Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Essentials of a Writer’s Office

Writer Wednesday

In order to be productive, you need the correct tools to perform your job.  This is no different for writers.  An ideal office environment includes the tools authors need to research, write, submit and market their books.  Here are some items every writer should have on hand:

·         Notebooks and pens for writing down ideas, reminders and tasks.  Ideally, you should use a different notebook for each of these.

·         Laptop and/or desktop.  Laptops are convenient for taking with you when you travel or want to work elsewhere in the house.  Desktops are not portable, but the monitors can be much larger.

·         A printer.  Because most of what you print will be manuscript pages, look for a printer whose page output is high, rather than photo quality being good.

·         A desk.  Purchase one large enough for your electronics, but small enough to fit into your space.

·         An ergonomic desk chair to provide support during the hours that you are sitting in it.

·         A file cabinet or drawers for storing research, ideas, finances, organizations, etc.

·         A good internet connection.  While your writing is done offline, your email, research and newsletters all require an internet connection.  Make sure it is fast enough to handle loading graphics and pages to make the best use of your time.

·         Word processing software.  Most common is Microsoft Word, but any software that provides the same functions would be suitable.

·         A notebook or software for tracking submissions and royalties.

·         Bulletin board or whiteboard for posting notes and ideas.

·         A red pen for editing.

·         Notecards, stationery and envelopes for writing thank you notes, cover letters and mailing promo materials.

·         Writer’s Resource books.  Select a variety of books, including characterization, plotting, marketing, etc.  For a list of suggestions, click here.
Contact Management program.  This can be used for setting up business contacts and a fan newsletter

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Web Design Tips for Writers

The internet is a primary source of advertising for authors.  Information about their books is available 24 hours a day.  Anyone anywhere can visit a web site and learn about your past, current and future releases.  But with so many web sites online, authors are competing for time.  Therefore, a web site must be designed to capture as many readers and visitors as possible.  Here are a few tips for authors when designing a web site.

1.       Keep the home page simple.  There should be just enough information to interest your visitors, but not so much they will get distracted and leave.  Don't make them scroll down the page.

2.       Make links visible.  Whether you use side tabs or a navigation bar, links to additional pages should be easily seen on every page.

3.       Keep your design simple—this includes fonts and graphics.  Don't use blinking graphics or fancy fonts that are difficult to read.  This is distracting and visitors will move on.

4.       Put your most important content on the left side of the page, where visitors spend most of their viewing time.

5.       Keep your design complementary to your genre.  For example, if you write contemporary thrillers, you wouldn't want Western graphics or images, as much as you love visiting dude ranches.

6.       Selling books is the main reason for your web site.  Make titles easy to find, and include links for purchasing.

7.       Give your readers a call to action.  This may be purchasing your books, attending a booksigning, or liking you on Facebook.  Have these buttons or links visible and up front.

8.       Have links to outside pages open in a new frame.  You don't want visitors to completely leave your page.

9.       Keep current!  Update your page as often as necessary.  Nothing is more frustrating to visitors than seeing booksignings that are a year old, or "Upcoming" releases that have been out for six months.

Giving your readers a reason to visit will keep them coming back. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Book Review – Victorian Costume for Ladies 1860-1900 by Linda Setnik

One of the enjoyments of reading historical novels is losing oneself in the details of the setting.  The more detailed the description, the more a reader feels a part of the book.  It's easy to be whisked away to 19th century America, imagining flounced dresses, ruffled parasols and impossibly tight corsets.

It is important, therefore, for the writer to weave these details into their writing.  In order to do that, they spend hours researching every aspect of the time, from social mores to fashion.  When they find a resource, they grab onto it, using the information in their work.

One of these valuable resources is Victorian Costume for Ladies 1860-1900 (VCL).  This revised and expanded 2nd edition is full of details any Victorian enthusiast would benefit from.  This book isn't the usual fashion resource.  Rather than using drawings of petite models with perfect features, VCL uses real photographs of real women.  The ladies in these photos could very well be your great-grandmother or great-great aunt.  They are women like you and me, of all ages and from all walks of life. 

The author analyzes the styles through the years by studying these photographs.  Even something as subtle as the pose or the furniture can give insight into habits and mores of the day. 

