29 August 2011

Blogging Mentor Mondays: Gina Ciocca Drops By!

Gina Ciocca of her Writer's Blog is here to pass on bloggerly-writerly (totally made up that word) tips on how to build a better blog. Gina's own blog captured my attention because of her concise, heart-felt posts and the earnest comments she leaves on other blogs. I asked her to be one of our Mentors because she is unassuming, works her tail off, and knows how to laugh. I admire a writer who can laugh at herself! I also admire a writer who is consistent, and Gina is definitely that. Even her interview is short, sweet, and sincere. Read on to find out what Gina has to say.

Give us the low-down on yourself, your writing, and your blog: My name is Gina Ciocca, voracious reader and writer, and admitted romance junkie. I never get tired of reading or writing about people falling in love, especially the Young Adult variety. Paranormal romance is my guilty pleasure. I started my blog in October of last year when I decided I was serious about trying to get published. I wanted to interact with other writers, and people who share my love of books. My blog is a forum for all things book and writing related... and any other random thoughts that cross my mind!

How did/do you build your blog following? Entering blogfests and blog-hop contests really helped to build my following. They're also a great way to polish up your work and learn how to critique. Just taking the time to read and comment on other people's blogs can also build your following. You never know who will like what you had to say, pop in for a visit, and decide they'd like to tune in on a regular basis (thanks, by the way, to everyone who did that for me!).

Do you have any advice for writing good posts or comments? I did a post once likening a blog post to an agent's inbox. When I'm scrolling through my Blogger dashboard, I only see the title and first few lines of the posts from various blogs I follow. Since I have limited time in the morning, I can only click on the ones that most grab my attention. I advise people to keep this in mind when they come up with the titles and opening lines of their posts. There are tons of blogs out there... make people want to read yours! I also think honesty is very important in the content of your posts, and a little humor goes a long way.

What about blogging benefits you the most? The encouragement from the writing community. They are seriously an amazing, supportive group of people. I met all my critique partners through blogging, and my writing has improved a million times over because of it. It's great to know we're all experiencing the same highs and lows - the euphoria of falling in love with a new WiP, the sting of rejection, etc. None of the people I interact with in the real world have any clue how harrowing it can be! People who've been through it know exactly how to pat you on the back or pull you out of a slump.

What is your favorite blog (besides your own of course) and why? Brodi Ashton (author of upcoming debut novel EVERNEATH) has one of the funniest blogs I've read, and she also gives writing advice. I love her blog because she treats everyone like an old friend. Nathan Bransford's is another favorite because his advice is invaluable. He's a legend!

Random question: If you could be any movie star, who would you be? Oh that's easy—Salma Hayek, 10 or 15 years ago. She's gorgeous and curvy and has a sexy accent. It doesn't get much better than that!

Thank you for accepting my invitation to be a Mentor, Gina! I haven't given much thought to the titles of my blog posts, but you're right; as I skim through my dashboard, I read the titles and first few sentences and then click on those that catch my attention. Like you, I also love a funny post. It gives me great joy to be cheered up by my blogging buddies.

If you would like a prime example of well-placed humor, check out Gina's blog. Her writing is a testament to her advice. Thanks again, Gina!

22 August 2011

Blogging Mentor Mondays: Ru is Blah Blah Blahing Here!

RuthAnne, a.k.a. Ru of andthenshewaslikeblahblahblah (great name, right?), is our newest Blogging Mentor. I always introduce our Mentor by highlighting my favorite parts of their interview, but this time I can't pick just one. Ru made me smile and laugh too many times to choose a single moment. So, without further ado, read on to learn about Ru and her blogging experiences.

Give us the low-down on you/your writing: So... I'm a 27-year-old Pisces who loves college football, zombie movies, and baking. (Did that sound a bit like a dating ad? Good, because that's basically how I started my old online profile.)  Seriously, I'm a lawyer with aspirations of being a published writer someday. I blog at (http://andthenshewaslikeblahblahblah.blogspot.com/) and use a lot of fake names for people and places, since being a lawyer makes me paranoid about pretty much everything. (For reals.) I'm a bit of a random blogger who likes to talk about everything from pop culture to church to remodeling my house.  

