Tips for Participating in Reading Challenges

woman reading harry potter book
Photo by Dids on Pexels.com

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.

Sticking to a Writing Routine During the COVID-19 Pandemic

person holding silver retractable pen in white ruled book
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

As our world grapples with the global COVID-19 virus, many writers may be finding it difficult to stick to any kind of routine to maintain their writing practice. Perhaps anxiety and fear about the virus and economic future has paralyzed you and you can’t seem to find the energy to lift a pen to your paper. Or perhaps other responsibilities are calling your attention, such as taking care of your family, doing grocery shopping, or cleaning your house. Naturally, writing takes a back seat.

We’re living in strange times where new rules of self-isolation and social distancing govern our daily lives. But that doesn’t mean your writing has to suffer. You just have to adapt by creating a new writing routine.

One option is to cut back on the hours you spend writing or write only on certain days. Another option is to keep a small notebook (which you should already be doing for your writing) and take notes when the mood strikes or if you notice something unusual in your everyday world. Most important, take note of what you are thinking and feeling at that moment to document what is happening during this time. You never know when you can turn those notes into a publishable story that can be passed on to future generations.

At times like these, writing brings more value to our lives than we ever imagined. Here’s why it’s still important to stick to a writing routine.

Writing forces you to turn off the TV and social media. Sometimes too much information can be more harmful than helpful. Tuning in to news stories about the COVID 19 virus can make you feel crazy, depressed and anxious. Turn it all off, and turn to your writing to escape the harsh surreal world we are all living through these days. Writing takes your mind off the problems of the outside world and focus on the problems of your inside world, the world of your characters. At least you know you have control of that story’s outcome.

Writing allows you to document this unprecedented time in our lives – for history’s sake. Herbert Braun, a history professor at the University of Virginia, has instructed his students to record their daily lives during this pandemic crisis, so they can look upon what they wrote many years from now to see how their lives were changed. “The mantra of our course is ‘Write it down.’ When you do, much of your life and who you are will be different than if you don’t,” he explains. This global experience is bound to change all of us but whether for better or worse, remains to be seen. By writing down your thoughts and experiences every day, you can see how you evolve as a person.

A writing routine gives you control over personal circumstances. We can’t control this disease, can’t slow down its progress or how it affects so many people. But we can focus on one thing that we do have control over – our writing.

A writing routine takes advantage of self-isolation. Many writers are natural self-isolators and have been doing so for some time. It’s the only way we can get our writing done. But for many others who have lost jobs or clients because of the virus, or who are working from home, self-isolation is a brand new experience, unlike anything they’ve ever had before. Self-isolation is like being stuck on a boat in the middle of the ocean with nothing to steer it or a map to know which direction to go. Instead of seeing self-isolation as a punishment, view it as a gift. If you have always wanted to write but complained you never have time, you have no more excuses. You’ve got the time now, so use it to your advantage.

A writing routine allows you to daydream and plan your next work. If you’re simply not feeling up to writing today, then don’t write. Instead, use the time to think, plan and daydream about the story you are currently writing, or want to write. You may not be physically putting pen to paper, but you can still “write” a story – inside your head, says professional fiction editor Jim Dempsey at his Writing Therapy blog. You can still work out plots, dialogue and characters even as you walk your dog or wash dishes. Even when you’re not physically writing, you’re doing so unconsciously – by noticing the world around you, Dempsey says. Then when you feel ready, you can sit down and write in a flurry because you’ve already worked out situations in your head.

Writing encourages you to stay connected to your support group. When the going really gets tough, reach out to your support system. We might all be separated from one another physically, but we can still stay connected through technology. Visit them through Skype, set up a group chat on Zoom, or simply pick up the phone and call someone. Tell them what you’re having trouble with in your writing and ask for their guidance. Even while you are practicing social distancing with them, you can still stay connected – through your writing.

While it may be difficult to keep writing during such a troubling period in our lives, writing every day, even for only ten minutes or so, can give you the time and space you need to keep making progress on your current work. Even better, writing can help you make sense of what you’re experiencing.

For more tips for writing during this COVD-19 pandemic, check out this article on Contently.

Stay home and stay safe.