VCL isn't just about the fashion, either.  The book explores the health issues associated with the restrictive corsets, and the poisonous chemicals used in cosmetics of the day to keep skin looking white and flawless.   

It is a fascinating look at the extraordinary detail of the times.  How did they produce these complicated dresses?  How did they keep them clean and make them last as long as possible?  Undergarments were an important part of this process.  VCL includes a chapter on the role chemises, petticoats and dress shields played in prolonging the life of the dress.  It is a wonder any women survived hot summers dressed with layers and layers of constrictive clothing. 

Victorian Costume for Ladies is a must for any library for writers of this era.  Lose yourself in the detail, so your readers can lose themselves in your book.

 By Michelle Prima


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Keeping Track of Contacts

As a writer, you come into contact with many different people—editors, agents, fellow writers, book store owners, etc.  They may stick around for a while, but they may change positions or leave their place of employ.  As a writer, it is important to keep up to date on these changes.  You don't want to make a bad impression by submitting a manuscript to an editor who no longer works for a publishing house.

It is imperative that you keep track of people in the industry, including the company they work for and their contact information.  So what's the best way to do this?

One way is to use Outlook.  You can add as much detail as you want for a contact, including birthday and department they work in.  You can then categorize your contacts accordingly.  Perhaps you want all readers in one category, booksellers in another, etc.  You can also create a group, adding names and emails to the group for mass email distribution.  When you have an announcement to make, such as a book release, you can send it to the group with one click of the mouse.

Another way is to use an online service such as Plaxo (  This online service syncs with all your email accounts and devices to keep everything updated.  It also deletes duplicate records.  Another site is Flexadex (  Both these sites allow online access from anywhere in the world.  So you never lose contact information when your computer crashes or you trade in your phone.

A database program such as Access can collect this information also.  Fields are customizable, so you can add info like where you met the person (at conference, perhaps) or editor's preferences (genre or length).  The database can be exported to mailing lists for mass email distribution.

A simple spreadsheet works, too.  You can create your own headings and fields.  Data can be sorted by column, so you can add and delete easily without worrying about the order of entries.

Finally, if you are truly old-fashioned, there is always the paper version.  If you like to work with paper and pen, select a notebook or address book with pages that insert and remove easily.  These are limited in space, though, so you may not be able to collect all the information you want about your contacts.

Whatever method you choose, make sure it's the right one for you.  Use it on a trial basis to see if you're comfortable entering the data and customize the entries.  Once you find a system you like, then start entering all your contacts.  Or hire a professional organizer to do it for you!  Prima By Design, 847-955-1822

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Finding Inspiration from the Present

Writer Wednesday

We previously talked about finding inspiration from your past.  This may have been childhood friends, or vacations you took, or a teacher you had in grade school.  This week, we're going to look at ways to find inspiration from the world around you.

Most writers at one time or another struggle with ideas for their next article or work of fiction.  So where can you find inspiration for a story idea?  Look around you.

·         Books – this may seem like plagiarism, but you shouldn't take the same story and re-tell it.  Take a nugget from the story and put your own twist on it.  For example, Beauty and the Beast is a classic tale.  But what if Beauty were the hero, and the beast was the heroine?  And what if you created a fantasy world around these two characters?  Same premise, new story.

·         Overheard dialog – listen in on a conversation (heaven knows there are enough people using their phones in public places) then create a story around what you heard. 

·         Magazines – How many times have you read an article in a magazine and been touched by the story.  Create your own characters and re-write the article into a piece of fiction.  I don't suggest using a true story that was widely publicized, however, because of the legal ramifications.  Take the nugget of an idea and change a few facts, like ages of the characters, or location and time of year.

·         Art – Have you ever gazed at a painting and wondered about the story behind the subject, or even the artist?  How many have speculated over Mona Lisa's smile?  How about the farmer and his wife in American Gothic?  Create your own story for these people.

·         Dreams – I have trouble remembering most of my dreams.  But every so often, one sticks with me because it is so vivid.  And some of those have turned into stories.  Try recreating one of your dreams.

·         Songs – Listen closely to the lyrics of songs.  Create a story around those lyrics.  Or just use the title as inspiration. 

