Never Give Up, Never Surrender

Galaxy Quest

I teach a workshop called “When Bad Things Happen to Good Writers” and it is based on a collection of stories – my own and other writers’ – of the things that can and do go wrong in the publishing world. There are so many elements involved in seeing a book move from idea, to manuscript, to submission, to revisions, to finished product. Because of all these complicated pieces, the opportunity for problems is as abundant as the steps are. Sometimes there are multiple challenges all with the same book. Sometimes these issues are just minor headaches, and sometimes they are enough to make you wonder why you ever thought being a writer was a good idea.

In my own little corner of the writing universe, I’ve had plenty of encounters with publishing speed bumps. I’ve had contracts cancelled due to one publisher buying out another. I’ve had a publisher accidentally send me a bill for what should have been my author’s copies. And I’ve had editors get ill, have family problems, and delay my revisions by months.  Most recently, I’ve had a book scheduled for release three times only to be delayed again because the original publisher is being bought out. It’s tough to go from preparing to celebrate the release of your book to being told, “We don’t really know when it will be released.”

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In a conversation with an acquaintance, I was explaining the most recent development with my book when he asked, “So why do you keep doing this?”

I didn’t even hesitate. “Because I can’t NOT write. I can’t stop.” And it’s the truth. I have stopped writing before for almost two years, and it nearly made me crazy. I tell people regularly that, even if I never made another dime from my stories, I would still keep writing and submitting. It’s my addiction. It’s what keeps me breathing and keeps my heart pounding. It is, very honestly, who I am. So in spite of all those speed bumps, I will never give up. I will never surrender.

There are only a few things I feel this much passion for. My family, obviously, is at the top of the list. Knowledge is another item on the list because I love learning. My pets, and really animals in general are also  high on my list. But writing is what fills my heart. It’s where everything comes together for me.  It’s why I search for detail in the mundane, why I listen for noises or voices that no one else pays attention to, and why even as I’m sitting in traffic, I’m creating a scene or writing descriptions in my head. It just is who I am.

When someone asks, “Why don’t you quit?” When I go through the occasional bout of self-doubt. When yet another speed bump surprises me and jolts me like I’ve been moving too fast, I might have a quick slip into that dark thought of giving up writing, but ultimately, my brain surges, my heart beats faster, and the passion takes over again. Never give up, never surrender.

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Resolutions – The 2013 Edition

It has been a VERY successful year for me, and I am grateful for the support of friends, family, teachers, librarians, and most of all readers! In June of this year, Angelic Knight Press made an offer for Death’s Kiss. In August, I sold a horror short story under my pen name Mimi A. Williams. That story, entitled Rita, will be part of the Axes of Evil: Heavy Metal Horror Anthology that will be released on February 1, 2014.  The Deepest Blue was released from Tanglewood Press in September of this year. This book has a long, winding history behind it, and it’s one that I am incredibly proud to see in print. All of this exceeded my goals for the year, although there were a few places I fell short

This is the seventh year in a row that I’ve done this exercise. It is a tradition now, and something I look forward in some sick and twisted way. It actually started further back even than the posts on this blog! All credit is due to Carol Lynch Williams who started the whole thing at least a dozen years ago and maybe even more. We are members of several list serves together, and every year about this time, we would publicly post our writing goals, and at the end of the year, Carol would hold us all accountable by posting our objectives on the list.

I like to do it this way: First, I review my resolutions from the beginning of the year to see how I did. That usually provides the motivation for my new resolutions. So here is what I aspired to a year ago and how I did:

1) I will revise my book The Afterward and continue to send it out.

The Afterward did not get the work I had hoped it would. It was shoved aside in favor of other projects. That’s not entirely bad. The other projects were both getting revised for publication. The Deepest Blue was the one that required the most time, followed closely by Death’s Kiss, which will be released early in 2014.

2) I will revise my book Death Kiss and continue submitting it and looking for its home.

Death Kiss was revised, and it was bought by Angelic Knight Press. It did find a home, and as I mentioned, it will be released soon under the revised title of “Death’s Kiss”

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3) I will participate in as many promotional and marketing events as possible (like Authorpalooza, Writing for Charity, and others) to promote my books and my availability for speaking.