I also talk about my underwear a lot. So you see the need for semi-anonymity.  

I've wanted to be a writer pretty much since junior high. I am currently working on a young adult contemporary mystery (ooooooh, so many adjectives!) which will be my third completed novel. The first one I wrote was real bad, the second was pretty good (in my opinion), though querying had mixed results. Even still, I'm really glad I was querying that project last fall, because my first partial request (woot!) came right at the end of a 6-week streak of disaster (personally and professionally). Even though it didn't come to anything, I view that particular e-mail as my 2010 good luck/get-out-of-a-serious-funk charm.  
Why do you blog? When I was in college, I wrote for the student newspaper (Daily Utah Chronicle up in the hiz-ouse!). As law school was winding down, I realized I needed a new creative outlet. (And if you want to go through my archives, you'll notice that A LOT of posts were dedicated to studying for the bar exam.) Blogging seemed as close as I was going to get to writing a column again, and while it's a lot different, it's been really great to write consistently (and have a soapbox for all of my oh-so-deep thoughts).

How do you build your blog following? Honestly, I don't really know. I try to write the funniest, most interesting posts I can, and hopefully people like them enough to follow. I also follow a lot of other blogs, most of which I found during different blogfests.  

To me, blogging is like a really strange conversation, but a conversation all the same. If you have something interesting to say, either in a post or comment, and you're willing to engage with the people reading you, then I will follow you and respond to you. I figure most other people have the same criteria.

(Random sidenote? I also love checking blogger's stats function to see how people found my blog. So far my biggest Google hits come from talking about Fantastic Mr. Fox, the cornhusk dress from Project Runway, and the difference between HBO's Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, which in case you were wondering is mostly a sexy-factor of a bazillion. Maybe I should just stick to the pop culture posts.)
How much time do you spending blogging? It's different every week—I try to get a few hours in, either writing posts or commenting on other blogs. I follow so many at this point that it's a bit overwhelming, so I'm trying to come up with a more efficient system. (If anyone has suggestions, please let me know.)

Do you have any advice for writing good posts or comments? 
Two things, mostly. One, blogging is like complimenting. You have to be sincere and specific. I am terribly guilty of breaking this rule when I write comments, but sometimes I don't have anything else to say but, "Haha, I love this!" (Basically what I'm saying is, don't be like me.) It's fine to occasionally post the throw-away comment or post (I'm thinking the, "Oh gosh, I'm such a bad poster!" post), but you don't want to be the person who posts or comments for the sake of saying something. Because then you're basically that spambot on Entertainment Weekly who is 28, professional, and single at present, but who fortunately recently joined Hot Goldiggers Dot Com, check it out or tell your friends!

Two, write about things you know. (Yes, everyone says this.) What I mean by that is, if you are in law school, write about your thoughts on law school, being a law student, rankings, student loans or searching for a job. Don't tell me if something's unconstitutional or not, because unless your last name is Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor or Kagan ... eh, I care somewhat less about your opinion. While you probably think your opinion is brilliant (why else would you have posted?) I think most people are going to agree that it's less compelling, and worse, boring.

And if you want to be a writer, write about that. Write about your struggles and successes, news about the publishing industry, books you've found helpful or not-so-helpful, interesting links, etc. Don't tell me about linguistic theory (unless you actually graduated in linguistics) or some sort of fail-proof system for plotting novels (unless you're explaining your own system, and why you like it, in which case just prepare to be hated.) Because really, no one wants my advice on writing because I am not published. Not only are my thoughts possibly irrelevant, but they're dull since they're not grounded in reality. 

But my personal experiences with writing or trying to get published? That, I hope, is interesting to people.

