Dream Symbols, Sun and Summer Writing Inspiration

inspiration for writing on the beachHow are you finding writing inspiration this summer? How are you celebrating the last few weeks of August?

I think of August as a month to luxuriate in summer—long walks, biking to Casey Farm and home with a backpack full of leafy greens, handpicked veggies—from staples of string beans and parsley to the more exotic edamame and ground cherries.

Painting on the beach with my sister in and niece: Everyone else was too shy to be in this picture!

I’ve enjoyed visits from my sister, brother, nieces and nephew—painting watercolors on the beach, climbing boulders, touring a mansion (the luxury above as well as the underground tour of boiler rooms and electrical systems) and plenty of cookouts with bonfires under the stars while the waves crash against the rocks.

My niece took this photo from the rocks we climbed in Narragansett, RI

It’s as if summer fills us with warmth and inspiration for the colder months ahead (at least in New England).

It seems to me that at the beginning of the summer, in June and July, life became too busy and hectic. By August, I’ve found a more relaxed pace of fun, family activities, creativity, social activities and rest.

With less time for writing, teaching or other work, I limited my work schedule to a handful of consultations, editing projects and book proposals.

dream journal
I started writing down my dreams in this journal and then laughed when I realized that icebergs were a recurring theme in my dreams!

Inspired by a new client who writes and teaches about working with our dreams, I began to journal again, writing all my dreams down in the journal pictured to the right (sorry for the blurry photo from my awful phone camera!).

I so enjoy discovering the symbolism in dreams and witnessing the shifting of my inner landscape as Kari Hohne has guided me with interpretation, exercises and questions to better understand the messages and gifts my dreams hold. How fun to see how, as I pay attention to the dream symbols, other symbols and synchronicities show up in waking life—the coyote crossing the road, then baying outside my window the next night; the iceberg on the cover of my dream journal that I failed to notice until Kari pointed out the frequency of iceberg images. You can see the polar bears had a good chuckle about it!

And, of course, as we engage such inner work, we are rewarded. Suddenly, creativity starts pouring out of me.

beach painting
I painted this on the beach with my sister, niece and mother-in-law.

Today, inspired by painting with my sister, niece, son and mother-in-law on the beach last week, I began work on a new course for the fall that applies some of the inspiration of our watercolor painting experiences to writing and creativity. I can’t wait to share it with you.

In the meantime, I invite you to enjoy the final weeks of August. What is this special month like for you and how do the activities of August affect your writing? Are you more prolific or less? How do summer activities influence your writing and inspire you? Do you write outdoors? Do you journal more? Please share your experiences and writing inspiration as a comment below.

Three lucky commenters will win a book by my client or course participant. Prizes include:

An Oasis in Time: How a Day of Rest Can Save Your Life by Marilyn Paul

So Happiness to Meet You: Foolishly, Blissfully Stranded in Vietnam by Karin Esterhammer

Full: How I Learned to Satisfy My Insatiable Hunger and Feed My Soul by Kimber Simpkins

Share your summer writing inspiration or experience and you may win one of these inspiring books.



Book Writing Tips: 9 Keys to Clarifying Target Market

book proposal coach lisa tener
Here to answer your questions about tarket market, clarifying your book concept and how to write a winning book proposal!

Clarifying target market will help you write a book that resonates for your readers—from the title and subtitle to the tone, content, features and structure. With this clarity, your readers can realize, “This book is for me! It’s just what I’m looking for.”

Without such clarity, your book is more likely to get lost in the general noise of publishing, or just not resonate for book buyers (think, too general and not targeted).

Clarifying a target market also makes it much easier to market your book. Without a clear market (or markets) it’s hard to know where to reach your readers—what social media platforms, what radio or TV shows to target, what blogs, etc.

5 Questions to Help You in Clarifying Target Market

questions about target marketTo clarify target market, ask yourself:

1) Who am I most drawn to help or work with?

2) Who is most drawn to me (if you have a business) or who would most likely benefit from what I want to write about?

3) What are my goals and vision for this project?

4) Is there a niche group that is under-served by the books currently out on my topic?

5) Is there a demographic or sub-group that is particularly in need—or desperate—for the information I have to offer?

These questions will start to help you determine target market.

4 Additional Tips for Clarifying a Book’s Tarket Market

6) Blogging can help you get clearer on target market, especially if you invite comments from readers and get to know more about them.

