The first page of my novel — Care to critique?

I was having a hard time coming up with a blog post for today, then I remembered that I haven’t posted any of my personal fiction or poetry here in a long time. I debated sharing some of the background work I’ve done for the novel I’m editing right now, Moonshadow’s Guardian–I’ve actually shared some of the work done on my main character–but then I had a brilliant thought:

Every writer needs critique, preferably from writers with varying skills and experience. And my readers happen to be writers, all with different skills and experience levels.

So today I’d like to ask you, my loyal readers, to critique the first page of the YA fantasy novel I’m editing right now in the comments below. If you want, I’ll even critique the first page of your current WIP–details below.

And without further ado, here’s the first page of my novel, Moonshadow’s Guardian:

Chapter One

Riana

Loki’s dungeon stank of urine and sweat. The toilet in my cell was just a bucket which gremlins—short, green creatures with screwed up faces and pointy ears—came to dump and replace every once in a while. There were no windows. No chairs. No bed. Just a small room made up of four stone walls that didn’t care.

Still, Loki saved me from a worse fate. Nobody escaped the wrath of the demons’ Head Family physically or mentally intact. The smallest crimes were punished as brutally as the worst. I had avoided my fate for almost a thousand years, and they would torture me for an equal number of years. Demons didn’t believe in simply killing traitors the way humans did.

Loki stole me from their court room and brought me here. He seemed to be punishing me with boredom. Time spent braiding my long, black hair—my shape shifting ability didn’t work here—or pacing around the room. Pacing kept the silence at bay. In silence my mind went wild, imagining every possible punishment Loki could inflict. After what felt like several days of contemplation, I had concluded the worst punishment would be sitting in this dull room for another thousand years. My kind couldn’t exactly kill themselves easily. It would be the worst kind of existence.

Footsteps. I stared hopefully at the door. The footsteps didn’t sound like gremlins. They sounded heavier, like a person’s, a genuine person, the lady with wings who came in occasionally to offer me scraps of food, or Loki himself. I hoped it would be Loki. The woman with the wings who fed me was silent and stone faced and the gremlins just giggled to each other, as though I didn’t exist.

Please leave your thoughts in the comments below. Any and all advice is appreciated. I can’t wait to see what you have to say!

If you’re interested in having me critique the first page of your novel–or critiquing all of Moonshadow’s Guardian–email me at diannalgunn@gmail.com. I’m always on the lookout for new critique partners.

What Nanowrimo 2014 will look like on The Dabbler

As you might have guessed from Tuesday’s post, I’ve got some pretty big plans this Nanowrimo–for both myself and this blog. My goal for this blog is simple: I want to create the ultimate resource for anyone participating in Nanowrimo who needs some help along the way.

I haven’t chosen an actual word goal yet–I’m working on some outlines right now and I want to finish them before deciding how far I want to push myself–but I promise you, it will be massive. This is a big year for me, and I’m determined to make this Nanowrimo suitably grand. It might also be my last time aiming for a massive word count, at least for a few years. I really need to focus on editing, and it’s hard to edit a book while also trying to write over 100, 000 words in a month.

I’m sure my ridiculous word count will entertain you at the end of November, but here’s what’s going on between now and then:

The Schedule

October: Planning

The right amount of planning is important if you actually want to complete Nanowrimo. How much is the right amount? Well, that depends on the novelist and the novel in question, but no matter how much planning you need to do, I guarantee you’ll find some useful advice and exercises here next month.

You’ll also find three posts a week: an exercise each Tuesday, advice from a published Nanowrimo author every Thursday and a resource list on Sundays. Planning a novel is hard work, and I’ll be here to help you every step of the way.

November: Writing

In November I’ll be going back to posting twice a week because I’m going for a massive word count. There should be a couple guest posts to help you stay inspired, just in case the weekly pep talks Nanowrimo sends you aren’t enough to satisfy.

This November you’ll get some inspiration, tips and tricks every Tuesday and a word count update every Thursday. The word count updates will be brief but keep you informed and keep me accountable.

If you’re not interested in hearing about my Nanowrimo adventures or writing a novel, sign up for my newsletter to be reminded when I return to discussing freelance writing.