How do you think blogging has helped your writing? In most ways, it has helped it, in a few ways, it has hurt it. Aside from all the great resources about writing and the publishing industry I've found because of blogging, it has helped because it allows me to write almost every day, even on days when I'm wiped out due to my other obligations (work, house, dog, family, friends, and sweet, sweet naps). It's hurt it because sometimes blogging allows me to justify vegging out on the couch for an hour watching TV because, "Hey, I blogged today!"  

Random Question: If you could be any fiction hero, who would you be? I have to go with Hermione Granger. She is smart, talented, brave, independent and loyal to her friends. She saved the day as much, if not more, than she herself needed saving. (Especially if you tend to forget that book two even happened, which I do.)

Ru, you are one of a kind. Your honest answers had me grinning. Thank you so much for stopping by today. I appreciate you playing along! For those of you who aren't following Ru's blog, get on over there! You won't be disappointed.

19 August 2011

Google Reader Saves The Day!

I've reached my 300 blog maximum, which means I can't follow any more blogs through Blogger. I nearly had a panic attack, until my sweet husband pointed out that I can follow as many blogs as I want with Google Reader.
Unfortunately, if I use Google Reader, my follower status will not be indicated on some of your blogs. So how do you know if I'm following you? If I leave a comment on your blog, I am a follower! Be rest assured I am reading, I am following, and I am loving every minute of it!

Have you had this problem? More important, do you know a way around the Blogger maximum?

16 August 2011

Up, Up And Away!

Natalie Whipple and Elana Johnson agreed to be Blogging Mentors for me in September! *SQUEAL* I'm so excited! Thanks ladies!

On another note, we need to talk. You've been following me for a while, and though I feel we've grown closer, I think it's time for us to take the next step in our blogger-follower-relationship. I'm going to share a few details about myself, and then you reciprocate in comments. I read your blogs, but I want to know more about YOU. I'm happy to make the first move.

Here are three facts about me (I relate all of them back to writing):

1. I met my husband when I was fourteen. We began dating at sixteen and married when I was twenty (he was twenty-two). This is a major reason why I write YA. I remember the first few years I spent with my husband vividly, and I recreate them with new characters and events.

2. I'm a foodie. Not the kind who eats at a different restaurant every night, but one who collects recipes, watches the Food Network religiously, and stalks Ina Garten. Ina's recipes have never led me astray. I also incorporate food into my books. I think about the foods my characters like and dislike, their eating habits, and how I can bring them closer together over a good meal.

3. The words I dislike writing—or saying—are moist, impact, and thrust. Moist because it just sounds dirty and wet, impact because I'm too tempted to use it in a figurative way instead of a physical way, and thrust because it sounds dirtier than moist. "The pirate thrust his sword" is one of the only acceptable applications, that is unless you write smutty romances. Then I'm sure you could think of another use (insert naughty joke here). As I write clean YA's sans swashbuckling pirates, I banned these words from my vocabulary.

YOUR TURN! Tell me something about you. Don't be shy. Make your move!

15 August 2011

Blogging Mentor Mondays: Laura Barnes

Another Monday, another Blogging Mentor! It's my pleasure to introduce to you the lovely Laura Barnes of Laura B Writer. Laura is a marketing consultant with a stream of expert suggestions for writer's building a platform. I could go on and on about how much Laura's blog has helped me (she introduced me to Google Reader—I owe her BIG), but I'll let you read on for her advice.