7) Researching market size will help you determine the potential for book sales—numbers that are especially important to agents and publishers. Try census data, professional associations and internet searches as a starting point.

8) Solid demographic and psychographic research will also help you better clarify and understand your market(s).

9) Send out a survey to the people on your mailing list or blog. Ask them more about themselves and what they are looking for in a book on your topic. I use Survey Monkey (it’s free!) but there are lots of good options out there.

Get More Info and Support to Write a Stand Out Book or Book Proposal

For additional information on clarifying target market, read this post where I share whether to target a niche market or a broad market for a book.

clarify book target market and book conceptGet Clear On Your Book Concept: If you are looking for guidance on clarifying your book concept—vision, goals, markets, features, tone and structure for your book—I highly recommend my $97 self-study program, Quick Start to Kick Start Your Book, as an excellent starting place. I continue to hear from authors who felt they ended up with a much better book—and easier, quicker process, because of this course.

Write a Winning Book Proposal: If you’re working on a book proposal, email me for access to the course materials and recordings from Fast Track Your Book Proposal at a substantially reduced rate from the once-a-year course. My insider tips can make your book proposal stand out and much more convincing to busy—and picky—agents and publishers.

questions about target marketeditingGet Answers to Your Questions! Have a question on target markets, book proposals, book concepts or anything publishing and writing related? Ask below and I’ll answer!


Timing for Querying Publishers and Other Insights into The Publishing Industry

book coach lisa tener
No, this isn’t photoshopped (though it’s not exactly a recent photo). This is me on the beach in Narragansett, thanks to photographer Erica Collins.

What a heady time! Several clients are in conversation with half a dozen publishers about their books.

I eagerly await their emails each morning to see the latest developments.

In addition, I recently received an email from an acquisitions editor colleague saying that this excellent publisher (the top choice for many of my clients, particularly therapists) still has three spots on their list for publishing Fall 2018.

Why is June so busy?

Acquisitions pretty much shuts down for most of the summer, though early to mid-July can sometimes be fruitful. In June, publishers are usually finalizing their choices for whatever list they are working on. They work on multiple lists at once: Fall 2018, December 2018, January 2019, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, depending on the space left in each slot, the time frame in which each manuscript is promised to be delivered and the specific synergy of launching at that particular time of year (think Christmas, New Year’s Resolutions, Mother’s Day).

Publishers have target numbers of books to publish, often in several specific categories. If deadlines are looming and a publisher still has some empty spots in a list that needs to fill, June can be an excellent time to pitch your book.

Keep in mind, though, that Book Expo America—BEA—takes place in late May or early June each year. This is the publishing industry’s biggest conference, where new books are launched with great fanfare, bestselling authors sign new releases for their most die-hard fans and agents meet with acquisitions editors to pitch their most promising clients’ books.

After BEA, acquisitions editors will read the proposals pitched by agents and acquisitions boards will meet, weekly or bi-weekly, to decide on which books to publish. It’s one of the most busy periods in publishing. Yet, if they acquire a smaller number than their target—and publishers are picky—there may a window to get speedy attention.

Lisa, What’s Your Advice?

I usually advise aspiring authors to query literary agents first and let them handle working with a publisher. There are many advantages of working with literary agents, which I detail in the post linked in this sentence.

However, let’s say your platform is modest, perhaps enough to interest a niche publisher, but not big enough for a publisher that will pay a big advance. In that case, it may be hard to find a literary agent to represent you, even if your chances of attracting a publisher are decent, because the advance is likely too modest to justify the agent’s time.

In that case, I advise to do what community building, email list building and platform building you can, then query agents. If you get the feedback that your platform just doesn’t cut it, it could be time to query publishers directly. And any time a publisher is looking to finalize a list, there may be space on it.

How Do I Query Publishers Directly?

First, check their submissions guidelines on their website. Usually, publishers want to receive a query email first and, if they respond positively to that, you can send your book proposal—immediately! Have it ready to go and in perfect, polished shape!

However, some publishers, particularly academic publishers, will invite you to submit more information—sometimes even the whole proposal—up front. This is why it’s important to read each publisher’s submissions guidelines.

Should you change your book proposal to correlate exactly with the proposal section titles listed on the guidelines page? No, not necessarily. I encourage my authors to make sure they have all the sections required, but it doesn’t have to be in the order or with the headings the publisher uses. In addition, if some publishers don’t request a marketing or promotion plan, I still encourage authors to include one. It gives them an additional edge in the marketplace.

What’s the Timing?

