Tag Archives: How to

How to get through that dreaded book signing.

You’ve written a book. You actually have it published and just committed to a book signing, which is still a week away. Already your knees are shaking. Your head hurts. You’re sure you’re coming down with a cold. You’d rather wait tables or clean toilets. Welcome to the wonderful world of being an author.

Book signings can be intimidating. Under pressure, our insecurities bubble to the surface. No one will buy my book. No one will show up. No one will like me. This is a natural reaction for most writers. But book signings don’t have to be painful. Here are some ways to help you have a good time, even if you don’t sell a single book.

Organization goes a long way in making your book signing successful. Once you set up your signing, keep calling back and checking in to make sure everything’s on track. They have you on the calendar. Books have been ordered and will be there in time. If you are bringing your own books, make sure you have them with you and remember to bring them to the store.

Several weeks before the event, promote your signing. Send out press releases and do radio spots if possible. Post on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to get and keep a buzz going. We’re all busy. It’s easy to forget.

The day of the signing, arrive early. Bring signs promoting your event. Dress professionally and try to arrive fresh and relaxed. Make sure you have

business cards
plenty of pens
tablecloth just in case
bookmarks/promotional material
a smile and positive attitude

Remember to smile and talk. Don’t hide behind books or look away when a customer approaches. Look them in the eye. Extend your hand and say, “Hi, I’m having a book signing today.” Put the book in their hand and ask a question that relates to your book. “Do you like xxxx stories? Did you know xxxxx?” Even a genuine comment, “I like your scarf,” is enough to begin a conversation. People buy books from people they like, so find a way to make these strangers feel comfortable and interested in what you have to say. Forget about selling books and sell yourself instead.

Have realistic expectations. Everyone who walks into the store is a potential customer, but they may not like the kind of book you write. Hand them one of your bookmarks and ask them to recommend you to their friends.

Rather than dread the signing, take advantage of this opportunity to meet people and make new friends. Hope for the best and expect the worst. The result will fall somewhere in between. But mostly, try to relax and have fun. And don’t forget to thank the store for hosting your event.
-Bonnie Dodge

Short story contest, deadline August 12, 2011

What are you doing to sharpen your writing skills? Here is a challenge.
Boise State Public Radio along with the Idaho Department of Tourism and The Story Initiative at Boise State University are sponsoring a writing contest open to anyone with an Idaho story to tell. Here’s the kicker. Stories must be no longer than 120 words and must mention at least one Idaho location.

A short story in 120 words? Is that possible?

Yes. I’ll show you how.

I recently attended a workshop where we were required to write a story spurred by a picture from a magazine. In my picture, two boys stood beside a barn, their cowboy hats tipped over their faces. All you could see was their chins. We had fifteen minutes to write a story. When we were finished, we were instructed to count the words in our story and cut the scene by 25%. We were then instructed to reduce the story to one sentence.

What? Impossible? No, it wasn’t. It did take some creative thinking though, and what I discovered was that paring the story made the heat rise. Every word had to pack a punch.

To illustrate, here is what I wrote:

Jonathan’s hat teetered on his head, always tipped so I could never see his eyes. I’ve know Jonathan since he was a toddler and though he has changed dramatically through the years there has always been one thing constant, the way each straw hat he dons dips slightly so I cannot see his eyes, or whether or not he is listening to me as I speak, or if his eyebrow teaks and twitches when I talk about his sister Cara.

In his younger years, Jonathan’s hats changed rapidly, almost faster than the size of his T-shirts and Levis. His body grew fast, but his head seemed to grow faster, sprouting as if it were trying to grow away from his body. The first hat I remember was a straw cowboy hat his grandmother had given him on his first birthday. It was woven from straw and had a red string that wrapped around his chin.

25% cut

Jonathan’s hat teetered on his head slightly. I cannot see his eyes or if his eyebrow twitches when I talk about Cara.

Jonathan’s hats changed rapidly, almost faster than the size of his T-shirts and Levis. His body grew fast, but his head grew faster, sprouting as if it were trying to grow away from his body. The first hat I remember was a straw cowboy hat his grandmother had given him on his first birthday.

One sentence

Jonathan’s hat teetered on his head like a shadow every time I asked about Cara.

Try it. In 120 words or less, write a story about Idaho. Pick any subject, say the Malad Gorge, and in a stream of consciousness way, write everything that comes to mind about the gorge. Don’t ponder, just free write for fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, begin revising, cutting useless and redundant words like small, very, ly adjectives, etc. Revise again and again until you have 120 words. When you compare the two versions of your story, I bet you will discover that your second version is clearer, tighter, and more powerful.

What are you waiting for? Get busy. The deadline is August 12, 2011.

Here is more information about the contest:


Boise State Public Radio (BSPR), along with the Idaho Department of Tourism and The Story Initiative at Boise State University, present “One Minute Idaho,” a writing contest open to anyone with an Idaho story to tell. Stories must be no longer than 120 words and must mention at least one Idaho location. Entries may be mailed or emailed by midnight, Aug. 12. Contestants may send multiple entries.

