Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Latest Addition

Meet a New Columbia II Blogger


Dr. Kasie Whitener is a professional educator and fiction writer. She blogs about the writing process at GenX Stories and about her life in transition at Life on Clemson Road. Her fiction has appeared in Spry Literary Journal and Enhance Literary Magazine. She is a member of SCWW Columbia II and a board member for Wordsmith Studio, an online literary community.

Annual Writing Goals

By Kasie Whitener

The top resolution every year is to lose weight. It’s not a coincidence that most of us feel like we’re carrying a little extra baggage.

For writers, losing weight means something a little different. The baggage we carry around is often unrealized goals. As we move into another year, we again plan to be more productive, give more time to our writing, and make actual progress toward publication.

Rather than renewing the same resolutions and hoping for the best, try these three strategies to ensure satisfaction.

Review 2014
First, review your goals from last year and determine how well you did against them.

For example, my biggest goal was to publish a manuscript. In March, I entered my completed novel in the First Novel Prize contest, the award for which was publication. I didn’t win. Rather than see that as missing a goal, I recognized the work done getting the manuscript ready. That work represents serious effort and progress.

What goals did you have for 2014? How did you do?

Set Realizable Goals
Be honest with yourself about what you want to achieve and how you plan to do it. Rely upon your knowledge of your own limitations to curb your most ambitious goals into achievable milestones. Set a goal that’s just beyond the work you’ve already done.

For example, my goal for 2015 is: Earn the interest of an agent willing to promote my work.
Earning an agent takes a modicum of work: I have written a query letter and had it critiqued and revised; I revised the first ten pages of the novel; I researched agents that represent the kind of work I’m offering and made a list of those I plan to approach.

How much have you already done toward the goal you’re setting?

Plan Check-ins
Other people are not necessarily planning to help us with our goals. For example, agents are not likely to respond immediately to the query and the work I send. Therefore, waiting for a response from one before sending another query could slow me down.

A periodic check-in can remind me how long it’s been since I sent the last query and determine if it’s time to send another to a new agent. I don’t want to get to December and find I only sent one query that was passively rejected (no response after some time is a passive rejection).

Are you moving closer to your goals?
I have a sign on my desk that says, “Is what you’re doing right now moving you closer to your goals?” The sign reminds me, every time I read it, to refocus, stop procrastinating, redirect when something’s not working, and be purposeful about the actions I take.

Begin with the end in mind and be prepared to seize the opportunity of a new year. You’ll find that even if you haven’t lost weight, you’ve managed not to gain any more in 2015.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Where Are You Finding Your Audience?

By Kimberly Johnson

Unearthing viewers for my creative compositions can be like a looking for water in the Kalahari Desert—I continue digging until I hit pay dirt. At times, I feel like using a dragnet formula — writing some topic that will appeal to all readers. I convince myself by saying stuff like “They understand my work.” or “I don’t have to explain it.” One day I pondered: Who really is my audience?

Janalyn Voigt, author of DawnSinger makes a startling confession. Maybe you have had the same one.
I confess: at first I wrote DawnSinger for its story without giving much thought to its readers. This showed in my inability to articulate who they might be. In my biased opinion, my novel’s target audience incorporated everyone. I soon discovered editors’ opinions of such a grandiose claim, especially from an emerging author. It’s not really true anyway. No book in existence appeals to all readers.

Here’s my confession: I’ve done that. Here’s my resolution: I produce an audience profile. The profile is not extensive; it is an outline of a few concepts (gender, locale, age). From there, I spend time on creating another outline that details aforementioned concepts, plus scouring the Internet on ways to market to my audience. I also read feedback from prior news articles, blogs and feature stories. Overall, I think keeping in touch with my existing audience in various formats will help me truly discover my intended one.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Launch Parties: DIY Success Part 2

