Friday, March 14, 2008

Interview Session!

My online writer's club, The Writer's Meow, came up with questions they would ask an author if they could - and I was lucky enough to have four other authors assist me with the answers!
Participating Authors:

Nikki Leigh is an award winning, fiction and non fiction author. She is working on two fiction series, and an author promotion books series. Nikki is the founding member of the Readers' Station ( and founder of the Virtual Book Tour website at There are many promotional articles and interviews available on this site. She works with authors to help them promote their books and offers a variety of promotional services ( Her website is and her primary website is

Judith C. Hoffman (
I spent 17 years using my writing/speaking skills as the Manager of Public Affairs for a chemical manufacturing company that made one of the smelliest chemicals known to man. In 1995 I decided I'd rather teach other people how to be the company spokesperson, especially when something went wrong and there was a crisis. I taught workshops "Coaching to Meet the Press and Other Hostile Audiences" for five years before I became convinced that I should capture the teachings of the workshop in a book. So in 2001, I self-published "Keeping Cool on the Hot Seat: Dealing Effectively with the Media in Times of Crisis." It was mainly published as a "book as brochure," to help convince decision makers in corporations that they should hire me to do the workshop. So I often gave the book away which has paid off for me and covered my self-published expenses. The book is in its fifth printing with the third edition coming out at the end of this month and is being used by several colleges as a text in courses in PR and crisis communications. I also sell them in the back of the room when I give speeches on my topics of expertise, and they are available on my web site and at I have never attempted to get them picked up in book stores, although some independent bookstores have heard of it and ordered a few

Jamieson Wolf has been writing since a young age when he realized he could be writing instead of paying attention in school. Since then, he has created many worlds in which to live his fantasies and live out his dreams. He is the author of several novels which include: The Ghost Mirror, The Hunted Series, Valentine and Cupids Delight. He currently lives in Ottawa Ontario Canada with his husband Robert and his cat, Mave, who thinks she's people.

Jocelyn Andersen, author of several books including, Woman Submit! Christians & Domestic Violence, is an expert media commentator on issues related to domestic violence and Christian response. Her informative, challenging, and often provocative commentaries can be heard on Sharecropper Christian Radio. For more information visit

L. Diane Wolfe, Author & Speaker
Wolfe’s series, The Circle of Friends, focuses on the pursuit of dreams and the overcoming of obstacles. The stories intertwine as the characters learn that with belief and encouragement, they can achieve anything. Meant to inspire as well as entertain, Wolfe’s books have been described as “encouragement personified”.
Traveling the East Coast to promote her series, Wolfe sets herself on a heavy tour of extensive book signings and speaking engagements. The author averages over one hundred appearances each year, maintains a website & blog for her series, and contributes articles for several other sites. She conducts seminars on publishing & promoting and goal setting, participates in book fairs, speaks to schools, and does many media interviews. She is in the process of opening Dancing Lemur Press and will begin accepting submissions this summer. Wolfe is located in Eastern North Carolina. For more information, visit The Circle of Friends website-

1- How do you know when a really long story is ready for submission to publishers? How can you tell if it’s good enough?

Nikki - I had one story that I initially thought would be one book and its going to easily be three. In order for that to work, each book has to stand on its own as an independent book and the books also tie to one another. Many times, there is a place in the story that feels like a "natural ending". If there is more that you want to tell after you reach that point - think about a second book. Remember that every story needs a strong beginning, middle and end. If you're pushing a "sagging" story – it’s very possible that it could be cut and would be a better story. I've read some books that honestly would've been much better if the writer had "tightened" the story - instead of rambling and taking the story in too many directions. It’s all part of learning the craft of writing and creating a powerful story.

Judith - This was generally not an issue for me. As a non-fiction work, I just covered the material presented in my workshops. However, I know I could have gone into much more detail than I did and actually worked with a friend who was a business writer for the newspaper that used to cover me who cut out a LOT of unnecessary words to make the writing more succinct. People today are too busy to read a lot of detail and many readers told me they appreciated that they did not have to wade through a lot of stuff to get to the meat they were looking for. Advice: get a good editor who can help you with this. You think everything you write is worthwhile and hate to chop anything, but keep your reader in mind.

