For a limited time, my novel, Treasure Traitor, is only 99 cents! Check it out on amazon!
My publisher, Written World Communications, has a new marketing specialist! What a relief! Today, many publishing houses are downsizing getting rid of their publicity staff because they expect their writers to do it all themselves. While it’s important for all authors to do their own marketing, a little help never hurts. I feel very blessed to have it!
As a result, I have a new interview up on the Written World Communication blog:
2013 was a great year for me. Here’s a few of my own stats before I include the blog stats:
Been there, done that:
May- snorkeled, scuba dived and swam in Florida and the Bahamas.
July- Started romantic relationship with long-time Christian friend, Charlie Kowalchuck.
September- Road trip up to Charlie’s home in Dayton, Ohio with a stop over in Indiana. First time at Holiday World theme park and adult fun place, Scene 75.
November- Road trip and missions conference in Kansas City, stop over in Witchita and saw the zoo.
More November- visited friends in the beautiful New Mexican desert and watched the sunset from the top of Sandia Peak. Albuquerque zoo.
December- Hiked through ruins and walked where Jesus walked in Israel.
Won 2 first places, a second, a third, and 2 honorable mentions at the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation Conference in Oklahoma City.
Wrote short story “Glacian Gold.”
Finished second draft of An Honest Assassin, the sequel to Treasure Traitor.
Wrote 1st act of a musical, Changelings.
Submitted to 28 publishers, agents, and contests. No publications, but I did get several nice, personal rejection letters from top places like Scholastic and Thomas Nelson. The latter said they only publish one Christmas book a year, and I was runner up!
Attended May and October SCBWI conferences in Tulsa and Chandler, OK.
Guest blogger on 5 blogs.
Gave 7 speeches/presentations on 1.) How to incorporate missions in writing, 2.) Japan 3.) Sensory detail in fiction 4.) What inspired me to write Treasure Traitor.
Taught four panels at Tokyo in Tulsa and Izumicon.
Sold 300 copies of Treasure Traitor.
Worked 20 hours/week at the YWCA and volunteered more. Taught 4 Japanese lessons per week via skype.
Read a whole lot of books, including 6 of the 7 Harry Potters.
A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,000 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 33 trips to carry that many people.
This week I’m the featured author on Elaine Stock’s Everyone’s Story! I love her tag line: Uplifting Stories for Readers, Writers, and all those in-between. Hopefully you’ll be uplifted by my post, and possibly get a free book out of it, too! I’m offering a free copy of Treasure Traitor to one randomly selected cementer. So far there are only 2 entries, so your chances are pretty high!
Here’s an excerpt to stoke your interest:
As a child I dreamed of becoming a famous author. A whole universe swirled through my mind, demanding to be realized. I wrote dozens of stories and received only “thank you, buts…” in return. My dream seemed to be miscarrying before it could even be delivered.
Then, in 2009 at age 23, God called me as a missionary to Japan. A chill of fear accompanied my excitement. Could I find a church family? Would I ever master Japanese? Most importantly: could I pursue my writing career?
I suddenly found myself immersed in a world where few had even heard the name Jesus. It was suffocating to realize I may be the only person my students, colleagues, and friends ever met who could tell them about God’s ultimate sacrifice and love. Compared to this desperate need, writing stories felt almost sacrilegious. Spending hundreds of dollars mailing off manuscripts and contest fees and attending writers’ conferences in Tokyo seemed like a waste.
After the March 2011 tsunami swept away hundreds of homes and thousands of lives, I voiced my concerns to a fellow missionary. Shouldn’t I be spending all my time and resources in the relief effort? Was it selfish of me to harbor this dream of publishing books about make-believe worlds when the real world around me was falling apart?
Her forehead wrinkled, as if the question confused her. “Laura,” she said…
And you’ll just have to go to Everyone’s Story and read the rest!
So as a sci-fi geek who grew up watching The Next Generation, I faithfully went to see the new Star Trek movie last week. It got me thinking: Did Star Trek really inspire the nation to pursue space travel, as so many fans claim? Perhaps. But I’m not convinced that the same people who devour the TV series and novels and conventions are nuclear physicists, astronomers, or rocket scientists. Seems like most of the people who like Star Trek are ordinary engineers, teachers, software developers, and other lower-level geeks. (Like me. I’m a teacher, my mom’s a teacher, and my dad’s an aviation inspector. Go figure.) The higher-level geeks (the heads of NASA and huge innovative science-tech companies) are too busy reading Einstein and Steven Hawking (his non-pop stuff) and getting their PhDs and being guest lecturers at universities to mess with fiction. At most, the lower-level geeks funded their research by being inspired by Star Trek. (Or at least the majority of the American public didn’t have a fit when they saw the government spending on NASA.)