By Jodie Cain Smith

All the critical elements of a successful launch party must be addressed before a single dime was spent:
 1.      Budget. How much can you spend? How many books would you need to sell to break even? (Breaking even is possible if you spend carefully and market effectively.)
       2.      Venue. I chose an art gallery in Mobile and a theater in Columbia. Both places felt hip and welcoming with space for guests to mingle. The gallery location also provided random street traffic, which increased sales. (I have supportive communities in two different states and needed to create buzz in both. I encourage you to do a launch event in every area you have adequate support. The goal is to begin a successful grassroots campaign, which requires a lot of pounding the pavement. You only have two feet. Encourage your inner circle to become your street herd.) 
3.      Publicity. Facebook and email are free. Create a digital invitation using Photoshop and give your publisher (or keep for yourself) a list of print and online media for press releases. Approach reporters to write a feature story about you. The bottom line is you must sell yourself, not just your book. There is no room for hesitation or modesty. 
 4.      Help. Enlist friends and family early in the planning process. My volunteers spread the word, decorated, plated food, sold books, took photos, and cleaned up so that I could greet guests and sign books without appearing harried. The events would have failed without them.
5.      Refreshments. Finger foods eliminate the need for cutlery. A la Carte catering rather than full service keep costs down. One venue allowed me to provide wine for guests, so I cleaned out my wine storage of red and jumped at my parents’ offer of several bottles of white. The other venue, in exchange for the venue fee being waved, offered a cash bar.
6.      Decor. I chose a “Depression Era Chic” look using discount burlap, paper magnolias, and mason jars, highlighting the book’s setting. Photos from the book were blown up and framed. Large posters of the cover were mounted on foam board for tabletops and entryways. Look to your research from your book for more d├ęcor ideas, but don’t go overboard. Let the book cover be the star of the show.
7.      Itinerary. Greeting each guest is important. Mingle with guests and thank each one for attending the party. Reading from the book often kills the mood at launch parties. Instead, at forty-five minutes in, I gave a short speech expressing my gratitude and touched on the inspiration for and process that led to writing and publishing my first novel. Then, it’s to sign! Ask for correct spellings. Make it personal. Smile for selfies. Keep the line moving.
8.      Follow up. I cannot stress enough the importance of follow up. Send hand written thank you notes to those customers who bought several copies of your book. Post a thank you on your social media platforms for your guests. Place a “Please Review” card in every book you sell, asking readers to post a review on Amazon after reading. Keep your guests engaged long after the party with website and social media updates.

Are you planning a launch party soon? Post a question below or look me up online at

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Launch Parties: DIY Success Part 1

By Jodie Cain Smith 
Three months ago I attended Kim Boykin’s book launch party for Palmetto Moon, her second with Berkley Books out of Manhattan. (Berkley Books falls under Penguin. That’s big time.) From the crab cakes and shrimp and grits to the signature cocktail to the elegant decor, the party was perfect. Standing in the midst of excited readers all waiting for their moment with the author, I wondered, “What of this can my small press with a small budget achieve?”

Launch Principle #1: Launch parties create buzz.

Then I spoke with Kim’s husband. “This was all Kim,” he said and gestured toward the lavish spread. “She did it all herself.”

I deflated. I knew I wanted a launch party for The Woods at Barlow Bend. And I wanted it to be special. I needed to get people talking about my book the way that crowd was excited for the newly released Kim Boykin, but what of that party could I achieve on little to no budget? If Kim Boykin with her Manhattan publisher was on her own, I began to panic over what my small press publisher could possibly afford.

Launch Principal #2: Be prepared to do it yourself!

Before going it alone, I asked Aurelia Sands of Deer Hawk Publications, my publisher, what she could do for the launch parties. She responded with press releases for both, marketing materials, and cookies and sweet tea for the one she would be able to attend. I leapt at her offer.

Now that I knew what my publisher could provide, I had to get organized. Launch parties, like any event that lacks thoughtful planning, can spiral out of control until you wind up flat broke in a burning building with no guests and crates of unsold books waiting to become kindling. I had to stretch my pennies, negotiate like a Wall Street tycoon, and exploit every possible benefactor in my life. I begged, borrowed, and stopped just short of stealing in the three months leading up to the launch of The Woods at Barlow Bend. And I don’t regret a thing.

Launch Principle #3: Success is in the details.

For my list of critical elements that every launch party must have, come back next Sunday. You’ll be glad you did!