Jamieson - Well, that's a toughie. Like all writers, I'm my own worst critic. But usually a manuscript is ready after a lot of editing and polishing. It also has to speak to me. I have to feel involved in the writing of it, I have to care for the characters, the elements of the story. If I don't care, how can I expect readers to do so?
Usually a manuscript is ready to be sent out to publishers when you feel it's ready. Each writer is different so this will differ for each writer. Just trust your instinct and you'll do fine.

Jocelyn - I actually had the biggest problem deciding when my shortest book was finished. I worried that I had not included enough information. But after reading through it several times, I realized that the focus of the book was very clear. It was short, sweet and succinct. I knew I needed to leave it alone. My goals in writing the book had been accomplished.
It is important to not only know our subject, but to also be able to nail down exactly what it is we want to say about that subject. Otherwise we could ramble on indefinitely, sharing a great deal of information but end up making far less impact with our writing.

2- I find it hard to prioritize my writing – got any tips or pointers?

Jocelyn - Assign it a deadline. Deadlines definitely get priority. If a project of mine has no deadline, then it usually gets regulated to the bottom of the priority list and remains there until….

Nikki - This depends on the number of distractions in life and in your house. If you have family in the house - it can be tougher to set limits and to prioritize. With family in the house - I've had some friends mention that they set aside a specific area and tell the family that is the "work" area. But, you need to stick with that idea. Our discipline about writing and limiting distractions can help family and friends to respect your writing and the time it takes. This includes not setting it aside to chat with someone at the door or on the phone. Its also good to set aside a specific time to write - sometimes it needs to be placed on your day planner and then we need to stick with it. Set aside some time each day - if at all possible and then do something related to your writing during this time. I did this when I worked a full time job and I planned my weekends to have a certain amount of writing time and housework etc time.

Jamieson - Focus on one project at a time. For example I work on many different things at once. But I make sure that my focus is always only on one project. I may work on my current novel one day, write an article the next.
If I'm writing on a deadline, all other projects will get put aside until that piece under deadline gets finished. Then I'll have time afterwards to play around with my other works in progress. Don't get discouraged. Every writer has a system that works for them but focus is important.

3- Have you any general tips or pointers for people wanting to get published? How do you decide which agent/publishing house/magazine to send your work?

Jamieson - Reasearch research reasearch! Most publishing houses don't need agents, but the theory is the same. If you're writing romance, take time to search the web for different romance publishers and agents. Make sure you read their FAQ's for formatting and what they're looking for.
It's also a good idea to buy a few books from that publishing house or take a look at what they publish. This way you'll get a good idea of what kind of work they publish and whether or not your work will fit.
And keep submitting! Don't get discouragd by rejection. Just because one publisher didn't like it doesn't mean that others won't. You just have to find the right one.

Judith - The MOST important thing I tell people is to make sure you know specifically for whom you are writing the book! Who will want to read what you want to write? Then you can put yourself in the shoes of your audience and write for them and to them -- give them what they are looking for. This is easier in a work of non-fiction, but that's all I know about. As to the second question, I have no experience. I decided early on that I believed in my project enough, knew who would want to read it, and did not want to wait to try to find and convince an agent/publishing house that it was a worthy project, so I self-published with a plan of how I would recoup the money I had to lay out personally.
Also, buy a 3 ring binder and put a piece of paper with your working title in the front vinyl flap and put it where you can see it every day. Put your outline and every chapter that you write into it as you finish it. Pretty soon, when you have a few chapters, it will look like a book and take on a life of its own and be an encouragement to you to keep going.

Diane – No matter which route you decide to take, research the industry! If you don’t know what you are doing, you will not be successful in any venture.
Ultimately, it all depends on your level of commitment, knowledge and goals for your work. You will have to do a great deal of the marketing regardless, so be prepared for that aspect. If you decide to submit your work, search for publishers accepting your type of work – and yes, use Preditors & Editors!! (If you see red type, avoid that publisher/editor/agent!) And in this day and age, when agents & larger publishers are just looking for bestsellers, self-publishing is a very viable choice for many authors.

