to come across as natural as possible.

Here’s a great tip from The Writing Cooperative. When someone asks how they can find out more about you and your writing, don’t just hand out your business card or spit out your website URL. There’s no guarantee that they will ever follow up with you and checkout your website on their own. Instead, say something like “I’ll be happy to give you that information. Do you have an email address I can send it to?” or ask for their business card. This way you can follow up with them after the conference. Be sure you really do follow up with a personal note.

Remember not to hound agents and publishers at conferences. They’re there to enjoy the event just as much as you are. Focus on creating conversation. Inquire how their day is going. Ask what authors they enjoy reading. Ask what sessions they’ve attended. Just get the conversation started.

Then don’t be surprised if they turn the spotlight on you at some point and ask “What are you writing?” Then be ready to give your elevator pitch, naturally and comfortably.

Remembering the Queen of Suspense, Mary Higgins Clark

MHC autographSeveral weeks ago, we lost an icon in the literary world. Author Mary Higgins Clark passed away at the age of 92 and her loss will be deeply felt among generations of her loyal readers.

Clark authored 56 books in a career that spanned more than 40 years, which is amazing considering she didn’t get published until she was 43. It took hard work, dedication and persistence to keep writing and keep revising — a lesson for all aspiring authors. In a lovely open letter on Clark’s website, Carolyn K. Reidy, the CEO of Simon & Schuster, Clark’s publisher, writes of Mary’s work ethic and her generosity with her readers.

Clark was one of the first authors whose books I routinely sought out in bookstores or at the library because I always knew they were well written and kept me turning the pages until its satisfying conclusion. I always looked forward to the new releases from her with great anticipation, not unlike the Harry Potter series two decades later.

Clark was also one of the few authors I met during a meet-and-greet at a bookstore near my office many years ago. I remember walking into the bookstore and noting with surprise that there weren’t many people in line to meet her, maybe three or four. Mind you, this was 1991, long before there was social media and cell phones and selfies. They didn’t exist back then, so there was little pre-event publicity other than an ad in the newspaper.

I waited eagerly as she chatted with the gentleman in front of me. She actually took the time to talk and answer his questions. When my turn came, I excitedly told her I loved her stories and wanted to be a writer myself. I can’t remember what we talked about after that, but she patiently signed my book (Loves Music, Loves to Dance) with the line “Happy reading and happy writing” followed by her signature and the date. (See image above.)

It’s hard to believe I have had that book all this time. I never had the heart to donate it or give it away because, well, it was a signed copy and it had my name in it. That made it special to me.

When I heard the news of Clark’s passing, I pulled out the book from my collection and looked at what Mary wrote inside. It warmed my heart all over again. Even better, it inspired me to keep writing and keep working toward my publishing goal. Stopping my work now would be like betraying an old friend.

I think many writers can point to one or two authors who have inspired them to be the writer they wanted to be. For me, it was Mary Higgins Clark as well as suspense writer Joy Fielding, who signed a book copy for me in 1995.

JF autograph 2

If there is a moral to this story, it would be to seek out the advice of other writers who have traveled the road you’re on, especially if they are writers whose works you admire. Ask them questions about their craft, no matter how dumb they may sound. These days, most authors have a website and are on social media, so it’s easier to follow them and keep tabs on what they are doing professionally. Check in with them every so often, but don’t hound them. Check their calendar, if they have one, to find out when they’ll be visiting your town. Then make a point to stop by and say hello. You never know what that meeting might lead you toward.

What about you? Do you have a favorite author that inspired you to become a writer? Have you ever met them in person? Share your story in the comments below.

2020 Reading Challenge: How Many Books Can You Read in One Year?

 

books school stacked closed
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Looking for a new challenge for 2020? If you love to read and would like to expand your knowledge of genres and writing styles, beyond John Grisham legal thrillers and self-help books that leave you feeling more confused than before, then the 2020 Reading Challenge may be right for you. Here’s how you can participate.

Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to read one book from each of the categories listed below up to 26 books. That equates to one book every two weeks.

For an added challenge, see if you can read one book from all 34 categories. If you complete all 34 categories and there’s still time in the year, reward yourself. Either take a break from reading or read anything you want. You’ve earned it!

I won’t be handing out prizes for this challenge. The only prize is the pride of personal achievement, unless you want to reward yourself with a well-earned gift, like a massage or a copy of the latest New York Times bestseller.

I have participated in reading challenges the past three years. 2018 was my most productive year, having read 42 books. Last year was more difficult with only 27 (28 if you count the one I started the last week of December but finished the first week of January).

The experience has been rewarding. Not only have I expanded my book knowledge, I’ve discovered new authors and genres I didn’t think I would like (paranormal romance, anyone?). And I had so much fun and a sense of pride each time I crossed a category off my list.

That’s why I’m sharing this reading challenge with you. If you love books as much as I do, you won’t turn down this challenge.