·         Quotes – Some quotes stick with us forever, and possibly even change our lives.  One of my favorites is from James Dean.  "Dream as if you'll live forever.  Live as if you'll die today."  Create a character whose life is transformed by this quote.

What quote do you find inspirational?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Helping Your Writing With Self-Imposed Deadlines

Writer Wednesday

While some writers have deadlines set by their editor or publishing house, there are many writers who do not have specific deadlines to meet.  For those without deadlines, there isn't the stress of getting a project done.  For them, it's a freedom of sorts!  Freedom to do whatever one wants, including write.

But when was the last time you had a full eight-hour day to write?  How did you spend it?  Did you spend all eight hours writing?  Did you spend seven hours writing?  Or did you look at the clock, see that you had eight more hours, so why not call your mom and catch up, do some laundry, or clean off your desk?

Do you find yourself wasting more time when you have a full day available, or when you only have two or three hours to write?  If you're like most people, you'll waste away a good day, because you don't have any deadlines to meet.  So why not set some for yourself?

Look at your calendar, and look at your project list.  Perhaps you have a novel you are working on, which is about half-way written.  And your calendar says you have three months until family vacation.

Wouldn't it be nice to go on vacation with that novel under your belt?  How can you enjoy yourself when you know you have a huge project waiting for you at home? 

Work out the next three months, planning time to write every week.  For instance, if you have 150 pages to write to finish the book, and you want to get it done in ten weeks, giving yourself two weeks to pack, that means you have to write fifteen pages every week to meet your self-imposed deadline.  Then sit down and write, tracking your pages as you go.

This method may not work for everyone.  Some people can't take their own deadlines seriously, because they are not accountable to anyone.  So either make yourself accountable (to a writing buddy or spouse, perhaps), or use the reward system instead.  Tell yourself that for every 50 pages you complete, you can buy yourself a new book or indulge in a pint of your favorite gourmet ice cream.  Use a reward that means something special to you.

By making yourself disciplined, you will be more productive.  And being more productive makes you more money.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Finding the Ending

Writer Wednesday

We've talked about great beginnings and sagging middles, so the next logical step is creating an ending.  Not just any ending, but one that is satisfying to your readers.  Have you ever read a book, totally engrossed, only to throw the book against the wall after you read the ending?

Maybe the ending was contrived.  Maybe it wasn't how you would have ended it.  Or perhaps it ended too soon, before all loose ends were tied up.  These are things to consider when you are ending your book.  Where is the best place to stop?

Only you can determine that.  Look at your main characters.  Their story will determine when to end yours.  Once they have had their revelations, and come to terms with themselves and each other, it's a good place to stop.  If you continue writing after their story is complete, you'll be starting a whole new story.  For example, in a romance, throughout the book, the reader can't see how the hero and heroine will end up with each other by the last chapter.  There are many obstacles to overcome, and many lessons they have to learn about themselves.  Once that occurs, and they declare their love for each other, the book should end.  If you continue with their lives and add scenes, then you are starting a new story, and new conflicts.  These should be left for another book.

Also look at secondary characters.  You have an option for tying up their loose ends.  If you are planning a sequel, it's good to leave the reader wondering.  If you aren't, then think about how vested the reader is in these characters.  Have the characters endeared themselves enough to the reader that they will want to know what happened to them, too?  Minor characters generally do not need to be mentioned at the end.  They were only there to support the main characters. 

Remember, you don't have to reveal everything about every character.  But don't leave the reader hanging and wondering what's happened if they've cared enough to get to the end of the book.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Getting Past the Middle

A few weeks ago, we talked about beginnings—the best place to start, and how to draw your reader into the story.  You may or may not find beginnings easy as a writer.  But most writers would agree that middles are more of a challenge. 

This is where the story starts to drag.  It may also be the place where your characters start to take you in a different direction than you intended.  So what do you do?

First, talk to your characters.  Interview them, asking them difficult questions.  Don't ask, "How was your day?"  Rather, ask them "What was the best (or worst) thing that happened to you today?" Their answers will help guide you. 

Next, write down the beginning and ending points of your story.  Your characters started at Point "A".  They need to get to Point "C".  What are all the possible Point "B"s that will get your characters to the end you want for them? 