Nikki - I think this really depends on the writer's goals and they also need to determine if their goals are realistic. We all feel our books are wonderful and should be bestsellers, but that isn't realistic and especially with a first or second book. (It happens but that is the exception.) Do you want to be with a big NY publishing house and are you willing to dedicate the time and effort to pursue that avenue and to promote your book? Remember that books released by NY publishing houses have a short shelf life - can you live with that? Or, do you want to see your books in print and have more flexibility about the book, the content, how long it is available and many other things? Then a small press could be the option for you. No matter what you decide, it is good to honestly research each possibility - not just reading the publisher's website - get information from other sources. Also get information from a variety of sources, there is plenty of information online that isn't completely accurate. It is very good to check Preditor and Editors publisher's list before making any decision and talk to other authors that have chosen the same publishing route - that isn't foolproof, but it helps you to see more sides of the situation.

Jocelyn - I asked many questions as I began my publishing journey. Did I need an agent? Did I want an Agent? Should I self-publish or submit my manuscript to a traditional publishing house? Were there any other options?
I learned that there are pros and cons associated with every option—even the option that most unpublished writers dream about—getting published by a traditional publishing house. As my goals were different for each of my books, I made publishing decisions based on the choice I felt would best accomplish the goal for that particular book. I chose to self-publish three of the four books I now have in print. I journaled the ins and outs of my publishing journey on

4- When I’m writing, I often get distracted to the point I lose my focus. Does this happen to you and how do you avoid distractions?

Jocelyn - Yes. I am highly susceptible to distraction. When I am working on an important project or deadline, I turn the ringer off my phone, open my word document, and restrict myself from going to any online site (especially from checking email) until my writing goal for the day is accomplished.

Nikki - My biggest distraction is my research. I tend to research and get off course because I find other information that is related to my book research. Also, having that specific place and time to write can help with this problem. For me, having a loose outline or plan for the part of the book I'm working on, helps to keep me focused. If the story veers off course, that's fine. The plan helps me to remember what I'm trying to accomplish. I have very little time to write my books, so finding ways to write faster is critical and that means I have to stay focused and stay on track when I have time to write.

Judith - Of course it happens! Especially if you are not sure exactly what you want to write about (or if you have kids around the house or a spouse who comes in a lot!) But once you are locked into your subject matter, you get more focused. I found my material just kind of poured out as I got going and the house could have caught on fire and they'd have to come drag me away from the computer! Set a reasonable goal. For some that means writing for an hour each day. For me, as I was running my consulting business while writing the book, my goal was to write a chapter a week.

Diane – Distractions happen! My life is in a constant state of balanced, chaotic distractions. But setting a clear outline of work of which I am passionate will keep the distractions to a minimum. And when I am in ‘the zone’, yes, the house could catch fire and I’d never notice!

Jamieson - I always get distracted. The only way to avoid distraction for me is to have some good music on my MP3 player, plug in the ear phones and write. I turn off my modem and ignore the phone. Usually I listen to music without lyrics so that I don't start singing along and get distracted that way. But sometimes the lyrics help to inspire.
Try it and see. It's a great way to block out the sounds of the outside world when you should be writing.

5- How do you write a catchy query letter? Exactly how important is the query letter and what aspects are vital to a good one?

Nikki - I haven't written one in ages, your query letter is where you have a few minutes to entice an agent or a publisher. This is NOT the place to ramble and I never sent a query letter without editing it at least 8-10 times. This is a great place to practice your "tightening" skills. Explain why your book deserves to be read - not "the greatest story ever written - be specific. What is special and important about your book? Give some details about your book, give enough information to grab their attention and you only have a few minutes to grab it. Also, explain why the agent or publisher should take a chance on you. If you write non-fiction, explain why you're qualified to write the book. Show your credentials. Keep the query letter short and NEVER address it to the wrong person. This requires that you do your research before sending out the query letters