In general, I would not worry too much about timing for your query. Let the publisher concern themselves with what time of year to launch your book. However, as mentioned, publishing usually does tend to slow down considerably for the summer. The email I received is a bit of an exception in that this acquisitions editor was looking for potential books to pitch in a meeting in early July.

literary agent Jeanne Fredericks and Lisa Tener
With Jeanne Fredericks in front of the Fairmont Hotel, Copley Square last year.

Just to be sure of my advice, I checked in with literary agent Jeanne Fredericks who said that she tends to get all her submissions out by early July (although you want to stay away from the July 4 weekend). While Jeanne has ocassionally sold some books in the summer, she has the advantage of being a literary agent and knowing acquisitions editors, so she can find out when an editor will be in the office and the likelihood of an upcoming pub board meeting.

“Even during July and August when so many of the senior executives are on vacation, making it difficult to get an approved offer, one may find acquisitions editors in the office with more time on their hands to read submissions, since there are fewer meetings cluttering up the day.” Jeanne points out that if your book proposal is read by an enthusiastic editor in August, things can move more quickly for your book once everyone returns to the office. So, the slow summer can work to your advantage, but only if the editor you write to is not also on vacation.

Generally, as an author and not a literary agent, I would not send a pitch to a publisher after late June or early July. Some agents also take the summer off and others are open to summer queries.

The first week of September publishers will be inundated with submissions, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad time. Jeanne Fredericks suggests you be aware of the dates of the Frankfurt Book Fair (October 11-15 2017) and the London Book Fair (April 10-12 2018) as those are times that important members of the editorial board will be away as well.

What to Work on This Summer

To play it safe, I often suggest a client either submit to agents in the spring or use the summer to further build their platform or strengthen their proposal in other ways:

  • Freshen your website. Add a new compelling free offer (often called a “lead magnet”).
  • Schedule speaking gigs for one to two years out (closer to a possible “pub date” or launch).
  • Do some guest posting for high traffic blogs in your niche.
  • Write—and pitch—some op-eds or articles.
  • Network. Follow your mentors and colleagues on social media and support what they are doing. Later, you can ask them for an endorsement or book blurb.
  • Get feedback from readers on your sample chapter.
  • Research additional agents or publishers. Publishers Marketplace is an excellent resources for this.
  • Write additional chapters. While there is some wisdom to getting feedback from agents and publishers on your sample chapters and chapter outlines before writing additional chapters, writing more than your sample chapters has its advantages:

1) You will have less pressure to complete your book in a short period of time.2) You can have more time to polish those chapters and get feedback from both readers in your target market, as well as a professional book editor.

3) You will shorten the time to complete your book, which also has multiple advantages.

So, if your book proposal is nearing completion, while I encourage you to enjoy the summer, do take some time to engage in some of the above activities that will make your submission as strong as possible. Then query agents (or publishers) in early September.


“Is This a Good Sign?” How to Interpret Responses from Literary Agents and Acquisitions Editors (Publishers)

book writing and publishing coach Lisa Tener
Your Book Writing and Publishing Coach

Once you send your book out to literary agents or acquisitions editors, you’ll receive responses from them. But how do you interpret what they say?

What Does Agent Rejection Really Mean? How to Rebound Quickly from a “No.”

Recently I sent a client book proposal to three literary agents and all three expressed some concerns about the author’s platform.

I’d already warned the author that we might get that response, even though he’d done some strong work on platform and had amassed a modest mailing list and twitter following, plus a strong story to tell when it came to speaking gigs and corporate training. Still, agents want to see larger and larger platforms nowadays.

I had a few ideas about expanding platform and rewording a few paragraphs before sending to more agents, but my client didn’t want to wait. I’d told him how publishing all but shuts down in the summer and he wanted to have a publisher by then.

“I just have a feeling that it’s important to strike quickly.”

No problem. I enjoy relationships with acquisitions editors at several niche publishing houses that were not only a strong fit; one was actually his “dream publisher”—the one he had imagined publishing with from day 1.

We queried acquisitions editors at two niche publishers and both requested the proposal. A colleague of my client’s who had been asked to write the foreword offered to send the proposal to his much larger publisher as well. Within a week two publishers wanted to speak to him and both expressed specific tweaks based on their particular audiences.

“What’s this mean? Is it a good sign?” my client asked when he saw the emails from the acquisitions editors. After all they were expressing some questions and possible changes. Were they fishing? Serious?

Acquisitions editors are busy.