I did quite well with this! I attended 10 different events, including a workshop at Whitmore Library, Writing for Charity, Davis School District Literacy Night, SCBWI’s The Inside Story, and others. I have also upgraded my website, and learned new ways to use social media to help promote my books. The results have been very positive, and as I anticipate my upcoming royalty payments, I should have a more concrete idea of how effective these efforts have been.

4) I will begin offering writing workshops 3 or 4 times a year through different sources as a means of income and to promote my books.

I didn’t quite follow through with this, though I did teach two workshops with good results. This year, though, I will follow through with the workshops, and I have recruited my talented writer friend C. Michelle Jefferies to be part of the fun! We have already laid the plans for the first workshop the first week of February.

And now it’s time to commit to the page (such as it is) my goals for the coming year. They came pretty easily this year, and I feel like I am stretching a bit and giving myself a challenge, but I don’t sense I’m setting myself up for failure. So here they are:

1. I will get an agent this year. Period.

2. I will finish at least three novels this year, including rewriting The Afterward, finishing Namesake, and a third novel (yet to be determined).

3. I will continue to look for opportunities to promote my work and to participate in at least one writing-related event each month.

4. I will attend two writing conferences or workshops to benefit my own writing.

5. I will offer four writing workshops  during the year.

That’s a lot to do in the next year, but I’m feeling confident and enthusiastic. It’s as much giving as it is taking. I’m focusing on quality and quantity. Overall, I think 2014 holds more promise than even this past year held, and that just makes me even more eager to get started!

Here’s to the coming year! My propellers are spinning and I’m ready to fly!

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Guest Blog Excitement!

Today, I’m turning the reigns over to my friend and fellow author, Johnny Worthen! I want you all to play nicely, okay?

Let me start by saying that this guy is one of the few people on the planet who gets my sense of humor (which makes HIS planet of origin highly suspect!).  I recently began reading his upcoming novel BEATRYSEL, and while I’m only about half of the way in, I have been completely blown away from the writing style, the strength of the character development, and the excellent detail that is showcased in this work.

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So here are a few enlightening and entertaining words from Mr. Worthen:

Writing with others – not for me.

When I was in college back when teachers wore mortarboard hats and robes and rode to school in chariots, I took a creative writing class billed as a “workshop.” That was my first taste of writing in groups, and I’m here to say, it was also my last.

I don’t write well with others.

I got an A in the class, that’s the kind of student I was – grubby grade groveling scholarship keeping academic whiz-kid, but I didn’t learn anything. No, that’s not true: I learned never to do that again.

Now don’t get me wrong, writing workshops are fine in some ways. Writers are by nature solitary creatures and a little bonhomie and community is a good thing – a necessary thing. It’s good to be exposed to others’ writing and helpful to hear what people think of yours.

Sometimes.

The experience I had in that class not only spoiled my attitude toward writing groups, but it actually put me off writing for over a decade.

It was a terror literary politics, subjective criticism and stupid people. One didn’t like the fact that I used four syllable words when a two syllable word would do, like “luminescent” versus “glowing.” Another thought my villain was too mean. Did I mention he was the villain? Another thought that I’d stolen their idea because being drunk was obviously a unique experience. Some criticized the font I printed my stories in – “serif fonts are out of style, don’t you know.” Others admitted they didn’t like science fiction and so wouldn’t read past the title. And of course, being in Utah, I had litanies against the use of foul language and adult situations. What the hell?

The professor had the idea to let the students grade their classmates’ work and arrive at a grade in that way. I was on scholarship, remember, a tight 3.7 or better GPA, and couldn’t afford the D- I was destined for after the first week. Luckily, by the second week, the instructor recognized where his shit ideas was heading – no one was going to pass his course. Nobody. After one student criticized another for having juvenile alliteration, that author turned around and found new faults in that student’s paper, dropping their B to a low D because “they didn’t get it.”

Yeah. I know, right?