Otherwise, let’s have a fantastic fall together!

Getting your first guest post published

If you’ve never gotten a guest post published before, this week’s article about a guest post strategy might have felt a little overwhelming. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it you’ll find it’s actually pretty easy to get yourself published on other people’s blogs, as long as you have something valuable to say. In fact, the first three guest articles I pitched were all accepted by the first blogs I pitched them to, and that wasn’t by chance. It’s about getting the process right.

Grab the list of blog post ideas you created on Monday. If you didn’t, you should probably go do that. Like right now. Done? All right. Now pick a blog and a pitch idea and follow me.

Prepare a query

Most blogs want you to submit entire posts. Some will ask for a query. All of them want a cover letter. What’s the difference? A cover letter sells you; a query sells you and your idea.

Bloggers usually give specific formats for queries–especially bloggers who pay for posts–but there are some general rules you should always follow. Spelling the blogger’s name correctly and telling them why you’re interested in writing for them is usually a good idea.

When I write a query for a guest post it’s usually two paragraphs long. The first paragraph introduces me and my experience and explains why I want to work with the blogger. The second paragraph gives a brief explanation of the idea I’m pitching and mentions things like word count and–unless the blogger specifically asked for a completed draft–how far I’ve taken the idea. Even when bloggers ask for a query instead of a draft, I like to have the draft finished before I send out a query. This is especially true when I know I’ll be able to use the article on another blog or even post it here if it isn’t accepted.

Write the article

This is essentially the same as writing a blog post for your own site, except you’re playing by somebody else’s rules. Maybe you’re not usually profane online but you’re posting to Terrible Minds so you drop a few F-bombs. Your guest post might be a bit longer or shorter than what you usually write on your own blog.

The idea is that you want to meet the blogger halfway. Incorporate some of their writing style into your own and notice how they get their readers’ attention. Every audience is a little bit different, and you want to be able to tap into each one effectively. Before you draft the post and again before you edit it, read two or three posts on the site to make sure you have a good grasp on the other blogger’s style.

Send it in

Make sure your post is formatted properly so it can easily be posted to the blog where it will be appearing, do one last edit and send out your query/article. Remember that bloggers are busy people and be patient when waiting for a response. In fact, the best thing to do if you’re waiting for a response is write your next blog post. After all, you want to reach as many audiences as possible right? The best way to do that is by reaching out to several bloggers in a short period of time.

Most importantly, remember that your commitment doesn’t end when you press send. If your post is accepted and published, you’ll be expected to share it on social media and respond to any comments. Make sure the number of guest posts you have published in any given month is a number you can handle–bloggers won’t invite you back if you don’t communicate with their audience in the right way.

Creating a content plan for your blog

agenda planner Last week I talked about my efforts to get serious about building my vlog to increasing your number of daily views by 50.

What matters is that you aim high but keep your goals realistic. Aim for a slightly larger input than what you’re comfortable with. This allows you to push yourself to the next level without pushing yourself too hard and burning out.

Don’t commit to posting more frequently than you can handle. It’s better to publish fewer posts and schedule them a couple months in advance in case you get really sick or busy. Of course, you can change the schedule at any time, but having posts ready to go several weeks in advance helps eliminate a lot of blogging stress.

Your long term goals should include how many posts you want to write this year, how many readers you want to gain and any content you want to release that’s related to your blog–say an email newsletter or an ebook based on your blog content.

Planning for each month

Your plan for each month should include the number of posts you’ll publish each week, when they’ll publish–consistency in your schedule matters more than frequency–and potential themes or topic ideas. You can choose to give each month a theme or create a point form list of post ideas. I usually do both. Ideally, your plan should include outlines for at least a handful of these posts.

Remember to build a variety of posts into your plan, both in terms of topics and formats. You want to keep readers interested by providing something a little different each week. You’ll also want to figure out what posts attract the most attention so you can incorporate more of those into your future planning. Starting with a wide range of posts will allow you to narrow your work down to the most effective.

Any important dates–such as the release of your first email newsletter or subscriber freebie–should also be included in each month’s plan. After all, you’ll want to write a blog post about these dates, right?