Tell us a bit about yourself/writing: I've always written, but mostly concentrated on songwriting until college where I became more of an essay writer. Then when I had kids I became interested in writing children's stories. First picture books and now middle grade novels. I guess I'm growing up with them!
What inspired you to start your blog? I have only recently gotten serious about trying to get my work published. I know that these days authors have to do a lot of their own marketing. I myself am a marketing consultant and knew that I needed to apply my advice for my clients to myself, building online exposure, etc. I began with my own blog.
What is the theme of your blog? Who is your audience? My blog is for writers who want to build an online presence. In many ways, the blog is following my own progress as I begin marketing myself. I give a tip for my readers for blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc. and then I start employing the tips for myself. 
Do you have any tips for designing a successful blog? Oh, many tips! That's what my blog is all about! One tip though, my biggest tip is to have a message. Whatever your blog is about should be consistent and transparent. I know it's fun to just ramble all the time, but it's better to be about something. Readers want to know what they're coming back for. Rambling can work—but if you are going to be a rambler, don't mix it in with days that have really structured posts. The show Seinfeld had a reputation for being about nothing, but that was exactly what the show was about. If it all of a sudden had an episode where it taught some sort of bigger life lesson, it wouldn't have worked. Also, ramblers have to have real personality. If you aren't just bursting with personality, you might want to consider a different angle.
How do you build your blog following and increase readership? I'm still a newbie at this so I have to defer to what I tell clients. Have good information, post consistently, and interact with your readers. I am also finding for writers that blogfests and contests really work to build readership as well.
How much time do you spend blogging? Between 7 and 8 hours a week BUT I plan to spend less as I get going. In the beginning, blogging takes time and commitment, but it shouldn't pull you away from writing your stories, otherwise what's the point?
Do you have any advice for writing good posts or comments? Read other blogs. You learn best by example. See what interests others—what type of posts illicit the most comments—and find similar things to blog about.
How do you keep your blog current? I'm a broken record here—read other blogs. Reading other blogs is really very important and can be very time consuming. I put a whole bunch of blogs in my Google Reader and skim through a lot. That way I at least can see what is being talked about even if I don't read all the posts.
What other invaluable advice can you share with fellow bloggers? Don't blog if you don't enjoy it. If you are trying to build up your author platform and don't feel like you can really be passionate about blogging or you don't have the time or you don't really have anything to say, then don't feel pressured to do it. There are other ways to build an online presence, it doesn't have to be blogging.
How do you think blogging has helped your writing? It keeps writing at the forefront of my mind. When I'm blogging on a consistent schedule, I find I'm always thinking about writing and that helps me develop my stories.

Laura! When I hit it big (don't snort too loudly), will you be my marketing consultant? Pretty, pretty please? I could listen to you talk about marketing all day long. You sure know your stuff, and your delivery of information is articulate and direct. Thank you very much for mentoring us not only on blogging, but on marketing as well. Three cheers to you, my dear! Everyone with me now—Hip, Hip, Hooray!

If you would like to be featured on Blogging Mentor Mondays, or if you know another blogging author you'd like to hear from, please e-mail me at erittelking (at) gmail (dot) com. Thanks!

11 August 2011

A Princess with Attitude

I recently found one of my favorite childhood books, The Paper Bag Princess, at the library. I checked it out for my children and was very excited to bring it home and read it to them.

Before I put my children to bed, I read them the book. I still love it. The illustrations are fun, but it's the story that steals my heart.

It's about a fire breathing dragon that burns down the Princess's castle (and her dress off), then captures the Prince the Princess is set to marry and carries him away. The Princess puts on a paper bag, the only thing the dragon didn't burn to ashes, and chases after them. After outsmarting the dragon with a number of tricks, she shows herself to the Prince. He yells at her for not being dressed appropriately, for her hair being a mess, and for being covered in ashes. He tells her to come back when she looks like a real Princess. The Paper Bag Princess tells him she doesn't want to marry him anymore because he's a bum. Then she takes the bag off and runs away naked.

So what does my liking this book say about me? I like that the Prince was captured and the Princess saved him. I adore strong, intelligent, independent female characters. I wonder: Did this book influence my perspective on women or did I like the book because it fit my perspective on women? As a child, I appreciated the courage and cleverness of The Paper Bag Princess, but I didn't fully understand her until now. In a way I think she helped shape me. She was my first literary hero.

Can you relate to The Paper Bag Princess? Who was your first literary hero?

09 August 2011

I'm Racking Up Awards!

I'm back! I have to say, living without the Internet, a cell phone, and TV is weird. I kind of enjoyed the silence, but for the most part it was inconvenient. I couldn't check my e-mail or blog and I missed being able to read/watch the news. I still don't know how I survived for three days without Google. Before yesterday, I hadn't cracked a phone book or a newspaper in years. I can go on without a cell phone, but how do people live without the Internet? 