The professor took grading back into his own hands, promising A’s to everyone who participated and handed in all the work – content and quality notwithstanding.

Of course the politics still went on and the widely different levels of literary tastes and experience. I remember spending days trying to dumb down a two page story so the visiting exchange student from Longbortistan could understand the aquatic imagery. She never did.

When I turned to writing again, I knew to stay away from groups. I’d been there. Writing is a solitary event. There’ll be time enough for criticism when agents, editors and publishers have it – time enough and plenty enough. At least with them, I know they want my work to succeed, a different mindset entirely from my earlier experience.

I’d never have been able to write my debut BEATRYSEL in that environment. It’s too rough, the language too adult, the situations too disturbing, the language and verb-play too unusual, the use of epigraphs too outdated. The font too “fonty.”

I write. I write a lot, but I admit, I don’t write well with others.

Let’s all put our hands together for Mr. Worthen! Believe me, you can look forward to hearing more from this exceedingly talented guy! And check out BEATRYSEL at all your favorite book and ebook places!  Johnny is a pretty awesome individual, and you can find out more about him here:  http://www.johnnyworthen.com/

The Truth about the Publishing World (According to Me)

Sometimes when I do school visits, I will ask kids how long they think it takes to write and publish a book. I’ve heard responses ranging from two months, to five years. The good news is, it doesn’t often take five years – but sometimes it can be that long depending on the book. Truthfully, once you’ve finished writing a book, you can expect it to take anywhere from one to three years to see it in print. There are a lot of factors that go into this timeline. For example, the book has to be accepted by a publisher, and that can take a very long time. The shortest time in my personal experience is three months, the longest is three years.

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This timing also includes the publisher’s calendar. Again, the shortest time from acceptance to release in my personal experience was six months; the longest has been two years. There are other variables, too, such as what the market is doing, what type of publisher you are using, or whether or not you are using an agent. All of these things will make a difference.

One of the most important skills to develop if you want to be a writer is patience.

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This is one of the most first lessons that I teach in any of my workshops. Not only does the publishing world take time, but you can’t control almost all of the factors involved in that timeline. The only thing you can control is what you submit and to whom you submit it. One of my novels was submitted, and after collecting about 30 rejections (probably more, I tend to block those things out), I decided to work on revisions. About a year after I submitted it for the first round, I was contacted by a publisher who wanted to buy the work. The editor hadn’t even seen the revisions – the publisher had been holding the original manuscript for over about a year and had just gotten to reading it.

 

 

 

 

 

Another lesson is to keep writing. Most of the writers I know are working on two or three manuscripts at a time. It isn’t because we have ADHD – in fact, that would make it quite hard to focus on writing at all. It’s because the first book you write may not be the first book you sell. The first book(s) I sold were my nonfiction series HEY, RANGER. But I had written at least four other complete manuscripts (and untold numbers of incomplete ones) prior to getting that contract.

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Even the first novel I sold was not the first novel I had written. The danger here is that, if you launch into another project, it often becomes an excuse for not finishing one you are struggling with (see my previously mentioned untold numbers comment). Traditional publishers will ask for anything between one month to six months once they’ve received your manuscript to give them time to sort through the hundreds or thousands of others that came in before yours. Even with the new e-publishers, it can take 30 to 60 days before you receive a response (and I recently read the submission guidelines of an e-publisher who said to allow eight to twelve weeks). If all you do is sit around waiting, checking your inbox, and fretting over responses you haven’t received, you will go nuts in a very short time.

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Another part of the publishing world is editing. No matter how perfect you think your story is, your editor is going to find things that you didn’t see, and will recommend changes.

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Right here is where many writers choose to part company with traditional publishing and opt for self-publishing. Some – though clearly NOT all – of these writers believe that an editor will just try to rewrite their story for his or her own purposes. These writers are so in love with their own words that they can’t bear the thought of anyone making even the slightest change. The truth is that editors just want to help you tighten your story, make it more compelling and interesting to readers, and therefore, make it a better selling book. An editor’s primary focus is making sure that the product that publisher puts out is as finely crafted as a diamond ring from Tiffany’s. Some writers choose self-publishing for other reasons, but that’s a topic for another blog.

