Yes, it’s that time. I’m giving away another book, though in this case it’s an Advance Reader Copy (ARC). Shannon K. Butcher‘s next installment in her exciting Sentinel Wars series, DYING WISH, is due in stores March 6th, but you have the chance to win an early peek. Just comment here on this post between now and Monday, February 13th at 5:00pm PST. I’ll pick a commenter at random to win the ARC and post their name here. Good luck!

Jackie Patton has been rescued by the Theronai from her captivity and torture at the hands of the Synestryn, only to learn that she’s a potential match for the Theronai warriors who need a woman to literally save their lives.

Forced to choose, she unexpectedly selects Iain, a cold-hearted warrior who doesn’t want to be saved. Iain is convinced that it’s too late-that his soul is already as dead as his former betrothed, killed by the Synestryn. Still, he is the only one she wants. But is Iain indeed beyond saving?

Does a Writer Need a Blog?

The internet is a fabulous, crowded place filled with diverse sites to visit. Many, many of those sites have blogs attached to them. You’ve seen it happen. Blogs pop up in the most unlikely spots: Your favorite clothing store starts blogging fashion tip, the big chain kitchen supplier starts offering recipes in blog format, and, of course, everyone who lists themselves somewhere as a writer — whether it’s on their tax forms or just in their diary — has added a blog to their website. So, the question becomes, do you, as a writer or aspiring writer, need a blog?

Well, the short answer is no, you don’t, but that’s a very simple answer to what has become a very complicated situation. What you definitely need as either a professional writer or a writer at the submissions stage is a web presence. Because as you’ve probably been told a million times already, writers are expected to help market themselves and their books. It’s just part of the job in the 21st century. Not every reader will learn about you online, but many of them will, and those who don’t are pretty likely to look you up online anyway, once they’ve heard you mentioned elsewhere.

So, what every writer definitely needs is a website, preferably one that includes your name in the URL. That’s the name you’ll be writing under, whether it’s your own or a pseudonym. If your name is taken, add something that allows you to expand logically on your name, so: or You get the idea.

But if you don’t need a blog, what goes on your website? If you haven’t published, that question is obviously a little trickier. You can treat a new website as a place holder for what you will eventually create to go with your published works. It can be as simple as an image and some introductory information about yourself. A short bio. A brief explanation about what you’re working on at the moment, and if you have finished work available to agents or editors, and a contact e-mail. Later you’ll add pages with cover art and book blurbs, but at the start, simple is fine. It shows that you understand the importance of being there.

You can supplement your simple site with other social media that’s less reliant on writing long, blog posts: Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc. Make the most of other internet technology by sending out short tidbits, creating scrapbooks of writing inspiration, or posting book recommendations. There are many ways to get your name and ambitions out into the world besides maintaining a blog, and it’s your choice how to utilize them.

What if you do want a blog? By all means, include one on your website. Plenty of good blogging software is available that will allow you to incorporate your blog into that all-important URL. But before you start to blog, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

~ Can I keep up a steady posting schedule? This is important. Readers want to know when they can turn up and find new content. Are you going to post once a week? Twice? Daily? Be careful before you decide. Yes, you can always change it up later, but it’s better to aim for once a week and find it easy to add a second day than to start out daily and run out of things to say in three weeks and disappear for an extended period. So set your schedule and stick to it.

~ Do I have anything to talk about? This is not a judgment again anyone. There are people who are excellent writers, who dream up fantastic worlds and characters and adventures, but who freeze up when it comes to small talk or to discussing the business end of their careers. Not everyone is gifted with the ability to chat in a friendly manner several times a week to the ether. You probably have a good idea already as to whether blogging will be easy or difficult for you. And keep in mind, your schedule will become fuller once you start selling books, between copy edits and online interviews and even tours if you’re at that level. No one will begrudge you a blog hiatus if you’re touring Europe with your bestseller, but you want to maintain some sort of schedule through the more deadline-oriented periods of the publishing cycle. That’s harder if you also have to scramble for ideas of what to discuss.