Jamieson - There are many different ways to write a catchy query letter. They're extremely important and can mean acceptance or rejection. Most publisher won't read any submissions without a good quality query letter. Here's an easy to follow format for a good query letter:
Dear _____ (find out who you're writing to, if there is a publisher name, etc. If not, To Whom It May concern is fine.)
I would like to submit my _______novel titled ______. It is complete at ______ words. I have attached ________ as requested. (Many publishers will ask for either the full manuscript or sample chapters depending on where you are submitting. Make sure to include the word count, as that's important.
Here, give a brief summary of your story/novel/novella. Keep it brief and catchy. Remember, you're trying to sell your story to the publisher so try to make your story stand out.
Here you can write a little about yourself; it's also a good spot to add a more personal tone to the letter. For example, here's the bio that I usually put in my query letters:
During my time as a writer, I have had several of my works published. These include the novels The Ghost Mirror, Cupids Delight and Valentine. I currently teach an online course about how to write from inspiration and live in Ottawa Ontario Canada with my husband Robert and my cat Mave, who thinks she's people.
Here you can sum up with something simple: I hope you enjoy ___(Novel title)____. Thank you for this opportunity and I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours truly,

Diane – How important is the query letter? If you are submitting your work to a publisher, it is the most important piece you will ever write in your life!!!! Look up examples of good query letters and follow the format to a T. Most submissions end up in the trashcan because the submitter could not follow the basic rules of a properly formatted query letter!

Jocelyn - My approach to writing a query letter is that it takes essentially the same information to incite interest in a book, whether aimed at a reader, agent or publisher (my query letter for Woman Submit! eventually became the introduction to the published book, almost verbatim).
As requested by the agency I queried, I limited my query to one page. I led with a grabber designed to hook the agent hoping she would read past the first sentence—she did.
I had done my homework in advance, so I understood exactly what information the agency was looking for and crafted the letter accordingly. I included compelling information about the book, specific questions and issues it addressed, the target readership, my qualifications as an author and why my book could be considered a unique resource in its genre. My query did the job it was designed to do. I received an almost immediate response from the agent—and it was not a rejection letter.

6- Where do you get your inspiration?

Diane – My inspiration comes from talking to people and discovering their needs! And that really is the secret – finding a need and filling it. I do publishing & promoting seminars and my next book will be on that subject. My series, The Circle of Friends, fills the need for clean YA fiction. (And it was originally inspired by a dream and the desire to inspire others to pursue their goals…)

Judith - I knew I had some valuable information to impart that would help other people so that they would not have to learn some of the lessons I learned the hard way. I knew there were not many books out there that would do what I intended to do. I was also inspired because I was told by many people that writing the book would help me build up my consulting and speaking/workshop business, as being the author of a non-fiction book provides a person with added credibility as an expert in their field.

Nikki - I can get inspiration from almost anything. It could be a news story, something I see, much of my inspiration comes from places or areas that I visit. My Misty Cove series was initially inspired by a picture in my living room and it will be at least 3 books. I've learned to keep my mind open and to think outside the box - there are many ways to find story ideas, but you need to be open to the possibilities. Keep your eyes and ears open - there are story ideas at every turn. Research is also a great way to find new story ideas or ways to expand an existing story idea.

Jamieson - From anywhere and everywhere. Something I've read or seen. I get a lot of inspiration from conversations I've overheard or people talking in front of me in lines. You'd be surprised what you hear when you listen. I get a lot of inspiration from dreams too. I write them out into short stories to try and make sense of them.
Usually, it's from the world around me. Flowers, music, television, people; anything can inspire if you're willing to let it inspire you

Jocelyn - Much of my inspiration comes from interacting with readers. I began writing in earnest when I discovered online discussion groups dealing with my favorite topics. Along with many questions and challenges, the group discussions provided immediate feedback and encouragement. I found I thrived on it all!
Though sometimes exasperating and downright difficult, I found inspiration in the challenges presented to me through the discussions and debates. My schedule no longer permits me to spend time with the interactive groups, but I consider that experience as invaluable to my growth as a writer and in learning to define exactly what it is I want to say and how I want to say it. Readers continue to contact me with encouragement, challenges and questions. And I still find their feedback to be a great source of inspiration.

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