Here’s an idea. Maybe it was the other way around. Instead of inspiring a generation, maybe it made us complacent. Maybe we were satisfied with our star fantasy and therefore didn’t need to seriously pursue it as a reality. What we want is the adventure, the thrill, the Wild-West. The truth is, space just isn’t that interesting. Sure, there might be stuff out there, but its way out there. Way, way, WAY out there, as in millions of light-years. The stuff in the middle is just, well, SPACE. The thing that’s in between STUFF. We’d much rather spend 99 cents out in cyber SPACE on an ebook entitled Star Trek than 9 trillion dollars to actually trek to the STUFF.
Thoughts, anyone? I’d love to hear some higher-level geeks negate my thesis. For once, I’d like to be wrong.
A friend of mine contacted me by email last week, concerned about the ethics of entering an unfinished novel into a novel category of a contest. I assured her that I contacted the judge beforehand and made sure this was OK.
She brings up a very good point, though. Follow the rules. Exactly. Don’t cut corners. If it says at least 5,000 words, you’d better submit that much. If it says no more than 5,000 words, don’t submit a hard copy and write “4,900 words” on the first page left-hand corner when it’s really 5,100. First of all, it’s lying. Second of all, it’s just not professional. Third of all, they will probably find out. After you’ve been in this business long enough, you can tell a fudge when you see one.
Some guidelines may seem stupid or even expensive. 12-point font. Double space. 1 inch margins. But think about it. If you were reading 50 manuscripts for a contest, wouldn’t your eyes start to cross if it were all squeezed tight on the page?
Another thing. When submitting to agents and editors, unless they say otherwise, they absolutely DO want you to have the whole project finished. Polished to perfection. Why submit less than your best and make this difficult dream of publication even harder for yourself? I know you can list a dozen authors who found representation without a finished product, even point to the anecdote at the end of Steven King’s best-selling writing book On Writing. Sweetheart, that was fifteen years ago. The worst thing you could do for your career is pitch thirty pages of a novel to an agent, have them shouting, “Give me the rest!” and you ain’t got it. That just screams unprofessional, can’t finish what he/she starts, etc, etc, etc…
So keep fighting the good fight and writing the good write. ‘Cause cheaters never prosper.
Considering I just won six awards at the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation Inc. Conference, I feel I have a slight edge in this area. Just follow these 7 simple steps and you’re on your way! (Notice I said simple, not fast!)
Secret Number One: Read
Sounds easy, right? But I’m always shocked at how many writers tell me they don’t have time to read. Seriously? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write! Read everything. Pulitzer Prize winners, stuff you think is awful, your favorite genre, and your least favorite genre. From the greats, we learn what greatness looks like. But equally revealing are those novels with plot holes as big as semi-trucks and cardboard characters as floppy as spaghetti. But don’t just say it’s awful and throw the book across the room. Why is it awful? What makes you cringe? Go forth children, and avoidest thou these pitfalls.
Secret Number Two: Start Short
Beginning writers often make the mistake of starting with a novel. Novels are big commitments to take on if you don’t know the territory. Imagine deciding you’re going to be a runner, and getting up the next morning to run a marathon! You’ll learn a lot more about the elements that make a good story, not to mention your own voice and style, by beginning with short works. Also, completing shorter projects can help build the habits, confidence, and endurance you need to tackle longer things.
Secret Number Three: Join a Critique Group
I can’t count the number of instances someone pointed out a typo in my writing and I cried, “but I went over this page ten times!” The same goes for character motivation, world development, conflict, and even plot. Of course it makes sense to you. You’re the writer! Before you send it out, let someone else read it. And not (just) your mother. It can hurt, but if honesty burns, rejection by multiple agents and publishers is hydrochloric acid.
Secret Number Four: Attend Conferences/Network
Some people consider this a waste of time and money, but it’s been immensely helpful for me. In this world of social media, writing is a business and who you know can be just as important as what you know. With most publishing houses closed to unsolicited manuscripts, often times the only time you CAN submit something is if you attend a conference the editor or agent spoke at. Even for self-publishing, with millions of books on the market, how are readers going to know about your book? I’m a face-to-face person, but if you can network and market purely online, that’s great, too.