For example, at Point "A", your protagonist finds himself on the edge of bankruptcy in the family business that's been around for over a century.  Point "C" is finding the funds to save the business.  Point "B" may be winning the lotto (highly unlikely and too contrived), winning the lotto, then losing the money in Vegas (back to Point A), or asking your arch-enemy's daughter to approve a risky loan. 

There are any number of possibilities.  It's up to you and your characters to choose the right path.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Staying Focused and the Power of Multi-Tasking
by Hope White

 As a writer, mother and cat herder, I often find myself pressed for time.  That’s why I’ve developed two important practices:  staying focused and multi-tasking, and I don’t just mean cooking dinner while talking on the phone.   I’ve challenged myself to come up with other ways to maximize my time so I can effectively meet deadlines.

 The Magical Timer

You’d be shocked by how much you can get done if you hit a timer for 60 minutes.  I don’t know about you, but if I give myself three hours to complete a task, it can take four. But if I set a time limit by gosh I’m going to finish that project no matter what!  That’s just me. 

 Merry Maid

Cleaning the house has never been one of my favorite chores, so I decided to pair that productive task with something fun:  listening to music, or workshops.  Music energizes me, and if I listen to great music while cleaning the house, I end up feeling charged up and ready to take on my next project, especially a writing project.  I also download podcasts and workshops about writing and the movie business (I’m a novelist and screenwriter) so I’m learning as I dust under the sofa for pet hair.
Ivy Therapy

Things grow like crazy in the Pacific Northwest thanks to the rain.  I didn’t realize how determined ivy could be until it had practically taken over the driveway!  It’s no fun to get into a battle with ivy because most of the time you feel like you pull and tug and somehow the roots grow deeper.  So I created Ivy Therapy.  For me, it’s a great way to get fresh air, exercise, and catch up with old friends!  I bought a high quality earpiece for my cell phone and chat with friends and family while ripping and tugging.  I practice “talking and tasking” all the time.  In other words, if I’m talking on the phone I’ll also be completing a task (dusting, cleaning bathrooms, scooping cat litter). 

Sneaking in Exercise

I’m not a huge fan of exercise (read:  I hate to exercise!), but I can appreciate how good it is for my body.  Like a spoonful of sugar helping the medicine go down, I pair exercise with other activities I enjoy: walking outside and talking to a best friend on my cell phone; walking while listening to music; reading an engaging book while riding the exercycle.   Maybe it seems obvious, but it’s not easy getting me on the stationary bike, and if I can tempt myself with a fabulous read I stand a better chance of clocking much-needed minutes.

In essence, I like to combine the “have to’s” with the “want to’s.”  That way I get a lot accomplished, but I’m still having a good time.  And that’s what I strive to do -- appreciate every moment as much as possible.

Do you multi-task on a regular basis?  If so, what kinds of activities do you combine for maximum productivity?

Thanks to Michelle at Prima by Design for hosting me today on her blog.  I’ve learned so much about organizing and productivity from reading her words of wisdom. 

Take care!

Hope White

Hope writes romantic fiction for Love Inspired Suspense.  Her fourth book, “Small Town Protector” will hit shelves July 1.   It received a 4-star review from RT Bookclub Magazine.  (

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Writer Wednesday

This is sometimes the most difficult part of a writer's project—the beginning.  Where to start?  If you were Charles Dickens, you might start with an overview of the setting, then give a character sketch for each primary character.  Then after the backstory, the current story would start. 

But contemporary fiction isn't like that.  Readers want to get right to the story.  They want to be dropped into the action as its happening.  So where is it best to start your story?  Select a scene that will draw the reader in immediately.  What action happened that will change the hero/heroine's life forever?

Most often, this is well into your first chapter.  Writers often make the mistake of telling all the backstory first, thinking that the reader won't be able to understand what is going on if they don't give them the character's background.  But this isn't necessary.  You can always add the backstory slowly as flashbacks or through conversations. 

If you still aren't sure where to start, try this exercise.  Pick up some of the books on your "Keeper" shelf.  Read the first lines/paragraphs.  What drew you in that made you want to read more? 

One of my favorite beginnings is from Ken Follett's Code to Zero.  "He woke up scared. Worse than that, he was terrified."  In the first few paragraphs, you learn that the protagonist is dressed like a bum, and doesn't recognize himself in the mirror. 