How about you? If you had to choose, which could you live without: a cell phone or the Internet?

Now, on to some important business. I've received a slew of awards the past few weeks, so I need to do some shout outs. First of all, I'm passing on the award I received the most of, the Liebster Blog.
Who bestowed this great honor?
Marlena Cassidy of The Words Behind the Writer
Missi Morris of Whimsical Writing
Ashley Nixon of her self entitled blog

Here are my pics for the Liebster Blog award:
Phil at A Time to Phil- Phil has the best posts. They're insightful and they often make me laugh. He can relate day to day happenings to writing in interesting, creative ways.
Kelly at Writtled- Kelly has 99 followers! Let's get her to 100. Her blog is informative, and her new YA paranormal romance is available for purchase.
The Query Goblin- Want good advice on querying? Go here. The Query Goblin does free critiques.
A.E. Martin- We met during Deana Barnharts blogfest and I had the privilege of reading her wonderful writing. A.E. also has a sweet tooth. We're kindred spirits!
Peaches Ledwidge of Conceive Writing- Peaches has awesome pictures with her posts. Looking around her blog is fun because photography is one of her passions. Read her blog and you'll discover writing is another.

For The Versatile Blogger, Laura Barnes has given me this honor.

I've also been tagged by Jen of A Book, A Girl, A Journey and Neurotic Workaholic at Obsessions of Workaholic.

Thank you for the love! I assure you, the feeling is mutual.

01 August 2011

Blogging Mentor Mondays: Katie Gates Is Here!

Katie Gates, author of Katie Gates: Stories and Opinions, is here to talk to us about blogging! Katie's guidance on blogging is expansive, encompassing a "write well" theme that is simple and honest. Read on to find out what Katie has to say.