~ Am I open to comments? Comments are a double-edged sword. They can be great; friendly, encouraging, supportive. Comments let you build a connection with readers of your blog, who might end up readers of your books as well. There will always be people with negative comments, so decide now if you can keep your cool and just delete comments of that nature without engaging in an online war. No matter how polite you are, the situation will get beyond your control, so there’s no point in starting an argument. If you can cope with that, and also with the need to delete spam (a good filter helps here), then comments can be great. But it’s also your call. You don’t have to take comments on all or even any of your blog posts. If you go this route, however, make sure there’s an e-mail address available to people who wish to contact you. These interactions will be “off screen” and still give you the chance to connect with readers.

~ Can I keep a secret? There are going to be things you shouldn’t discuss or announce at all stages of your career. If you’re the type of person who has a difficult time keeping their mouth shut, a blog is a bad idea. You don’t want to leak the names of the editors to whom your agent is sending your manuscript. You don’t want to discuss how many agents have turned you down. You don’t want to post that gorgeous cover art before your editor says it’s allowed to go public. People in publishing use Google. We look up our authors and people we’re considering for representation. We find out when you’ve let the cat out of the bag, and it’s not pretty. So if you can’t filter your information appropriately, eliminate the temptation of using it for instant blog content.

To blog or not to blog, the decision is yours. Determine if it’s a practical approach for your talents, your time, and your goals. If it is, build the best blog you can; if it’s not, be sure to embrace the other forms of social media at your disposal.

Happy Book Release Day!

A very happy book release day to two of my clients. First up, we have Shannon K. Butcher‘s fabulous BOUND BY VENGEANCE, an e-special release in her Sentinel series. This novella is available in various electronic formats only, and takes place shortly before DYING WISH, the next novel in the series, which hits stores in March.

The guilt that Defender Dakota Kacey feels about her brother’s death is all-consuming, making her determined to find and kill the demon who murdered him. But the leader of the Defenders is worried about what Dakota is capable of, and calls in Liam Lann to keep an eye on her. Dakota knows what kind of power a Theronai like Liam possesses, and agrees to bind herself to him if he’ll help her exact vengeance. But a bond to a Theronai is not a decision to make lightly, and as the search for the killer intensifies, Dakota will have to learn to trust Liam completely, or risk losing everything.

Big congrats to Shannon!

Next up is a book I’ve mentioned here before: MISS HILLARY SCHOOLS A SCOUNDREL by Samantha Grace. This fun Regency romance is Samantha’s debut novel, and has already garnered some lovely reviews, including a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

HE’LL NEVER SETTLE FOR ONE WOMAN… Debonair bachelor Lord Andrew Forest lives for pleasure and offers no apologies. But he receives a dose of his own medicine when his family’s entrancing houseguest beds him, then disappears without so much as a by-your-leave. He’d like to teach the little vixen a thing or two about how to love and man…if he can find her..

AND SHE WON’T SETTLE FOR HEARTBREAK… After the dashing man of her dreams is revealed as a lying scoundrel, heiress Lana Hilary is ready to seek a match with a respectable gentleman-if only they weren’t so dreadfully boring. Unable to rein in her bold nature for long, Lana flirts with trouble and finds herself entangled with exactly the type of man she’s vowed to avoid.

Big congrats to Samantha, as well!

Friday Links

I come bearing a wealth of links this week. Yet again, I find myself with more open tabs than makes my browser strictly happy with me, some lingering from last week, but many of them brand new.

So, without further ado, I wish you a wonderful weekend, happy writing, and fun following a few of these links to the goodies waiting at the other end.

2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults – Courtesy of the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).

Sherlock Lives! – Michael Dirda looks at the resurgence in Holmes’ popularity onscreen, as well as on the page.