Why was he terrified?  He can't even remember who he was?  Something must have happened to him to drop him into his situation.  Did I mention he woke up on the floor of a public bathroom?  Just think of all the questions your readers will have just from reading those first few paragraphs. 

Immerse your reader immediately.  Make them want to find out more.  THAT is where you should begin. 

What are some of your favorite first lines?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Preparing for a Workshop

Writer Wednesday

As a writer, you have many skills and talents.  You've learned the craft, and honed it to the point you are published, or very close to publishing.  You are considered an expert on writing because of the quality of your work. 

Not everyone excels in every area, however.  Some writers are great at creating sympathetic characters.  Some can bring an historical setting to life on the pages of a book.  Some can work humor into a serious relationship.  Whatever their strength, they can further their career by holding seminars or workshops. 

In order to hold a successful workshop, and be in demand at other groups, you should be prepared.

The first thing to do is decide on a topic and format.  What is your strength?  Is it promotion?  Is it research?  Select a topic—broad enough to appeal to a wider audience, but focused enough for attendees to learn something useful.  After choosing a topic, select a format.  Would your topic be best presented as a one or two hour presentation?  Or would it be better to hold it over the span of a few weeks?  If you are teaching a craft, sometimes homework and feedback are important, so holding it over several weeks is beneficial. 

After deciding on a format, find a place to hold your workshop.  Also decide whether or not you will charge the attendees a fee.  If you have to pay for your meeting space, consider a reasonable fee to help cover the cost of the room.  If you don't have to pay for the space, you may still consider charging a nominal fee to cover the cost of your handouts.  In some instances, your venue will pay you to give a workshop (libraries or women's groups).  In this case, you can't charge for admittance.

Next, create the curriculum.  Write your outline and presentation, keeping in mind your audience.  Will you be teaching beginners or advanced writers?  Will you be speaking to the general public or other writers?  Make your presentation basic or advanced, depending on the group.

Once your presentation is fine-tuned, prepare handouts for the attendees.  Give them useful tips and information without giving away your entire presentation.  You are the expert.  Have them come to you for advice, rather than giving it all away.

Start early publicizing your workshop.  Use the internet (newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), place fliers in appropriate places, contact your local newspaper, or place ads in writer's magazines.  The earlier you get the word out, the more people you will reach directly and indirectly.

Create a checklist for everything you need to bring with you the day of the workshop.  This will probably include handouts, contact information (for booking more talks), your laptop or flash drive with your files, a sign-up sheet for your newsletter (check with the venue for permission first), display items (books, posters), door prizes, evaluations and pens. 

Finally, after your workshop, thank your audience for attending.  Send them an email or note.  Remind them you are available to give workshops, and offer a list of topics. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