Creating a long term plan

You don’t need all the details, but having some idea what you’ll be doing six months, a year or even two years from now can help keep you on the right track. A long term vision makes it easier to do short term planning–after all, how else are you supposed to know what you’re working towards? How are you supposed to measure success if you don’t know what that success looks like?

While a long term plan should definitely note changes in your posting schedule–say if you’ll be returning to school in September and will want to cut back on posting frequency at that time–and potential themes for future months, it’s also where you put goals related to building outwards from your blog. If one of your long term goals is to create an ebook from your blog, plan to start working on it in a few months and publish it in a year when your blog is fairly well known–or work with whatever schedule you’re comfortable with.

Think of your long term content plan as a business plan for your website. Any extra content, future ideas, and goals you have for your content–both in terms of how many people you reach and how much money you make–belong here.

The more solid your plan, the easier it will be to implement. It’s important to always leave some room for change, because the only constant in life is change and better ideas may surface, but give yourself a solid foundation to build your author platform on. Putting conscious energy into building your author platform now will separate you from the rest when it comes time to publish your first novel.

Winter break

Christmas is almost upon us, and whether or not you celebrate the holiday itself, odds are that you have some vacation time coming up. For those of us caught in the daily grind of work or school, vacation time often means extra time for your writing projects. It’s always a good idea to take one or two days completely off to relax your mind and spend time with family, but it’s also a good idea to make the most of your vacation. After all, we all want more time to work on our writing, right?

Personally I’m planning to use my vacation time to focus on book length projects. I’m almost finished my Nanowrimo novel now, but by the time January first hits I want to not only have finished that novel, but made a significant dent into my rewrite of the novel I wrote in 2010. I’ll also be creating a plan for this blog that will cover my topics for all of 2014, though they’ll be subject to change at any time.

The one thing I won’t be doing is actively posting on the blog. If I can instead spend the few hours I spend on writing posts each week on planning my next year of work, it will make everything run more smoothly in the new year, and give me more time to work on both my novels and the writing ebooks I plan on publishing.

So have a wonderful holiday season and expect me back fresh on January 6th, ready for both a new year of writing and my last month of school. Don’t forget to keep working on your own goals through the holiday season, no matter what gets in the way.

Giveaway Time! Will you win a book?

This book could be yours :)Hey guys,

You may or may not be aware that yesterday was my 20th birthday. This also means that I’ve been blogging for almost exactly six years–I started my first blog the month after my 14th birthday–and that some of you have been with me on this journey for that same amount of time.

Today I’d like to say thank you with a giveaway. If you’re subscribed to either my RSS feed or my email newsletter(you can find both links in the sidebar) you can enter to win a paperback copy of the YA novel Once Every Never by Lesley Livington.

Here’s the book’s blurb:

Clarinet Reid is a pretty typical teenager. On the surface. She’s smart, but a bit of a slacker; outgoing, but just a little insecure; not exactly a mischief-maker… but trouble tends to find her wherever she goes. Also? She unwittingly has a centuries old Druid blood curse running through her veins.

Now, with a single thoughtless act, what started off as the Summer Vacation in Dullsville suddenly spirals into a deadly race to find a stolen artifact, avert an explosive catastrophe, save a Celtic warrior princess, right a dreadful wrong that happened centuries before Claire was even born, and if there’s still time–literally–maybe even get a date.

I quite enjoyed this book and if you’d like to enjoy it too, all you need to do is post why you read this blog and how long you’ve been reading in the comments below before September fifth. Unfortunately I can only afford to ship this to winners within North America.

Whether you’ve been reading for a day or a year, I’d like to say thank you for being here and helping make this blog what it is today. Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter–the first issue shall be released September sixth–and enter in the comments below to win your very own copy of Once Every Never!

Focus in on what really matters

As a writer with a limitless imagination and an interesting life, it’s easy to get caught up in too many projects at once and to end up abandoning things you really want to work on. It’s something I do all the time, and this summer I’ve done it yet again, and realized that I need to change course to truly create the future I want.