10 Shakespeare Quotes You Use Every Day – You’d be surprised just where the Bard is lurking.

Plotto: A Forward by Paul Collins – A look at a book that promises the key to all possible plots.

On Getting Out of Your Own Way – Advice from author Dani Shapiro.

What Do You Do, Jamie Raab? – An interview with the publisher of Grand Central Publishing.

The 20 Most Beautiful Bookstores in the World – Courtesy of Flavorwire. It’s enough to make you start planning a pilgrimage.

The Great MFA Debate – The latest in this ongoing do-you or don’t-you discussion.

The Language of Stamps – How you positioned your stamp used to tell the receiver as much as the letter or card itself. Fascinating, whether or not you’re participating in the Month of Letters challenge.

Why Your Work Never Gets Read as Quickly as You Want it To – Courtesy of my colleague, Lucienne Diver.

Creative Writing 101: The Letter-Writers’ Edition

It’s February 1st, the first day of the Month of Letters Challenge. Anyone hanging around with me here or on Twitter has probably figured out that I think this is a great idea on many levels. But I’m not here to chat up the wonders of getting personal mail. Instead, I’m here to offer ways in which you can participate in the challenge AND turn it into a writing exercise that flexes your creative muscles.

For as many writers who have embraced this idea, excited about the prospect of writing lovely missives to friends and family, and hearing their reactions to receiving something fun in their mailbox, I suspect there are just as many who have moaned at the idea of trying to write a letter each day in addition to squeezing in time for their work in progress. Yes, you could take the easy way out by sending pre-written cards, sticking to postcards, or simply printing out copies of favorite family recipes and mailing them off to your younger relatives (and hoping they’ll volunteer to cook something for the next holiday gathering). But how about looking at the challenge as something that will help stretch your mind and imagination, either through writing or by restocking your creative well?

A few ideas for writers:

~ Make your end-of-the-week letter a WIP mailing. Send off your week’s worth of writing to one of your readers in hard copy each Friday.

~ Do you write short stories? Are you interested in trying flash fiction? Attempt to write a few stories over the course of the month that are 1,000 words or less, and send them to friends with whom you typically share your work.

~ Any little kids in your life? How many have ever received mail other than a birthday card? Make one or two your pen pal, even if you live in the same household. Send cartoons, drawings, stickers, as well as little notes, and encourage them to respond. Take them shopping for cute note cards and teach them how to address an envelope properly.

~ Another idea for little kids: Be a secret admirer (though fill in their parents that you’re behind the notes, if the kids aren’t your own). Send little surprises and don’t sign them until the end of the month.

~ Children of your own? Write an ongoing bedtime story and send it out in letter format, with each letter ending in a cliffhanger. The segments don’t have to be long.

~ Older kids away at college? Send letters, care packages, things they forgot to pack up after winter break. (Word of warning: Don’t send to your college kid only; you’ll drive them crazy.)

~ Try writing one poem a week and sending it off to a friend or loved one.

~ Remember that Valentine’s Day falls in the middle of February. Send out cards to your mom, siblings, nieces and nephews, instead of just to your significant other. Stagger the cards in the mail and they’ll be good for a few days of the challenge.

~ Use one “letter” per week as an excuse NOT to write. Make it a break and do something creative that does not include words, and put that in the mail instead. Send a photograph, burn a CD for someone, bake cookies and send them off.

~ Consider writing a letter from the point of view of one of your characters. People used to write entire novels in the epistolary fashion. Give it a go on a small scale and see what you learn about your protagonist or your villain. Send the letter to your critique partner and get their feedback as to whether any of the revelations should be included in your plot. (Mary Robinette Kowal has already said she’ll be corresponding with people who wish to write her heroine, Jane.)

These are just a few thoughts to get you started. How else might you participate in the challenge and really exercise your writing chops? I’m curious to hear your ideas, so please share if you’d like. Happy writing!