The “One Minute Idaho” writing contest is part of BSPR’s ongoing effort to engage with the community, and the contest plays a significant role in demonstrating the important contributions individual experiences make to the community and state.

The top three winning stories will be recorded, posted on the BSPR website for download and aired on BSPR stations. Winners also will receive tickets to see Ira Glass, host and executive producer of National Public Radio’s This American Life, at the Morrison Center on Nov. 5, to a reception prior to the main event and an overnight stay at an Idaho bed and breakfast. Glass will select one of three winning stories to read aloud from the stage of the Morrison Center.
For official contest rules and to submit a story, visit http://www.iraglassinboise.com.
– Bonnie Dodge

Make that novel happen this month

Today is the start of National Novel Writing Month and the challenge is to write a novel within the month of November. It’s a fantastic way to get that idea that’s been rumbling around your head onto paper. You just charge ahead every day and at the end of November, you have a great start. It’s fun and free. So what are you waiting for.


How to tackle the writing of subtext

How do you write words that say one thing, but are really saying something else?

This is an excellent article on that subject.



I am often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?”  My answer is simple. “Everywhere.” Let me explain. Story ideas can come from a number of places such as newspaper and magazine articles, movies, plays, paintings, conversations, and landscapes to name only a few.

Take for instance the trip Pat and I took to Stricker Ranch that I wrote about in an earlier post. On one hand this outing was simply a review of local history. On the other hand, it provided a wealth of information we hope to turn into interesting stories. Why is a ghost hovering at the top of the stairs? How many ghosts haunt the dry cellar?

I read once that by the time a person reaches age 30, he/she has enough life experiences to have something to write about for a lifetime. The trick is to know how to turn those life experiences into good stories.

So the question then, is, what makes an idea a good story?

1) The idea must be interesting.

What if Shakespeare really was a woman?

2) The idea should appeal to a large number of people.

Shakespeare is a well-known playwright. Everyone has been subjected to him at least once before finishing high school.

3) The idea is specific.

Who really was this mysterious man? Did one person really write all of those brilliant plays?

A lot of people would like to know more about the person who wrote so many entertaining plays and sonnets. Virginia Woolf, in fact, speculates on that very thing in A Room of One’s Own. Thus, a story exploring Shakespeare’s gender is an idea that has universal appeal. It would make a good story.

Conversely, let’s say I want to write a story about my dog. I love my dog. My dog is cute. But she isn’t extraordinary. She can’t speak English. She can’t even sit up and beg for food without falling over. A story about my dog would be zzzzzzzzzzboring. It wouldn’t appeal to a large number of people, and there is nothing specific that sets my dog apart from any other dog, except, of course, that she belongs to me.

That’s a simplistic example, but you get my point. As a writer, everyday I am surrounded by possible story ideas. Some of them are interesting. Some of them are not.  My job as a writer is to find a way to turn those ideas into great stories that have universal appeal.

What if I told you my dog could catch mice with a butterfly net? Then you might be interested in reading about my dog. Most likely not, but you get the picture.

The best stories come from taking an ordinary situation/idea and applying the “What if” factor. What if Shakespeare really was a woman? What if my dog could catch mice with a butterfly net?

Using the “what if” factor, look around you, and at the things that have happened to you, your life experiences. Then give the ordinary idea a little twist, and you’ll be on your way to writing some great stories.

-Bonnie Dodge

Grabbing story ideas at Stricker Ranch

As a writer, I look for story ideas everywhere I go. Recently, Patricia Santos Marcantonio and I took in Fright Nights in Old Towne Twin as a way to increase our cache of stories. For two hours we heard about the history of Twin Falls County and some of the colorful people who lived there. Not only did we come away with a better understanding of the area, we also came home with several new story ideas.

What if a ghost really haunts the public library?
What if Lyda Trueblood isn’t really buried in the Twin Falls Cemetery?
What if Stricker Ranch really is haunted?

As The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz declared, “I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks, I do, I do, I doooo.”, I do believe there are good story ideas all around us. All you have to do is reach out and grab one.
-Bonnie Dodge

Question of the Month

The phrase “show me don’t tell me” has confounded beginning writers for years. What does it mean?

Remember in English Composition 101 the professor admonished the class to avoid loaded words at all costs. Then in Creative Writing 101 the instruction was “show don’t tell”.
I think it is impossible to do both so I ignore those warnings. Avoiding loaded words is a good idea when writing “how to” instructions but otherwise the writer needs to be aware of and use loaded words to his/her advantage. As you recall loaded words like “mother” and “love” carry emotional connotations.

When writing fiction, poetry or creative non fiction, emotionally loaded words are desired, even necessary. As an author you need to be free to pick among the variations and nuances of meaning that words carry.

