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.