Terrifically busy.

They won’t waste even a minute on an email if they aren’t fairly serious.

Interested Acquisitions Editors Want to Get to Know You

These acquisitions editors weren’t just serious but excited. They wanted to speak to the author to get a sense of him. They wanted to know if he’d “fit in” with their publishing house, their brand, their vibe, their “family.”

Both conversations lasted well over an hour. This month, both editors will propose the book to their acquisitions boards.

Sometimes, as an author, it’s hard to understand the signals you get from agents or publishers and what to make of them.

Interpreting Responses from Literary Agents and Acquisitions Editors (Publishers) Click To Tweet

Here are some tips to interpret their responses:

Agents were concerned about this author’s platform, so we went directly to my colleague at Praeger Publishing and the author got a book deal!

Rejection by an agent: Rejection by an agent does not necessarily mean a publisher won’t take interest. If you’ve done your homework on the agent, we can rule out that the book is totally inappropriate. However, it may be that your subject doesn’t excite them. They don’t have any personal stake in the topic.

An agent may also reject a book in a competitive arena because they don’t see how your book is different enough from others on the market to warrant a publishing deal. It’s your job to write a book proposal that makes the case for your book.

An agent’s rejection may also mean that the agent thinks the book is publishable, but not likely to generate a big enough advance and book sales to justify the amount of time they would need to put into selling it. 15% of a $3,000 advance or even  a $10,000 advance means $450 or $1,500 for the agent. For so many hours of work, it becomes a question of practicality.

How do you discover the sub-text behind a rejection by an agent? Ask. Sometimes agents won’t tell you, but many times they will. If your rejection was by email, which is usually how it works nowadays, you can email back, thanking them for their time and asking them for specific reasons for the rejection and any suggestions they have for improving the proposal.

Your Next Steps After Rejection by A Literary Agent Click To Tweet

This author had excellent credentials but a modest platform. While too modest for the agents we contacted, Yale University Press loved the concept and published both this book and another by this author.

When you get that feedback, take it seriously and see how you can improve the proposal or take a few important steps to address a seemingly inadeqate platform. My client decided to hustle and secure a handful of future speaking gigs to audiences over 1,000 people each. That added significant quantitative sizzle to his Author Platform and Promotions sections.

When it comes to the Promotion section of your book proposal, publishers want to see promotion based upon what you are already doing. Saying he had contacts at large churches was not the same as having scheduled sermons.

If you receive rejections by agents, but get the sense from them that platform is their biggest concern, like I did for my client, you can identify potential niche publishers to contact directly. With a strong niche, these publishers may already be reaching your ideal audience. So, they want to see some platform, but they are also comfortable with the synergy created when their platform meets yours. This is not so true with a more general publisher that does not necessarily reach a niche audience that your book may target.

Interpreting Acquisitions Editor Feedback Click To Tweet

This publisher (New Harbinger) wanted a commitment from the author to develop her social media platform and she made that commitment and signed a book deal!

A literary agent may know certain acquisitions editors intimately and be able to tweak a proposal depending on the editor they are sending to. Even agents, however, will often need to respond to specific concerns expressed by an editor.

The acquisitions editor who contacts you back with some concerns and questions is interested. They want to determine whether you are a good match for their house and also see whether any perceived weaknesses can be turned into strengths.

They may want more information about how your book fits in with the current market. Speaking with you can give them a sense of how well you understand that market.

Or they may have suggestions for you to focus on improving one particular area of your platform, such as social media, speaking or traditional PR.

An editor in a niche publishing house may want to make a few tweaks that work best for their niche market based on their extensive experience. Here’s one way in which a niche publisher can be especially helpful: They may know that by narrowing the scope of your title, you may actually improve sales potential (something the niche publisher mentioned about my client’s book); whereas, a bigger publisher may not even know that if they have published only a few books in this market versus the dozens or hundreds the niche publisher has published on your topic.

Getting Acquisitions Editors On Board

An acquisition editor’s goals in an intial phone call are:

  1. To determine how good a fit you are with their house and how easy you may be to work with.
  2. To address any perceived weaknesses or concerns enough to decide whether they want to publish your book.
  3. Should 1) and 2) be positive, to  work together with you to make the best case for your book at an upcoming acquisitions board meeting.

Consider the phone meeting (or sometimes it’s a meeting in person with a publisher) an opportunity to connect, show how flexible you are, demonstrate your willingness to address weaknesses or concerns–including doing some additional platform building or changes to the proposal before the meeting, and give them any ammunition they think they may need during the acquisitions board meeting.