Secret Number Five: Enter Contests
This is the perfect way for beginning writers to test the waters of their abilities. This year I won first place in a category I had never even tried before, Historical Fiction novel. It’s always fun to try something new, and you might surprise yourself! Also, after getting multiple rejections for my novel Treasure Traitor, I started submitting it to local, state, and national contests. I got some excellent feedback from the judges. Every time I entered, it did better and better until the book finally won an international award, semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. That’s what told me it was ready for publication. Likewise, however, I’ve entered stories that time after time didn’t win anything, and I knew they just weren’t worth it. Which leads to my next point:
Secret Number Six: Don’t Beat a Dead Story
If you don’t particularly like a story to begin with and it just isn’t working, don’t be afraid to abandon it in favor of a new project. There are more ideas where that one came from! The worst thing you can do is work on the same dying project for ten years to the exclusion of everything else.
Secret Number Seven: Butt in the Chair and Write!
This should be a no-brainer, but if you miss this, you miss everything. Give yourself a reasonable, attainable goal, both daily and long-term and write everyday. Maybe you can have 1 day off. But writing needs to be consistent, a daily decision to block out all distractions, focus, and devote a chunk of time, be it 20 minutes or 4 hours, to your writing goal. Remember, start small and build.
So what were those awards I got, exactly? I won first place in Middle Grade novel for Mid-Evil, part II of Dargon the Human Slayer, and first place for Loyalty, my historical fiction novel about a Japanese girl and American girl who become friends on the eve of World War II. I originally wrote it as a short story, but then thought it might make a good novel. So I wrote a synopsis for the rest and turned it in with the first 10 pages. Now that I realize it’s a good story, I think I’ll go ahead and write the whole novel!
I also won second place for Picture Book with ‘Twas the Age of Augustus,” the Christmas story from the Roman’s point of view. My dad and I wrote that together. Then I won third place for Nostagic Prose with “Black Bird,” about my brother’s death and a baby black bird I found in my grandparent’s pine woods in Michigan.
The “Giddy up, Japanese Style!” would have won first, but there were only 9 entries and the judges needed 10 to award 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. So “Giddy up!” won Honorable Mention in Western Article. “Burma Born, American Made” was the fictionalized story of my Burmese refugee students, which won 3rd Honorable Mention in Inspirational Article. That was one of the categories with the most entries, so even though it didn’t place, I’m still pretty pleased with how it did. I can edit it and “Giddy Up” for entry again in 2014.
Until next time, keep fighting the good fight (and writing the good write),
Every author knows they should be out there promoting their book. Some prefer the Internet, but a little face-to-face with potential readers is priceless. But where can we get speaking gigs, and how? Sit back, relax, and read about some of my favorite and most successful locales.
1.) Local Writing Clubs
This seems pretty obvious to me, but I’m surprised at the number of authors who resist, thinking they can’t sell a lot of books to their “competition.” Actually, I’ve sold more books at writer’s clubs than any other venue! The truth is, writers love books. We’re addicted to them. We live and breathe and devour them sometimes at the expensive of eating real food. Honestly, if you don’t love books, why are you writing them? Every writing group I’ve ever been to has been very supportive of each other. When competition does takes place, it’s in the form of contests meant to help improve each other’s skills. The added plus about speaking at these groups is that you can make useful connections and get the latest information about craft, publishing, and marketing trends.
Speaking and reading excerpts at Tulsa NightWriters
2.) Public Schools
Huh? You may be thinking. I’m not a children’s author! So? Nearly every school has a creative writing class of some kind, and high school kids read adult fiction anyway. If not, a library or media studies class could work, or even English classes. If you have a connection with a particular school, say you graduated from there or your children/grand children attend, or your book takes place in or near that town, that’s a perfect place to start and grow your reputation. First, I contact the head of the English department before school starts in August/September, or even the day after school ends in May/June to discuss the following year. In my experience, the principal is often too busy and usually directs you to the English department anyway. I start by asking if they want to include the book as part of their curriculum for the year, and if so, give them a list of discussion questions to go with it. A week or two before my presentation, I bring flyers or book marks for kids to bring home to their parents, and donate ONE copy of the book to the school library.
3.) Home school groups/small private schools
People often overlook these, thinking they’re too small or not worth the time. But the truth is, home school is more flexible than public school, and teachers are more free to set their own curriculum. Some authors actually sell MORE books to home school groups, because the students purchase them to read for class, versus you simply coming to talk about the book, and a few interested book worms purchasing copies. Also, private schools tend to be more specialized. For example, if you write Christian books, a Christian private school may be more likely to let you come speak than a public school, and offer you more occasion to promote your book. A school of arts might be more willing to invite a guest artist.