When you know exactly what you want, it’s tempting to try to force it all at once, but life doesn’t work like that. You need to choose two or three projects to focus on at a time, no more. You might even want to try focusing on one project at a time depending on your schedule and the kind of person you are.

I don’t have the focus to work on just one project for more than a few days at a time, so I’ll always have more than one going, but right now I have way too many things going on and it’s time to slow down. Trying to start your own business or freelance/fiction writing career is hard enough, but trying to start all three at the same time is ridiculous.

I’ve now found a “real job” that will give me a stable income so I can save up to get my ebooks professionally edited and formatted, and I’ve decided to stop actively searching for freelance work and to stop doing website consultations. Trying to market myself on those levels has taken me away from what’s truly important: my books, both fiction and non-fiction, and this blog, the projects that I am from now on devoting all my time to.

I will still accept freelance work, but I don’t have the time to hunt for it right now. There are a couple almost-finished article queries I intend to shop around, but after that, I’m going to focus in on my books for a while. In the end, freelance writing is something I do enjoy, but I’ve always wanted to make a living writing books and so I need to focus on creating the best books possible and editing the ones I’ve already created.

Are you focused on the projects that really matter to you? If not, what’s taking up your time that you can sacrifice to get back to what truly matters? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Monetization

Part of the transformation of Dianna’s Writing Den into The Dabbler is creating a website that is more than just a blog. I’m changing my focus from actual freelance writing to website consultation, helping online business owners, freelance writers and authors recreate their websites and tighten their copy in order to become more successful, and there are several other changes I’d like to bring your attention to, some of which are still in the works. These changes can be applied to any blog to start bringing in a cash flow, and this list is a great place to start if you’ve been struggling to figure it out.

Monetization Strategies

1. Ads. You’ll notice two ads–one picture and one link–for the Blogelina writing courses in the sidebar, and at the very bottom of the page an adsense ad. Since helping other writers and forming a community are the main focuses of this site, not making money, I’ve kept these ads to a minimum so they don’t interfere with your experience of The Dabbler. I can also honestly recommend the Blogelina programs, since I took one of their classes and got free web hosting as well as an awesome experience. The Adsense ad I don’t have too much control over, which is why there’s only one.

2. Paid service packages. Eventually my plan is to offer three specific packages, all focused around helping you build your website with varying levels of involvement, which you will be able to buy easily off the website. I’m still learning how the shopping cart technology attached to my GoDaddy account works, so right now I’m only offering website consultations and I can’t accept credit cards, but I am working on this. I’m hoping to have a proper shopping cart up and running by the end of the summer.

3. Ebooks. My first ebook, The Ten Commandments of the Serious Writer, will most likely be a freebie, but I am working on a larger ebook designed to help you build and keep the necessary commitment to have the writing career you’ve always dreamed of. The book will be compilation of posts from Dianna’s Writing Den combined with new articles and writing exercises. I’m also finally finished my edit of Moonshadow’s Guardian, and while I am sending it out to critiquers one last time–email me if you’re interested–I feel that it is almost ready for publication too. My goal is to have one non-fiction ebook for sale and to have a contract for Moonshadow’s Guardian by this time next year.

While these are the direct methods I’m using to build an income, you’ll also notice some changes around here that are more directly linked to money. I’m working on creating a new logo for The Dabbler, as well as a landing page which will properly display all my available products/services. There’s also going to be a monthly newsletter which will share writing tips, inspiring quotes and the most popular posts on The Dabbler in any given month. I’m still working on the template for this newsletter, but you can sign up right now here if you’d like to receive this newsletter. You’ll also receive special offers and updates on my available products/services.

All of these methods can be applied to any blog. If you can write a blog about it, you can create an ebook based on your topic. The best blogs are designed to help people, and with a little creativity you can turn any blog into a springboard for your service/coaching program. So if you’re looking to make money from your blog, maybe it’s time to ask yourself some questions about how you can turn your knowledge into a helpful ebook or program.

Are you looking to monetize your blog? If so, what’s your plan?

The New Name of Dianna’s Writing Den And Other Changes

Friday ended with the votes tied between The Serious Writer and The Dabbler, so I made an executive decision:

Henceforth, I will be blogging at The Dabbler.