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The last thing about the publishing world is that they operate on budgets. When it’s time for your book to be released, your publisher will do what it can to promote your work. They have a vested interest in seeing your book do well. But unless your name is Stephen King or James Patterson or Janet Evanovich, the likelihood of your book getting a million dollar ad campaign is pretty slim. Every publisher is a little different in what they are willing to do, so you should be willing to ask about this in advance of your book being published. Anything they are willing to do (such as bookmarks, posters, postcards, etc.) will need to be scheduled early on. If you wait until the book is about to be released, it will be too late. You will also need to be willing to do some work yourself. Social networking, emails, postcard mailings, contacting local bookstores, and other activities are something you can do at a minimal cost. I sign up for book fairs at schools, offer to speak to writing groups, and take just about any opportunity to get my name and the name of my books out to the public. For several years I even judged a high school poetry slam!

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These are just some fundamentals, and again, they are based on my personal experience. I have worked with seven different publishers throughout my writing career, but I don’t claim to know every detail about every publisher. This industry changes constantly (when I started, snail mail was the only way to submit and now the majority of publishers prefer email), and anyone who wants to be successful in this weird and wonderful business needs to learn what he or she can about targeting publishers, crafting and fine-tuning a manuscript, and surviving the wait until the next sale.

Research, Reviews, Revisions – Oh My!

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I’ll start with revisions. For one book, they’re done, for another, they’re just beginning. Two weeks ago I received the Advanced Unedited copies of my contemporary young adult novel THE DEEPEST BLUE from my publisher.

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This was the last possible chance to make any kind of changes to the book before publication. Nothing major – like I couldn’t change the ending, make big alterations to scenes, or anything of that nature. A few extra spaces were found, and a line that should have been deleted was probably the biggest glitch. The thing is, it was just an amazing thing to read the story all the way through for the first time since all the major revisions were done. It was frightening, but it was also exhilarating. I can tell you that at the end of it, I’m pleased – very pleased. I’m very critical of my work, and typically I’m harder on myself than anyone else ever would be, so the fact that I read through the entire book and didn’t hate it says something.

Now I’m gearing up for the revision process for my young adult paranormal novel called DEATH’S KISS. My publisher told me to expect the work to begin in earnest at the beginning of August. I actually like revisions because it’s a second chance (or third, or fourth, or whatever) to fine tune the story. It’s like working on a painting only now I get to go in with a tiny brush and add the details that bring the picture to life. And believe me, the excitement of having two books coming out within a month of each other is only getting bigger with each passing day!

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This brings me to reviews. The verbal feedback I’ve received from those who have read the two stories has, thus far,  been incredibly positive. I’m grateful for the comments of my beta readers and my editors. Their input has guided both stories and helped to make them stronger. But last week I got word that Kirkus Reviews was planning to publish a review of THE DEEPEST BLUE in their August 1st edition.

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I got a copy of the review, and while it is very positive, it is fairly critical of one aspect of the book, and that stung a bit. Well, no, it stung a lot. I’d be lying to say that my feelings weren’t just a bit hurt. The only remedy is to remind myself of the same words I’ve given to other writer friends in the same situation: reviews are really only one person’s opinion. If readers respond, that’s all that matters. Soon enough, I’ll have the answer.

So research – I’m working on a new young adult novel, a murder mystery. When I worked with my writing partner on BEAUTIFUL MONSTER, we interviewed a friend of mine who is a mortician to be sure that we got certain icky details correct.

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Now, I’ve started interviewing a good friend who is an attorney, and a friend of my parents’ who is a retired city detective. They are helping me to verify the details of  a cold case murder. I’m learning all sorts of legal and forensic information that will help me tell a better story. The cycle has started over, and I’m excited to be launching into a new adventure.  Of course, with three books in the works, I’m at three different stages in the writing process, so to say I’m starting over is only partially true.