4. Colleges- Especially your Alma Mater!
For those who don’t speak Ancient Language, “Alma Mater” is Latin for “Nursing Mother” and means the university you graduated from. It’s not unusual for colleges to welcome local authors, especially graduates, to come speak in their creative writing departments. Contact the head of the creative writing department and pitch yourself as a
professional. Have copies of your book on hand to sign and sell, and be sure the bookstore has copies when possible. You might have to do your first gig at your own university free, but when word gets around, don’t be ashamed to ask for guest speaking fees, especially if you have to go out of your way to get there. Simply ask the university, “What is in your budget for guest artists and speakers?” Earlier in the semester they will generally have more money. Be sure to contact them way in advance.
5.) Library/Local clubs
Not just book clubs: hobby clubs, movie clubs, civic clubs, knitting clubs, game clubs, kiwanis clubs, rotary clubs, churches, youth groups, anything that
would appeal to your target audience. These groups are always looking for speakers and the best place to find them is online or by calling your city chamber of commerce. I was a missionary in Japan for two years, so I gave a picture presentation to my local library’s anime club, and also talked about how Japan influenced my book. They couldn’t pay my anything, but I did sell a lot of books, and it was fun! I’ve also spoken at the Elk’s Lodge, Japanese clubs, International clubs, community clubs, and tons of churches.
6.) Book Store Events
Emphasis on events. Many beginning authors know the frustration of planning a book signing, printing the posters, sending out invites and press releases,
only to have few people show up. But most book stores have annual or seasonal events that tend to naturally draw more people who don’t know you to the store. For example, a book store in my area has an event called Dickens on the Boulevard the third Friday and Saturday of every November. They organize a group of local authors to come, dressed in period costume, and sign and gift wrap their books. Also,
many bookstores promote Bring Your Child to a Book Store Day on December 1st each year. Call your local book store and ask if you can come sign books on this day. Also, book signings tend to go better when you have something more than books to offer. A slide show of pictures and music that inspired you, a book trailer running on your laptop, periodic dramatic readings, sweets or treats associated with your story, all of these can help attract people to your book table. (You can tell I often dress in costume for these events, but not always.)
7.) Writer’s/Fan Conferences
I put this one last because I actually haven’t done it yet, though I’m signed up for a few this coming year. “Fan Conferences” doesn’t just refer to fantasy and science fiction conventions. If you hear about a conference on 17th century American history for example, and your book takes place during that time, you might be perfect as a speaker. Any topic you had to research for your published book is automatically a topic you could speak on. As for writers’ conferences, I’ve heard from other writers that you don’t always sell a lot of books, but it does build your “brand name” and reputation as a professional in the field. A bigger bonus than simply selling books is that you usually get your conference discounted or free! That’s a cheap weekend of awesome food, honing your craft, networking, and pitching to publishers and agents at closed houses. Pretty awesome!
Networking with publishers at Heart of America Christian Writers’ Conference
So grab a phone book and start calling! First time published authors can often expect 2 nos for every yes, but personal promotion is not only financially rewarding, but also fun.
After much popularity, I decided to go ahead and post Part II on my blog as well! Enjoy!
Expand Your Language Skills
There’s no greater impetus for learning a language than suddenly finding yourself immersed in it! I studied Japanese for a year before leaving for Japan, but I probably learned more in my first two months living there than I did for that whole year! Especially if you plan to stay somewhere for awhile, don’t shy away from language learning. Even a few badly pronounced words fumbled from an open dictionary can open beautiful relationships with locals and unique travel opportunities. While visiting Kagoshima, I stumbled upon a lost mother and daughter. By simply giving them directions to the nearest train station, they offered to take me along, and I spent the whole day enjoying a free guided tour!
Expand Your Relationships
Stretch yourself to meet locals and other internationals. Some of my most pleasant experiences have arisen through chance meetings with people I met on a hike through a waterfall forest and vacant beaches. Make sure you take the time and effort to maintain relationships you really want to keep. These are two Japanese sisters I helped during the tsunami. When they left my home, they said, “Now we’re three sisters!”