I now have the domain and the hosting and I’ll be spending the next two weeks setting this site up. In order to set the site up, I’ll be extending my usual week long blogging break. There will not be another post here until next Friday, when the new site will hopefully be up. If the new site isn’t up by next Friday, I’ll definitely be in touch to let you guys know what’s going on and why it’s not there.

With the new website you’ll notice some other changes, too. I have finally chosen a few coherent packages that will be available to writers and other professionals who need help with their websites. The packages will include things such as a website consultation designed to make your website look and work better for its intended purpose email support while you implement the changes. These packages will be offered at a discount for the first three weeks the new site is open and will go up after that.

Of course, my ebook The Ten Commandments of the Serious Writer will be releasing sometime this summer and will be available through the new site. I am still looking for feedback on this 20 page booklet and the exercises within. If you’re interested, please leave your name and email in the comments below. I will be responding to email, just not writing blog posts.

If you’d like to be updated on the new site via your email, you can sign up on this page. This is also the sign up form for a monthly newsletter I plan to start showcasing both popular articles on the blog and articles exclusive to the newsletter itself, so if you’d like to support my work going forward, please sign up.

Frustration–and a Cry for Help

This blog has long been where I pour out my heart and soul. Sure, I don’t talk much about my life outside of writing, but writing is really the core of who I am and how I live. I write every day, or as close to it as possible. I’ve wanted to be a professional writer since I was eight years old, and I’ve never stopped pushing for that dream. Instead, I’ve fit the rest of my life around my writing, trying desperately to keep it from conquering my writing time, with varying amounts of success.

Through this blog, I’ve seen lots of success. I have over three hundred and fifty subscribers, which seems like a small number compared to, say, the millions of subscribers Firepole Marketing has, but is a pretty big number for me. It’s an even bigger number when you consider how crowded the blogosphere is, and that every writer has a blog–and that I’m not famous for other work. This blog has also been the thing that set me apart from other applicants and gotten me all the writing jobs I’ve ever had, and best of all it’s been a lot of fun.

It’s also been very frustrating. Maintaining a regular posting schedule is incredibly difficult during the school year. I’ve had to cut back on the amount I post per week to focus on other things. I’ve even started taking whole weeks at a time away from the blog to work on my other projects. Since I don’t make any money directly from the blog, often it also feels like a waste of time.

Perhaps the hardest part is getting people involved in the discussion. Many of you have joined in the conversation on different posts, but I still haven’t figured out the magical formula to create a healthy, thriving discussion. I’ve had mixed success with everything I’ve tried. When I posted these three questions, I had an overwhelming response, yet when I posted more questions in last week’s Friday Forum, nobody responded. It’s impossible to tell whether that was because of the long weekend, the questions themselves or perhaps something else about the post itself.

I guess what I’m saying is I’d like a little help, guys. This blog is only partially about sharing my own journey as a writer. It’s also about helping you guys become better writers and creating a community where we help each other. It’s also about sharing the love between writers and helping others promote their work. It’s also about sharing great books with you so you’ll never run out of good things to read. Really, it’s mostly about you.

Without your response and participation in this community, I’m shooting in the dark. I’m writing what I think, what I hope you guys will like, because you haven’t told me what you’d actually like to read. I’ve debated starting a newsletter, but because you guys are so quiet, I’m not sure what you’d subscribe to, so I haven’t–I don’t want to put weeks of effort into something nobody will like. And without your help to spread the word about Dianna’s Writing Den, this community will never grow.

So please, share your thoughts about what I do here. You can say whatever you want, as long as it’s genuine criticism and not internet flaming. Tell me what you like about Dianna’s Writing Den, but especially tell me what you don’t like. Frankly, negative feedback is almost more useful–after all, how else would I figure out what not to do?

Next week being the last week of May, I’ve decided that I will only run one post next week on Friday. I’ve decided not to take the whole week off, but I do need a bit of a breather. Please bear with me.

If you haven’t put in your two cents yet, now is the chance. Help me make Dianna’s Writing Den by giving your feedback–even if all you do is tell me why you never comment.