There would not be a phone meeting unless this editor felt quite serious about your book. They don’t have time for idle chatter.

If they’ve already expressed some concerns in the email, come to the phone discussion with notes on how you plan to address the concerns. Feel free to bring a list of questions of your own. If you are working with a book coach, do some role playing. Ask your coach or agent to be on the call with you.

On the call, answer questions honestly. Misleading a publisher will come back to bit you in the end, no pun initially intended. Ask questions. Make sure you understand the editor’s reasoning for any changes and that you feel comfortable making those changes. Don’t agree to anything that makes your gut clench.

Remember, you are assessing fit as well. Do you feel you could work well with this acquisitions editor? Are they flexible? Do they want to hear your views or just push for their own? Can you imagine a long term relationship with this person? Michael Larsen talks about the editor-author relationship being like a marriage. This is your first date, with marriage in mind.

To Your Next Steps

Emailing and speaking with agents and publishers is an exciting step. Enjoy and good luck!

Do you have questions about your own experiences with literary agents and acquisitions editors or questions about the process of approaching them? Ask your questions as a comment and I will happily answer.


Taking Risks, Teaching and Writing in Thailand

Teaching and Writing in Thailand: Taking Risks

As I planned my time for teaching and writing in Thailand, I asked my inner muse for clarity about my trip to Thailand. “Don’t plan,” she advised. “Be in the moment. Let it unfold. See where you’re led.”

Though it challenged me, I listened to my muse.

I had a couple of ideas for where I wanted to visit on my days off from teaching, but I mostly let go of those ideas and set out on adventures that presented themselves day to day.

Discovering the Chao Phraya River and a New Teacher

Much of my adventure centered around an article I read in the Bangkok Post about Kundalini Yoga teacher Sunderta She Kaur and the Shaolin Staff Qigong class she would be offering at The Siam Hotel that week. I’d been praying for a qigong teacher/mentor and, though the idea of practicing with a staff didn’t particularly appeal to me, I decided to reach out, in case this was my answered prayer—though a teacher halfway across the globe seemed a bit extreme.

I scheduled a private session for the following day and,  at Sunderta’s urging, I took the “sky train”—think above ground “subway”—and met her at Saphan Taksin BTS Station pier on the Chao Phraya River.

I’d been intimidated by the river on my first trip to Bangkok, but my muse seemed to lead me there.

We took the Siam Hotel taxi boat up river, about a 45 minute ride taking us past old homes, dilapidated industrial spaces, skyscraper hotels and residences, elaborate and colorful Buddhist temples (my favorite), barges, taxi boats, long tail boats (for traveling the city’s canals)—such variety.
The journey seemed to tell a story of Bangkok—about its traditional-modern-artistic-anciently-rooted-spiritual culture.

The cool breeze on the river, as well as the covered boat, served as the perfect antidote to the otherwise steamy weather.
Our river trip was followed by a private lesson in Shaolin Staff Qigong, in an exquisite space on a circular marble dais, followed by Kundalini yoga breath work and then a gong sound meditation.

My teacher, Sunderta, teaching Shaolin Staff Qigong at The Siam

The staff techniques turned out to be especially appealing—Twisting Dragon, Carry the Moon, Lifting the Sky, Cleaning the Rice, Dancing Crane, Monkey Alert. Each move taught me about energy flow, conservation, efficiency.

It felt as if the staff imbued me with a sense of support, strength and power. It helped guide my movements and focus my energy.

Ginger tea in the Spa

Later, I spent a few minutes sipping ginger tea in a quiet spa room followed by a relaxing lunch by the river with Sunderta, learning more about her Manitoba roots and her yoga and qigong journey.

The professors at NIDA Business School asked great questions and also shared their book writing strategies with each other.

I reviewed the movements—sans staff—that night in my hotel room at the Radisson Hotel and again the morning before I taught a writing and publishing workshop at NIDA Business School.

Renewed and Refreshed

The qigong series helped me feel strong, focused, mentally prepared for the class, despite having traveled 30 hours door-to-door just two days prior—operating halfway around the world in an opposing time zone.

Until my workshop finished, I hardly wrote. I jotted down a few rough notes. That’s all. The productive “do-er” in me wanted more.

I let it be okay—both the not writing much and the judgment about it.