Expand Your Job Potential
In today’s world of social networking where employers are likely to check your facebook and twitter pages, people who have traveled widely and show it off can be more eye catching and interesting than those who haven’t. They often possess skills essential in a highly globalized market. Frequent travelers show an eagerness to learn, try new things, adapt to change, and operate outside their comfort zone. Just be sure that if you apply for a job that requires a long commitment to one place, you can promise your employer you won’t be skipping the country any time soon!
Expand Your Inner Artist
I’m an author by trade, and nothing inspires me more than being in a new place. I’ve done my best and most prolific writing while living or traveling abroad. Whether it’s researching birds at Jurong Bird Park in Singapore for my novel Treasure Traitor or caving in the bowels of Missouri’s caverns for the sequel, not only do I come back with great stories, but awesome pictures! One of my favorite songs, America the Beautiful, was composed by Katharine Lee Bates after a trip to Pike’s Peak.
Sunrise from the peak of Mt.Fuji
Expand Your Purpose
There are so many things I never would have tried or learned or accomplished had I not traveled. These experiences became a part of who I am and added to the richness of my life in ways I can’t even know. I know for certain, though, that I wouldn’t have found my purpose as a missionary/writer/teacher if left to my small-town upbringing. So what are you waiting for? Go for it!
Laura Popp is a part-time writer, full-time tourist (oops, I mean English instructor) who finances her two great passions by teaching. She has taught/volunteered in the U.S., Japan, India, Mexico, and Malawi, Africa. She’s also visited Thailand, Singapore, Ethiopia, Scotland, Korea, and China. Her first fantasy novel, Treasure Traitor, partially based on her adventures, was released in November, 2012.
What are your reasons for traveling? Post them here in the comments!
Here’s a teaser for a recent post I wrote for a friend. The entire post will hopefully be on her blog, beautiful absurdity, tomorrow. Check it out!
Expand Your Happiness
Studies show that people who try new things, learn, and adapt have overall happier lives. Also, we get a lot of joy from memories. Though traveling might not always be pleasant at the time, when we look back, what seemed hard becomes funny, and we can honestly say, “I’m glad I did that.” Be sure to take lots of pictures, or write in a journal.
Emerging from the wild cave tour at Cosmic Caverns, Arkansas
Expand Your Pallet
There are so many foods I wouldn’t have tried had I never traveled! Jelly fish, barbequed sting ray, fresh water lobster and the world’s rarest coffee are probably on the top of my list. The coffee in particular was a stretch, since its rarity arises from the fact that it comes from a small island off the coast of Java. It passes through the gut of an animal called the civic cat before the partially digested beans are hand collected by natives and roasted. But it was the best coffee I’ve ever had!
You do have to know your own limits, though. Before living in India, I assumed all spice was the same. I loved Mexican spices, but in Bangalore I ended up with a two-day belly ache that confined me to my bed and the bathroom. I also had to say no to raw horse in Japan and dog in Korea. But if you can stomach it, be sure to try the local delicacy wherever you go. Food is half the fun of travel!
Singapore specialty: BBQ fish and stingray on banana leaf
Expand Your Faith
One of the hardest things to explain to my friends back home was why I spent a weekend in a Buddhist temple meditating. I had never before set foot in a temple and had no desire to become Buddhist, but I wanted to understand my Asian friends and be able to talk about their religion and world-view. Likewise, I got a whole new perspective and appreciation for my Christian faith from joining a small Japanese church and another later in India. These churches provided me with a family away from home and a sense of familiarity amongst all the newness. At the same time, seeing a different expression of familiar things in a fresh context can bring new insights.
Island of the Martyrs near Nagasaki, Japan
Expand Your Nature
I believe the heart and soul of a nation is in its rural roots, so I always feel I haven’t seen the “real face” of a country until I’ve visited a national park, famous mountain, jungle, secluded temple, tea plantation or a simple rice farm. I also find the local people friendly and helpful. An added benefit is that staying in a secluded place can be far more peaceful and cheaper than the city. The only downside can be finding frequent and efficient transportation, so especially for developing countries, this should probably be researched in advance.
Tiered Rice Fields of Kumano, Japan
Expand Your Heart
There are two other “faces” of a country: the touristy, glamour side and the part everyone would rather hide. Instead of shying away from slums or disaster-stricken areas, I see these as golden opportunities to experience the full breadth of a country and to give back to a place I’ve learned to love. Going on a team with an accredited, experienced non-profit organization keeps volunteering safe with maximum benefit for everyone. These “mission trips” have changed my life and broadened my perspectives more than anything else.
Building homes in India Cleaning up after the 2011 tsunami