Tell us a bit about yourself/writing:
I’m a boomer, about to turn 54. I was raised in rural Virginia, which was a great place to be a kid. My father was a college professor, and both my parents were actively involved in community theatre. My childhood was rich beyond measure. (And “rich” is absolutely not about money!  It shouldn’t be.  Ever.) I’ve spent my adulthood in urban environments: first NYC and now L.A.
I’ve been “writing” since I could hold a pen or pencil. My initial attempts, though, were simply formations across the page. When I was little, I loved pretending to write. And my family had a running joke regarding my sister’s and my punishments for bad behavior. For her? No TV. For me? No pen and paper. (I don’t recall these punishments ever being enforced, however!)
What inspired you to start your blog?
In 2008, I published my first novel, The Somebody Who. Although I wanted to go the traditional route (i.e., agent, publisher), I had no luck. After 70+ agents said “no thank you” to my queries (and in some cases, they did this by not responding), I decided to go the self-publishing route. Enough individuals had read the manuscript and had really liked it. I needed to get it out there.
A year later, when I was researching agents to approach for my second (not yet published) novel, I listened to a podcast delivered by a literary agent of note. He shared that, of all the ways to market and make sales, word-of-mouth was the bottom line. I.e., an author needs a fan base. Considering this requirement was ironic for me. I’d spent my whole life not caring what other people think of me, so now… I need a fan base?
I entered blogging quite reluctantly, and I wrote about that reluctance in my premiere post. 
What is the theme of your blog? Who is your audience?
My blog is entitled “Katie Gates: Stories and Opinions,” and given the limitless possibilities therein, I’m not sure that it has a theme per se. Essentially, I contribute to the blogosphere anything that I would gratefully sell to The New Yorker. For the Stories end of things,  I share moments from my life. Some happened years ago; others occurred within the past week or so. That being said, I never share what might read as a diary entry, and when my story includes mention of people who may not want to be named, I use aliases. (Funny aside:  my ex-husband and I recently reconnected through Facebook. We’ve exchanged a boatload of emails, and he often signs his “Ben,” which is his alias on my blog. Which is to say, he’s been reading my blog and really enjoying it!) 
As for the Opinions end of things, I have a few soapboxes that I stand on quite regularly. Since entering the blogosphere, I’ve become increasingly appreciative of our First Amendment freedoms. 
My “audience” is anyone who enjoys my posts. I don’t know that I’d want to put them in a category, but I will say that I’ve met a huge number of remarkable writers with whom I exchange comments regularly. 
Do you have any tips for designing a successful blog?
I didn’t give a lot of thought to the design of my blog, but I can tell you what keeps me on the page when I’m visiting blogs – a limited number of bells and whistles; as few moving icons as possible; a user-friendly font (not too small!); and lettering that is darker than the background on which it is written. I am also more likely to read a blog post if it’s relatively short. That’s not a design issue, I realize, but I think it’s important.
How do you build your blog following?
Building a following is just about as time-consuming as any other part of the process. It becomes a commitment. And it also can be an enjoyable use of time. There are so many great, entertaining, deep writers out there. 
I’ve taken a dynamic, intuitive approach to the whole process. To this day, I have no idea how or when I came across certain bloggers (who subsequently came across me). I do know, though, that sometimes, I’m quite methodical. I.e., I go to the blog of someone with whom I feel a bond (be it common humor or political perspective), and I pursue that blogger’s followers to see if I might create some new virtual relationships.
How much time do you spend blogging?
My posting schedule is absolute. I post a new piece every Wednesday and a Rerun every Monday. Until June of this past year, I also was posting “Sneak-Peek Saturdays,” which comprised excerpts from my novel, but once I got the novel on Kindle, I discontinued the excerpts.
As for the time I spend prepping those posts, I haven’t tracked it, and I haven’t felt a need to. (When I’m writing, I’m happy; why punch a clock?) Regardless, I try to have two or three posts ready to go at any given time. That way, I will never feel pressured as Wednesday approaches.
As for commenting, I probably spend as much time doing that as I do writing the posts. There are easily 30 bloggers whom I visit regularly, and there are probably 20 more whom I visit irregularly. Beyond that, I explore new bloggers as often as possible. I like to support my fellow cyber-writers. The sense of community is something I never anticipated when I entered the blogosphere.
Do you have any advice for writing good posts or comments?
Advice for writing good posts: write well; believe in what you say.
Advice for writing good comments: DITTO. (Of all the posts I visit, I probably only comment on about half.  If I don’t immediately think of something to say, I move on. And that holds true even for those bloggers I consider friends.)
How do you keep your blog current?
The “Opinions” part of my blog title ensures currency. Over the past two years, I’ve had such a blast using my blog as an opportunity to vent my opinions on current situations. 
Last November, after seeing the documentary, Inside Job, I remember lying in bed, thinking about it.  … Lying in bed, realizing that an essay was writing itself in my head. And so, yes, I leapt out of bed and wrote the piece that I posted later that week –“Acting Out.” Just a week or two ahead of that, I had a great time (in real time) writing a piece while listening to the November election results. And last week, I simply had to get some things off my chest, and I did so when I wrote and posted “I’ve Reached My Limit with the Debt Limit Talks.”
It’s so much fun. Way back in college, I majored in Poli-Sci, and I did so because it felt right at the time.  These days, I’m revisiting that sense of connection.
What other invaluable advice can you share with fellow bloggers?
I think the key is to have a personal mission statement for one’s own blogging. Stick to it, and thereafter, commit to cultivating the community that exists within the blogosphere. If I were to articulate my mission, it would be this: to share my voice through personal essays that have a potentially broad appeal, are often humorous, and never surrender my privacy.
How do you think blogging has helped your writing? 
The more I write, the better I get. I have and will always love creating sentences. Blogging has given me a weekly assignment that I take seriously. I believe that I have grown as a writer because I have imposed this weekly requirement upon myself.

Katie is quite a woman! Thank you, Katie, for sharing your thoughts on blogging and writing. I can relate to your love of creating sentences. And your statement "the more I write the better I get" is dead on. Let's hope the same holds true for all of us. Thanks again!