Flowing Like a River

Once class ended, the words began to flow and I captured the surprises and quirky details of my trip. But I didn’t “make” the next few days about writing, despite feeling tempted to do so.

I listened to my muse. I let it be about surrender and trust.

And that helped my writing flow.

I had thought that my writing in Thailand about this trip might complete the writing I began on my first trip, but it didn’t. The two bodies of work, if you can call it that, have their own themes, tone and voice.

I let that be okay, too.

The bookstore at Siam Paragon

Sometimes you just have to write and let the writing take you where it wants—up a river; under an awning at a temple during a raging thunderstorm; in Shivassana—corpse pose—listening to the whistles, caws and songs of the garden birds outside the opulent marble room; to about a dozen colorfully neon-lit banks (to wire my Thai baht payment to my bank); through the flooded streets of Sukhumvit; and to a warming shower.

Trying to control where the writing travels stops the flow. And so you follow the muse and wait.

I’m still waiting. I’m not sure how these trips will tie together in a book or whether they will at all.

And that’s okay. As long as I keep writing—in Thailand and when I return home.


Finding Your Writing Voice by Taking Risks on the Page

Finding Your Writing Voice: from Meek to Bold Click To Tweet

rhea discovering her writing voice
Rhea at Machu Picchu

At 72, Rhea Atwood found herself in her comfortable California apartment feeling her bed was “too soft.”

“I decided to listen to my bed and waited a few days for it to tell me what to do about it.”

Rhea spent the next four years following in the footsteps of the French Huguenots across the globe, visiting 17 countries and 5 continents, and surfing on a number of couches through couchsurfing.

Previously a cautious risk taker, Rhea became, in her own words, intrepid. At times she had no money and no place to stay. Can you imagine? And yet she persisted.

Rhea in Istanbul

Now, Rhea is writing a book about her experiences.

Although Rhea has written a walking guide and a book of historic photographs–Boston’s French Secrets and Upper Beacon Hill–her current project is her first foray into more narrative writing (the self-help memoir). With a change in genre comes the search to find her writing voice.

My advice? “Take risks on the page. In the same way you took risks by traveling alone at 72 through 76, not knowing where you’d stay or sometimes how you’d pay for it, you need to be adventurous on the page.”

How to Take Risks on the Page

  • writing journalExperiment with syntax: try super-short sentences or paragraphs in one chapter. Play with rhythm. Write a prose poem in one chapter. Or think jazz in Paris, African beats in Morocco.
  • Play with dialogue: try a whole chapter around dialogue.
  • Imagine: If you don’t remember how you felt or what you did, ask yourself, “What might I have felt?” You can always change it later, but this exercise can open the door to memory.
  • “Get Carnal” (Mary Karr‘s advice in The Art of Memoir): Keep asking yourself how something felt in your body, where in your body you felt it, how your body reacted to something, what you did with your body. These questions will help your readers experience the event along with you, as first hand.
  • Practice another point of view: The hotel concierge in Rome, the archivist in Transylvania, the stray dog in Nice.
  • Innovate around features: How about offering creative exercises, questions for reflection, sidebars, videos or cartoons?
  • Try on new forms: a prose poem in one chapter, a song in another.

These are experiments. Some–maybe many–of them will fail. Perhaps, miserably. Yet, in the experimenting, you will find your voice.


How Risky Should I Get?

I found myself in a related conversation just an hour later with another client, a therapist, who is about to speak with a publisher interested in his book. He admitted that he tried to retain a fairly neutral voice. After all, that’s his training.

writingHe wondered though:

  • What if he didn’t hold back so much?
  • What if he put himself out there?
  • Was he doing the right thing by meeting his readers where he assumed they are?
  • Or should he be bolder, more vulnerable, share his spiritual orientation?
  • Would he alienate his readers if he shared his religious and spiritual side?

Would the more prescriptive book have broader appeal? Or should he share his deeper thoughts and experiences?

We agreed he would pick one chapter and experiment. He could always change it back. But if he never tried, he’d never know.

He can explore this question again with his acquisitions editor, once he signs a contract, but just playing with a chapter and seeing what happens is the perfect place to start, to take a risk, to see writing as a true adventure.

My Turn, Your Turn: Take Risks Together

Me in Bangkok taken with the world’s worst phone camera (Samsung J3)

In less than 48 hours I begin my second trip to Bangkok to teach another writing workshop and do some writing of my own.