This time in my writing life is busy, rewarding, and always interesting! I’ve worked hard for this, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. I have spent 15 years of my life (minus a few I took off when I didn’t think I could write) working toward the experience I am having right now. When I hear other writers whine that they haven’t achieved some level of literary greatness after three or four years, I just have to laugh. I’m happy. I’ve worked hard for this happiness. I will enjoy it to the fullest, and I will continue working to maintain it. Research will not slow me, revisions will not dissuade me, and reviews will not take it away. I’m having a blast!

A Brick Wall at 60 Miles an Hour

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Welcome to Writer’s Block – again.

I seem to go through this periodically. Sometimes it’s stress related, sometimes not. Stress doesn’t always trigger it, but sometimes it does.

But first, an explanation:

I’ve been trying to finish the revisions on my novel The Deepest Blue (set to come out in the fall of this year). I had every intention of getting it done before the end of the year, but the last two months of 2012 were just a hair shy of total insanity. I left a job I’d only been at for six months to take a job that lasted only two weeks. I didn’t know it was only going to last two weeks, but then I also didn’t know I’d been hired by crazy people. I also moved – which is a long and complex story that doesn’t really need to be given detail other than to say “I HATE MOVING!” Then, of course, the holidays were upon us, accompanied by frequent calls and visits to the unemployment office.  I kept working on the revisions, but I was moving at a pace that would embarrass a garden slug.

I swore, though, that in the new year (being as I was unemployed), I would get the revisions done.

And then I became blocked.

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There were a number of factors that went into causing this block. It took time to identify them, but it’s important to know what triggers a block so you can be more alert to potential blockages in the future! (It’s sort of like paying attention when your drain starts to run slow – better to clean out a small clump of gunk than to have a plumbing crisis on your hands.)

The first thing that contributed to the conundrum was putting deadlines on myself that might not have been reasonable given my circumstances. Moving, changing jobs, holidays, and dealing with government inefficiency all take a toll on one’s psyche. They drain away energy from where it is more useful and better served. Then there was the internal conflict I had over a scene that my editor wanted moved, changed, or deleted. I felt very strongly about the scene and it’s placement. I seriously agonized over how to please my editor while staying true to what I believed was necessary for the story. I rewrote the scene five or six times, and each time I felt it got worse. Enter contributor number three – the hyper-critical internal editor. Nothing pleases this chick! If I had to describe her, she would be six feet tall with long, straight, black hair, and fingernails that look like talons. She sneers, she gives exasperated sighs, and she says things like “That is the stupidest thing I think you’ve ever written. What were you even thinking? OH – I know – you weren’t thinking.” She’s a sarcastic wench, and she makes me doubt my ability to create (despite having six published books under my belt). At one point, I was so frustrated by this internal editor (which, YES – I KNOW – it’s my own self doubt and criticism. Sheesh, I’m not schizophrenic!) that I was about to call my editor in tears and tell her I’d pay back my advance because I just couldn’t write anymore.

It’s obvious NOW (of course, hindsight being 20/20) that my whole blockage was really self-inflicted, but in the midst of it, it felt like hitting a brick wall in your car going 60 miles an hour.

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Everything came to abrupt halt. Just the thought of sitting at my computer to try to revise would make me nauseous. I’ve gone through bouts of writer’s block a few times – which is really the Universe’s way of punishing me for saying once (a very long time ago) that there was no such thing as writer’s block – it was just a lazy writer’s excuse. Yeah – that’ll learn me.

Thank the heavens for wise friends who know just what to say and just when to say it. I was expressing my frustration and telling a friend of mine that I just didn’t have what it takes anymore. I told her that I felt like I was a fraud by telling people I was a writer. She gave me a very kind smile and said, “Your thinking that you are a fraud is insecurity. Insecurity is a character defect, and underlying every character defect is fear.” She looked me in the eye and asked, “So, what are you afraid of?”

Before I could even think about it, the words fell out of my brain, into my mouth, and out into the open. “I’m afraid of disappointing people.”

Yeah – I’m a people pleaser. I want everyone to like me. I don’t want to make anyone upset at me and I felt like I was letting my editor down, letting my writing friends down (the ones who offered to help with the read-through), and letting everyone I’d ever told about this upcoming book down. That fear of disappointing people nearly paralyzed me.