Ten Ways to Share Your Love of Reading

Library-6357-Sandy-Springs-Georgia

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

woman lying on area rug reading books
Photo by Renato Abati on Pexels.com

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

women s yellow long sleeve shirt
Photo by Wendy Wei on Pexels.com

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

young woman sitting on bench in parkPhoto by Inna Lesyk on Pexels.com

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

two woman chatting
Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

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.

A Writer’s Guide to Networking

two women shaking hands
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

As writers, we often work solo, unless we’re collaborating on a project with someone else. Sometimes it can get lonely in our creative worlds. It’s not easy working in isolation, but it is necessary to create the  work of our dreams.

But writers cannot live by their writing alone. They have to take time to get out to meet people too. But if you’re like me, you’re a bit of an introvert, which doesn’t make it easy to connect with others.

At a recent event presented by the Chicago Writers Association, a panel of local writers and editors shared their tips for building a strong network. Whether you need a break from your writing, need help getting past a sticky plot point, or simply want to connect with like-minded professionals to find out what they’re working on, your network is an important element in your career development.

One thing the panelists agreed on is this: your writing always comes first.

Here are a few of their suggestions for building your network.

1. Be a good literary citizen. Share what you know with others. Either at meetings and workshops or through your social media channels, be willing to help others. Give advice, tell others about a book you’ve read recently, or tell others about a workshop you attended. Build literary karma – by giving freely of yourself to others, people will remember you when you need help from them.

2. Promote other writer’s works. This dovetails nicely from the first point above and adds to your literary karma. If another writer you know just got published, congratulate them on your social media channels. Even if you haven’t read the book yourself, when your followers and fellow writers see the generous spirit of your comments, they are likely to return the favor when you publish yours. Put other people first.

3. Be a joiner. Join two or three groups that resonate most with you. But don’t just become a member; be active too. An easy way for other members to get to know you is to get involved on a committee because it forces you to interact with other members and industry players. For example, volunteer to be on the membership committee to welcome new members or work on event planning.

The panelists also suggest getting involved in two or three groups to gain different perspectives and further expand your social circle.

Conversely, not all writing groups and associations will resonate with you. That’s okay. Attend one or two of their meetings as a nonmember first to get a feel for what they are about. It may take two or three meetings to decide if you want to become a member.

4. Actively attend meetings. Don’t hide in a corner and observe the proceedings. Set a goal for yourself to meet at least two new people at the event. Make conversations with people, and be sincere when you talk to them. Make the conversation about them, and refrain from pushing your personal agenda on them.

To get the conversation started, think of a couple of questions to ask ahead of time. For example, “What book are you reading now?”, “What are you currently writing?”, and “What keeps you awake at night with regard to your writing?”

Remember other attendees are in the same boat as you. They may be as shy and introverted as you are. It might help to seek out individuals who are off in a corner by themselves. They’re likely new to the group too, so start up a conversation. I find it’s easier to approach one person than it is two or three huddled together.

5. Connect on social media. Many publishers, authors, editors and agents are on social media. Follow them and politely engage with them. Share their posts, comment on their stories, and read their blog.

Here’s a great idea and one I plan to implement: send handwritten complimentary notes to them. Thank them for the work they do, for publishing a certain author whose work you enjoyed, or congratulate them on reaching a milestone. It will make their day. Remember, many of these literary professionals work in isolation too, and they want to hear that their work matters. However, be polite and sincere, and don’t push your agenda.

6. Avoid imposter syndrome. For some writers, it can be difficult to admit that they are a writer especially when they haven’t published anything. Avoid of temptation of telling yourself that you don’t belong with other writers because you haven’t published anything. It’s a self-defeating mindset. Whether you are a newbie writer stretching your creative muscles, or you’ve published several books already, you are welcome at all and every networking event. Practice saying out loud “I am a writer. I am a writer.” Keep repeating it until it is deeply ingrained in your soul. So the next time someone asks what you do, you can say with confidence “I am a writer.”

Remember writing is a journey and we are all passengers on the same road. Some of us come with more baggage than others. But that doesn’t mean you are not welcome to the club. You are not an imposter playing at writing. If you write often, even if you haven’t been published, you are a writer and you belong.

Finally and most important, do your writing before your networking. Your writing should always come first. If you don’t do the writing, the networking is meaningless.

Networking is more than collecting business cards. You also have to learn to be a good literary citizen too.

 

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.