Last trip was an adventure in spontaneity and trust. The same intention I brought to my travels opened up my writing. I tried things I’d never tried before. Some of it didn’t work at all. Other parts, I’m kind of excited about.

So this trip, I’m tempted to return to the places I visited. To look with more trained eyes. To go deeper. So I can write in more detail.

But I’m letting go of that.

Aside from the day I teach at NIDA Business School, I’m going to play, be open to adventure and see what happens in my travels and my writing.

I’m bringing several writing projects but planning on working on none or all or some. I don’t know. I may just journal.

I’m enjoying the sense of freedom of allowing myself to not know, to be open to infinite possibilities, to wait and see what draws my eye, my ear, my pen.

How about you? Any risks you feel inspired to take? Any adventures that helped you find your writing voice? Please share your comments.

Writing Composites: Why Write Real First

Writing Composites: Is it Legal? Ethical? Dangerous?

Therapists, doctors and coaches often worry about including client cases in a book. Should they be writing composites?

  • What if the client recognizes herself?
  • What if the someone else recognizes the client?
  • Is this even legal?

They’re right to be concerned—legally, ethically and morally. And what might the effects be on someone who sees herself in a book? Or someone who recognizes someone he knows?

Option 1: The Waiver

You have several options to address these concern, however. If you have a great story and think the client may be amenable (and it’s not prohibited by a law like HIPAA) then you can ask outright for permission. Get this permission in writing.

Make sure the person understands they will not be paid for their story being shared. Publishers often have specific waivers for you to use but you can also get a waiver from an intellectual property attorney if you are self publishing.

Option 2: The Composite

Another option is to create composites: take a true situation and client; combine the facts with other cases. Change the gender, characteristics, personality, job and geography of the person. Meld it with another client case, perhaps.

Voila, a composite is born.

Here’s the kicker: If you turn a story into a composite too soon, you make squeeze out all the juice. It can end up sounding dull or even fake.

Earlier this morning, I spoke on the phone to an aspiring author who wants to write his memoir. We talked about changing some details of the people in the story and also, perhaps, leaving out some details that might make certain people look badly.

I advised him to write everything in while no one else is reading it. He can change details later, when sending the book to beta readers or an editor: “Just write the truth, without leaving things out, at first.”

Benefits of Writing Composites after Writing The Original Story Click To Tweet

writing journalThere are 5 benefits to this method:

  1. In the case of memoir, it can be healing to write your truth—uncensored.
  2. Once you start censoring, you inhibit the flow for the whole work. In a first draft of a memoir or story, the critic or editor should not be engaged. You want to write from your heart, again—uncensored.
  3. While revising and adding detail, you want to remember all the specific things—and sometimes that doesn’t all come in one draft. Keep in original names and details until you feel you’ve gotten the whole story down with all the details. Only then can you go back and create a composite, disguise identities or leave out some aspects that might hurt others or harm your relationship with them.
  4.  When you write the full truth and then take some piece out, there’s a way in which your writing is still energetically complete. I know this sounds woo-woo, but it’s something I’ve discovered over my years in editing and writing coaching.
  5. It’s easier to cut something than it is to add it in later.

My advice, then, is to write the original story in your early drafts that only you will see. After you’ve written the juiciest parts of the story, anecdote or case study:

a) Think about whether certain details stick out as revealing of the person. Change those details first.

b) Also, think about details of other people you know that might lend themselves to the story: an interesting way of walking, a certain mannerism or colorful speech pattern. Or an interesting career.

c) Also think about story details you can embellish. Perhaps another client has a similar story and you can mesh the two—or even three.

Questions about writing composites or writing in general? Ask away and I will do my best to answer.


The Thoughtful Mother’s Day Gift: 7 Unconventional Books That Moms Will Love

I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on—all the huddling, negotiating and pooling of change.

The training mom solved the mystery for me, “One of their classmates was having a bad day and they all decided to share their book fair change to buy her a book.”

Yes, my eyes teared up. These kids knew something. A good book can change a mood, change a mind, bring light where there’s darkness. A great book can change a life forever.

So, while you’re considering a bouquet of lovely flowers that may meet the compost pile a week later, consider the gift of a book that can be read and re-read, enjoyed and shared. Here are some new and old—mostly brand new, quirky books you won’t find just anywhere.

I’ve asked my publishing friends for some unique picks to share with you today:

Let’s start with inspiration.

1. Jean E. Thomson Black from Yale University Press recommends Thoreau’s Animalsby Henry David Thoreau, a new book of excerpts from Thoreau’s journal, edited by Geoff Wisner and illustrated by Debby Cotter Kaspari.