Then I said, “I’m afraid it won’t be perfect.”

Whoa – that caught me by surprise. This book is still going through revisions. It isn’t meant to be perfect. It will never be “perfect” in the sense that no one anywhere will be able to find fault with it. I remember hearing Jane Yolen speak at a conference and talking about how there are scenes in her book “The Devil’s Arithmetic” that she would still go back and revise – and this book won all kinds of awards! I realized that I was trying to achieve a finished product, but it isn’t time yet.

I meditated a long time on what this friend had said and what my answers had been. In the mean time, I also started a new full-time job (also quite stressful), but while I was sitting at my desk at work, inputting numbers into a database (not real stressful), the solution to the block arrived. I almost couldn’t get through the rest of my day because I was so eager to get home and write! That was a magnificent feeling. I sat down, I dug in, and I solved the problem. I found a happy compromise for the scene my editor wanted changed and I didn’t (well, the scene isn’t happy, but resolving where to put it was). I got through the remaining chapters, and I sent the entire manuscript off to my wonderful editor before my self-imposed deadline of the end of the month!

Lessons learned? Um – many. First, I am terribly hard on myself, and I need to learn to just let it flow. Writing “Beautiful Monster” happened during one of the most stressful times in my life, but that story flowed because I allowed myself to admit there would be issues and errors, and I could go back and fix them later.  Second, I need to address my frustrations earlier. I do a lot of “I’m not blocked, I’m not blocked, I’m not blocked, OH CRUD! I’m blocked!” Backing off sooner, removing obstacles when they are small instead of when I’ve made them into demons – this is the better way. Finally – remember who you’re writing for. It’s not an editor, it’s not an audience. I’m writing for me. This is – and always has been – my passion. I do this for my soul and for no other reason. I’m going to make a sign that says exactly that and hang it right behind my computer.

Sigh.

You Say You Want a Resolution . . . (with apologies to the Beatles)

new yearFor the past six years at this time, I have made public my writing resolutions. So here we go again – a new year and a relatively new round of resolutions. First, though, here are last year’s offerings and the results there of:

1) I will finish the YA novel currently entitled “Death Kiss” and start submitting it by this summer. Check this one off. I did finish and I did begin submitting. It is currently sitting on the desks of two different agensts, waiting for word on its fate.

2) I will start working on the collaborative projet with Jared (assuming he finishes his other one!) and have it completed by the end of the year. We never quite got to this, but we did sell Beautiful Monster and are awaiting the first royalty payments from it!

3) I will continue trying to get an agent. Of course, having sold all my books without an agent, I sometimes wonder if I really need this. Then I read about an overseas deal or movie rights negotiated by an agent and I realize that this is the right course for me. Still trying, still getting rejected. I haven’t found the right agent yet, but I haven’t tried them all so no point in stopping yet.

4) Continue learning and polishing my craft. I plan to attend a variety of workshops and conferences this year, learning more about the industry and about my chosen career. I atended the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and I continue consulting with some of the most talented and generous writers I know. I’m also reading constantly and analyzing everything that I read.

Not bad for 2012. I pretty proud of what I accomplished, like selling two books (Beautiful Monster and The Deepest Blue) and seeing one reissued (Kiss Kiss Bark). I’m proud of the work I’ve done and continue to do. I am committed to growing as a writer, to supporting those in whom I believe, and to pursuing my dream with my whole heart. So, without futher ado, here is this year’s set of goals –

1) I will revise my book The Afterward and continue to send it out.

2) I will revise my book Death Kiss and continue submitting it and looking for its home.

3) I will participate in as many promotional and marketing events as possible (like Authorpalooza, Writing for Charity, and others) to promote my books and my availability for speaking.

4) I will begin offering writing workshops 3 or 4 times a year through different sources as a means of income and to promote my books.

These are my objectives. Some require some stretching, some just require organization and time. I look forward to seeing the results of my work, and I would love to hear how many of you have resolutions as well!