So for your reading pleasure, here are the categories you can choose from. Remember, the first-level goal is 26 books — one book for every two weeks of the year. Any titles beyond that are bonuses. You can read them in any order you choose.

1. Autobiography or memoir
2. Historical fiction
3. A classic
4. Young adult novel
5. Mystery/thriller
6. Science fiction/fantasy
7. Romance/romantic suspense
8. A non-fiction book or current events
9. True crime
10. A self-help or psychology book
11. A book you read in your childhood
12. A book you read in school
13. A book/novel published within the past year
14. A book/novel published more than 100 years ago
15. A first-time author/debut novel
16. African-American fiction
17. Latin-American fiction
18. A book by an author who is deceased
19. A book made into a movie or TV show
20. A book that someone recommended to you
21. A book set in your hometown
22. A book set in a foreign place
23. A book with a place/location in the title
24. A book with a number in the title
25. A book with a person’s name in the title
26. A book with a color in the title
27. A book with a one-word title
28. A collection of short stories
29. A collection of essays
30. A play
31. A book about sports or an athlete
32. A book that features an animal (Example: Seabiscuit)
33. Paranormal/vampire
34. Current Top 10 best seller

Of course, if you can think of another category for your own reading challenge, you can add it to the selections above. Since I’m getting a late start on this endeavor, the challenge begins now and runs through next January 7, 2021. I will check in periodically to share my progress and perhaps also book titles and authors I found worthwhile.

Have fun! Let the reading begin!

Cool Gift Ideas for Writers and Communications Pros

photo of christmas presents
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Editor’s Note: In the spirit of the holiday season, this post is republished from December 2018. 

Happy holidays, and ‘tis the season for gift giving. I’m taking a break from my usual posts about writing to indulge in a little brainstorming for gifts for the writing and  communications professional in your life. The gift can even be for yourself.

Here are a few ideas to get you started on your gift list. Many of these ideas were inspired in part by the 2018 version of Writer’s Digest holiday gift guide.

1. Books. Naturally, books will fall on any writer’s wish list, especially books about writing, reading or creativity. What writer wouldn’t want to add to their library? There are plenty of books available about becoming a better writer, improving your habits, overcoming writer’s block and more. Check out some of these book suggestions.

2. Writer’s tools of the trade. Every writer needs a dictionary, thesaurus, AP Stylebook and/or University of Chicago Manual of Style to complete their library. Add The Elements of Style and a basic grammar book, and their library is complete. They might have a dictionary, but since they are updated annually, it never hurts to give the writer on your list a more current version.

3. Caffeine containers (also known as coffee mugs). No writer or communicator should be without their supply of caffeine. Check out this collection of humorous coffee mugs from Café Press that are sure to put a smile on your face.

4. A really, really nice pen set. Many writers begin writing their stories longhand, so they need plenty of writing instruments to get the job done. Consider giving them a really nice stylish pen set (within budgetary reasons, of course), or a stock of their favorite pen, if they have one. Working with a stylish pen can put them in a more serious frame of mind when they write. Add a stack of notepads or legal pads, and your writer friend will be well stocked and ready to write before the New Year begins.

5. Professional development. Instead of a physical item, consider the gift of experience or education. Continuous learning is important to most writers and communicators. Writers are constantly searching for ways to improve their own craft and become better writers. Consider a gift of a Writer’s Digest subscription or an online course through Mediabistro.

6. Writing exercises and word puzzles. Brain power and creativity are key for writers. Word puzzles and writing exercises can help boost a writer’s creativity. Try magnetic word games, for example. Each magnet contains a word, and with 100 or so word magnets, you can create numerous combinations of some pretty imaginative poems. Put them on your refrigerator, and let the family create their own mini-short stories as they grab the milk.

Another option is the Writer’s Toolbox, described as “more exercises and games to inspire ‘the write side of the brain.’ Get the family involved with a Once Upon a Time storytelling card game. One person begins as the Storyteller and begins telling a story using the elements described on their cards, guiding the plot toward their Ending Card. But other players can interrupt the Storyteller with their own elements and the right to take over as the new Storyteller. All these options are sure to be fun for you and the whole family.

7. A book of writing prompts. Occasionally writers need help generating story ideas. To get the creative juices flowing, they might appreciate a book of writing prompts. Before you know it, the writer in your life (or even the writer in you) will be off and running on their next story.

8. Do Not Disturb signs. Some years ago, I saw a sign that read “Do Not Disturb. Genius at Work.” I laughed at the time, but I think it succinctly describes the sentiment most writers feel when they are at work. Writers are creative geniuses who need privacy and quiet, uninterrupted time to plot, daydream, and craft their stories. Let people know that once that sign is on the door, it’s time to get down to work.

I hope these ideas give you a head start on your gift shopping for the writers in your life. And don’t be shy about giving a gift to yourself. The more you invest in yourself, the more you improve your writing life.

Happy shopping and happy holidays.