How to Write it When You Can't Be There

Guest post by Blythe Gifford

We’ve all heard the advice: You must visit the places you write about. Theoretically, I agree with that, but from a practical point of view, I’m not in the position to fly abroad every time I start a book. And since I write history, a trip to the place would still not be a trip to the time. I would still have to create a world I’ve never seen.
How do you do that with an eye to authenticity? I have a few tips.
First, choose your setting mindfully. A familiar location will make it easier to gather information. An obscure one may make it difficult to find enough detail to bring it to life.
The flip side of using a well known location is that it’s tough to fudge facts. Any mistake will surely be found by an expert reader.
Be aware of the connotation of the setting you select and decide whether to play to it or against it. Some locations, New Orleans, for example, are so strong that using them is almost like adding a character to your story.
When I say “setting,” I mean time as well as place. For example, I have a manuscript set in Philadelphia. Originally, the date was 1872, but I changed it to 1876. Why? Because the Centennial Exposition was in Philadelphia in 1876. Even though my book did not revolve around the exposition, it meant I could find everything from train schedules to photographs to first person accounts of the city in that year.
Next, ground yourself and your characters. Gather a detailed map, a calendar, and a guidebook or two. Even if you create an imaginary town, know which direction the sun rises and sets. Know the time and date and day of each scene. This will help keep you, and your characters, in a real world, one in which Sunday comes every week, the seasons follow their course, and you can trace how long it will take to walk from one end of town to the other.
Again, as historical writers, this is harder than it sounds. A current map has roads and buildings that did not exist when your story is set. Even rivers have changed course over time. Search used book fairs for older guidebooks and travel books. Often, they include maps, detailed descriptions, photos, and first person narratives.
Third, a picture is worth a thousand words. Along with my calendar, guidebook, and map, I always buy a good picture book or two. One will be of the physical landscape. That way, I am not dependent on another writer’s words. I can look at the picture as my hero or heroine would and let them describe the scene.
Authentic images, photographs, engravings, or paintings, will give you detail no guidebook or official history will include. In THE KNAVE AND THE MAIDEN, I had a scene set in the Cathedral at Exeter. When the Cathedral’s official website gave me a virtual tour, I discovered that the Cathedral was under construction at the time of my story. With that fact, I created a vivid, unique setting that supported the emotional theme of the scene.
The Internet is a gold mine for images. With a search engine, you can find everything from professional photography of historic buildings in all seasons to engravings of street scenes. In addition, many vacationers now post photos and travelogs. Not only are those a source of pictures, they can provide first person descriptions of how hot it can be on the Thames in August.
Finally, the devil is in the details. Instead of descriptions of panoramic views, select one small sensory detail, preferably a sound or a scent. (There’s nothing wrong with a visual detail, but using the other senses brings it closer to the character.) Then, make sure it has emotional resonance for your character. No matter how good your research, it exists only to make your characters move easily in their world. It should be inserted only when the character recognizes and reacts to it for a reason directly related to the storyline.
With these techniques, you can build a world that’s real to your characters and to your readers, even without getting on an airplane---or in a time machine.
Blythe Gifford’s next release, RETURN OF THE BORDER WARRIOR, is a Harlequin Historicals November 2012 release.  This is the first book in her Brunson Clan Trilogy.

To learn more about Blythe and her upcoming releases, visit her web site at

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Interweaving the Writer and the Web

You've heard it before--every serious writer should have a web site. You've thought about it already--the set-up, the design process, the maintenance. And it all seems too overwhelming. This article will help dispel some of the fears and myths associated with creating your own site.

The first belief you must carry with you is that every writer should have a web site, no matter what stage of career you are in. Whether just starting out, or multi-published, the internet is a powerful marketing tool from which all writers can benefit.

As soon as you start writing, you should investigate and register your domain name. Use the name you will be writing under (pen name) as your domain name. If you have a common name which is already taken, consider adding a suffix like: or If you aren't sure which name you will be using, purchase several domain names. They can be bought for as little as $7.95/year if you lock in for several years.  Don't renew the names you won't use.  Your ownership will be automatically cancelled. 

Once you have a domain name, start investigating hosting sites. Prices range from free, to upwards of $35/month, depending on how much space you want, and what services you need, such as e-mail accounts and e-mail forwarding. The more you pay, the more space and services you receive. Free sites such as will usually have banner ads that pop up for every visitor to your site. The price may be right, but do you want your visitors dealing with pop-up ads? You may also be limited to use of their templates, with little customization options.

After setting up your server, you can start the design process. You can design your page by using templates (usually available through free hosting services), learning to write HTML code yourself, or purchasing software which writes the code for you, such as Microsoft Expressions or Adobe's Dreamweaver. 

The first step in design is to define the purpose of your site. The purpose will define the content. Here are several purposes, and the basic content for those sites:
  • Promote novels and other published works--For established authors, this will include pages for your books, a bio, writing tips, news, and links as a start.
  • Promote non-fiction--For authors published in non-fiction only, this site would be more subject-oriented, with articles and links on your area of expertise, and contact info.
  • Educate Readers--For the unpublished author, this site could include a bio, monthly column, offers for speaking engagements, etc.
  • Educate Writers--For the author who wants to help other writers with their careers, this site would include writing tips, bibliography, links, etc.
A basic site should include a simple home page with links to other pages. The Table of Contents on your home page should have links to top-level pages only, for ease of navigation. Include a photo and brief welcome note on your home page, and move more detailed information to other pages to avoid clutter. Your home page is your first impression, so keep it as simple and clean as possible.

Keep subsequent layers to a minimum, and when designing these additional pages, stay within a theme which reflects your writing. Again, keep the design simple. Dark backgrounds are hard on the eyes, and small, fancy text is difficult to read, no matter how pretty it is. Use tables to align graphics and text within any borders you may choose. Keep graphics small so they upload quickly for the viewer. Finally, always include a copyright notice on your pages.