Imagine — you are writing a story. The main character is alone in the house when the doorbell rings. You need to get her to the door. If you say Mary went to the door it gets her there. However, if Mary stormed to the door, we understand more. If Mary wandered aimlessly to the door, we understand something else. And if Mary strutted to the door it presents another vision of Mary. We don’t have to tell the reader that Mary is mad, preoccupied, stoned or proud — we show it.

I always keep my thesaurus close by when I write so I can sort through the infinite variation of connotations and nuances of meaning of words that basically do the same thing in widely different manners.

Dixie Thomas Reale

Question of the Month

How can I overcome writer’s block?
When I stare at my computer screen and no thoughts come to mind I look for excuses to do other things. The refrigerator needs cleaning, the rugs need vacuuming, the tarnished silver suddenly needs polishing even though I do not plan to use it anytime soon. These excuses work for awhile but basically I hate housework and feel guilty when my computer is idle.
Yet the committee that lives in my brain picks apart every thought that crosses my mind as stupid, ridiculous, trite or “It’s been done before.” My wastebasket overflows with discarded false starts and no new stories or essays present themselves. I have a big dose of writer’s block but what should I do?
It happens to every writer at one time or another, and each deals with the dry spell differently. Sometimes I succumb and stare off into space for long stretches of time. Other times I force myself to write through the block and type whatever comes to mind no matter how disjointed, ridiculous or fragmentary it may seem. I might explore the voices of the committee — play word games with their objections, or name their personalities. If I take their criticism to the extreme the objections will eventually have no more emotional punch.
My old standby — a CD of classical music — preferably Mozart, a fire in the fire place, and Emily Dickinson usually puts me into a reverie where images float through my mind and coalesce into usable ideas before very long. If that doesn’t work a leisurely walk in the snow, rain, sunshine or breezy afternoon could jog my creative juices. It might take a change of scenery — a visit to some awe inspiring place: the overlook at the Perrine Bridge, the viewing area beside the Bruneau Canyon, Shoshone Falls, or the Stanley Basin. A drive in the country, mountains, a visit to a ghost town. Where is your favorite gazing spot? Your favorite exploring place? Your favorite get-away?
There are many books available with writing prompts or sparks — exercises guaranteed to budge even the most stubborn case of writers block into action. One of my favorites is THE VIRGINIA WOOLF WRITER’S WORKSHOP.
Another trick I often use when I get stuck is to take a short piece by one of the old masters and write a story doing exactly what he/she did only set in my own town, current day and use my own characters. Usually before I am finished with the first page I have shed the writing blues and am off on another venture. Try it. It is amazing how well that trick works.

Dixie Thomas Reale

You’ve got to love and hate the Internet

We all can admit to this one.
The Internet is a wonderful tool, for not only communication, but also research. For my latest book, I used street level Google maps for the city where I have set the novel, among other great tools.
The Internet allows us to pitch stories on line and keep in touch with other writers through such sites as email, Facebook and Twitter, the latter of which I especially love.
However, the Internet also poses a danger as a vicious eater of time through those very social networking avenues.
I wanted to share this blog from veteran freelance writer, author, and political blogger Julie Fanselow about how she deals with the balance.
She doesn’t go on Facebook until she’s put in time first on her writing.
So enjoy this inspiring column, which she so generously let us post on our site.
I may not be as dedicated as Julie, but I’m working on it.

“My last morning on Facebook”

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

New Year’s writing resolutions

OK, so we’ve all made the usual New Year’s resolutions about dieting, exercising more, and all that. But as a writer, we should make a whole other list of resolutions to keep in the New Year.

  • Write five times a week — This is a hard one and so easy to break, but so important to work at. What we really are doing is setting goals for ourselves. Even if you just write a sentence or two, you’ll feel good. (Notice I didn’t say the weekend, because those are my times to relax. As I’ve written ad nauseam, if you don’t live life, what have you got to write about?)
  • Write expanded life sketches for the characters in your books and stories. I find that when I don’t do the most comprehensive job of character sketches, their motivations become a bit hazy. That is not to say they won’t change as you go, but a good character sketch will help you create a living, breathing person.
  • Don’t beat yourself up so much. We know that we are our worst enemies when it comes to self-doubt about our writing. Don’t do it. There is enough negativity in the writing world, what with rejections and the state of publishing. Instead, say to yourself, “I love my job as a writer. I’m doing the best that I can and will write more to hone my craft.”
  • Take a writing class or attend a writing seminar. Spend the time and money to learn and it will re-energize you, I promise.
  • Network, network. Writers need to get out there and find out what is happening in the writing world. If you live in a tiny tiny town, join national writing groups.
  • Join a critique group. It may take a bit to find the right people, but they will help you immensely.

Those are a few resolutions to start. E-mail the Other Bunch if you have more to share and we can post them.
And don’t forget to diet and exercise more.

Patricia Santos Marcantonio