Once your pages are designed, they need to be uploaded to the internet using FTP software. But don't think for a minute that your job is done once your pages are uploaded. If you have a web page, you need to make a commitment to your visitors to keep your pages up to date and well maintained. Keep content current, fix broken links, and bring new information up front as it develops.

You also need to publicize your site. You can do this by submitting your site to search engines, joining listserves, using your domain name on your stationary and in your signature tag, requesting links on other relevant sites and even starting your own listserve.

Feeling overwhelmed after reading this?  Contact Michelle Prima at: for help on designing your web site.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How to Research a Location for Your Latest Book by Allie Pleiter, Guest Author

How to research a location for your latest book

One of my favorite parts of writing a book is location research.  Here’s my plan of attack for when I visit the setting for my upcoming book:

1.       Get a basic working knowledge of the location

My favorite first step is to attack a guidebook (or three) with a highlighter and post-it notes.  I’m wandering through the pages for anything that catches my fancy whether it makes sense to my concept of the book right now or not.  I also check for which movies are set there.  Larger cities and most states have tourism boards that can send you packages and brochures.  Internet and travel sites are also good places to get a basic sense of the area.

2.       Plan your trip

I like a four day spread, as it gives a good mix of weekday and weekend days, and often matches hotel promotional packages.  I’ve found that about 100 pages into my manuscript is the best time to go--I’m far enough into the story to know the gist of what I need, but early enough to be flexible if I uncover plot gold.  I find it best to book my trip right after I sign my contract.  It’s focused work--fun but fast-paced--so I usually go alone or with a hearty soul.  It’s great if you can go the location at the time of year your book is set, but I’ve found it’s not essential. 


Two months out or earlier
0  Book your airfare and rental car (remember you don’t always need one)

One month out
1.  Gather your contacts
0  Make a list of who you’d like to contact from what your research told you
0  Poll boards or lists for local colleagues willing to meet
0  Look for lodging – I’ve found B&B’s make wonderful home bases, and the owners are always willing to share info
2. Map out the specific sites you want to visit
0  Break your target area into quadrants - one for each day of your trip
0  Use Mapquest or other navigational software to map out all the targets in each quadrant for the most expedient route
0  Look at public transportation, too
3.  Start to make appointments
0  Now you know your general timeframe (“I'll be on the north side of town on Friday”)
0  Ask restaurants for their signature dishes
0  Ask professionals “What’s the most unusual thing you can tell me about ____”
0  Ask locals plot-based questions like “Where would you go to propose?” 

Two weeks out
0  Firm up your schedule and confirm appointments
0  Work out your a.m. and p.m. plans into written packets
0  Watch any movies you found on your database research
0  Browse for any books on or set in your target location
One week out
0  Arrange for any family commitments, etc. (the vacation hint)
0  Check the weather and plan your clothes accordingly
0  Make your packing list 

I love research trips--it’s the most useful fun you can have.  With a little planning, you can ensure that your trip gives you the details that make for a vivid manuscript while making you some wonderful memories.  Bon voyage!


Homefront Hero
Love Inspired Historical
May 2012
Dashing and valiantly wounded, Captain John Gallows could have stepped straight out of an army recruitment poster. Leanne Sample can't help being impressed—although the lovely Red Cross nurse tries to hide it. She knows better than to get attached to the daring captain who is only home to heal and help rally support for the war's final push. As soon as he's well enough, he'll rush back to Europe, back to war—and far away from South Carolina and Leanne. But when an epidemic strikes close to home, John comes to realize what it truly means to be a hero—Leanne's hero.

Author Bio:
An avid knitter, coffee junkie, and devoted chocoholic, Allie Pleiter writes both fiction and non-fiction.  The enthusiastic but slightly untidy mother of two, Allie spends her days writing books, buying yarn, and finding new ways to avoid housework.  Allie hails from Connecticut, moved to the midwest to attend Northwestern University, and currently lives outside Chicago, Illinois.  The “dare from a friend” to begin writing has produced two parenting books, fourteen novels, and various national speaking engagements on faith, women’s issues, and writing.  Visit her website at or her knitting blog at