Whether your nature-loving mom is a long time fan of the naturalist’s writings or is new to his work, she’s sure to love these moving excerpts and beautiful drawings and watercolors. Some of the illustrations appear as studies, which give the book a personal feel.

2. Michael Deneen, also at Yale, recommends The Mystery of Sleep: What a Good Night’s Rest is Vital to a Better, Healthier Life by Meir Kryger, M.D.

I picture a young mom, little ones keeping her on her toes all day, trying to squeeze in some work at night. Men, this is the book for your sleep-deprived wife. This book will provide her both the incentive to take better care of herself and the steps to get that much needed shut-eye. Bonus? Fewer mommy-meltdowns. Good for everyone.

Is mom in her menopause years? The mystery of sleep has something for her as well.

3. Book publicist Rusty Shelton recommends Bless Your Little Cotton Socks by our mutual client, Diane Radford, MD. This hilarious and heartwarming collection of stories about Diane’s Scottish mother and her quirky sayings is sure to give mom a lot to laugh about.

If she’s an armchair traveler or of Scottish ancestry, it’s another plus!

For the career mom, here are two choices to make her job easier:

4. Does mom manage a team of multicultural millenials? Book awards expert Melissa Sones recommends Feedback First: Boosting Organisational Performance through CLEAR+CALM Communication, by Huibert Evekink and Steven Becker, which just won two Stevie Awards through the American Business Awards: Gold Stevie Award for Best Business Ebook and the Bronze for Best Business Book 2017!

5. And if mom’s open to a bit of personal growth, Julie Silver, MD, Founding Director of Harvard Medical School’s CME Publishing Course suggests Organize Your Emotions, Optimize Your Life: Decode Your Emotional DNA-and Thrive by Margaret Moore, Edward Phillips and John Hanc.

A plus with this book is the benefit to you and the rest of the family when mom implements what she learns. She may recommend the book to her adult children as well! Fair is fair, after all.

6. How many moms struggle with parenting challenges like helping their children overcome anxieties and fears? In literary agent Regina Brooks’ recent newsletter, she suggested Calming Your Anxious Child: Words to Say and Things to Do by Dr. Kathleen Trainor. Dr. Trainor’s advice helped my younger son get over his fears and become an enthusiastic swimmer! Her program is simple and effective. If you are looking for a gift for any mom of young children through teens, this book may be a balm to her and her children.

7. I had to add this last one, because this book—and the author—are fast becoming a go-to, highly quoted resource for educators, parents, doctors and therapists concerned about the effects of screen time on children’s brain and health—and how to mitigate those effects.

If you are looking for a gift for a mom whose kids like their screen-time (a little too much), she likely spends a good deal of her time feeling powerless and ineffective against the pull of devices in her home. Maybe she even finds herself fighting with her kids over screen use. Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time could be a gamechanger. Literally.

BONUS BOOK: I promised unconventional, but when Rusty Shelton mentioned this staple brand, I knew it had to join the list for the mom with little time for reading, and a thirst for inspiration she can enjoy in five to ten minute bursts.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever! will pull at mom’s heart strings without keeping her up till three in the morning with suspense and cliffhanger chapter endings. If she has to wait in the doctor’s office or carpool line, what better company than her old friend “Chicken Soup”?

Have a book to recommend for Mother’s Day? Please do share your top picks and why you recommend them.

Writing, Publishing and Platform-Building Tips from #Harvardwriters2017

writers at the harvard medical publishing course
Dr. James Zender; Alan Rozanski, MD; Lisa Tener, MS; Candyce Ossefort-Russell, LPC-S
It’s a high moment.
We sit around the oak table in the Oak Room in Boston’s Fairmont Hotel, Copley Square. Harvard Medical School’s CME writing and publishing course has just ended and the air seems charged with enthusiasm and insights.
I am with three clients—Dr. James Zender, expert in auto accident recovery; and two participants in my Bring Your Book to Life® Program, grief expert Candyce Ossefort-Russell and Alan Rozanski, MD, pioneer of Behavioral Cardiology and author of over 200 academic articles and research studies.
We share the takeaways, the shifts, the new ideas.
We brainstorm on the structure of Alan’s book. Alan could write a dozen books and still have more research to share. His challenge? To pare it down to the one theme of this book, yet give readers all the tools they need to implement—and stick with—the health strategies he offers.
James shares the new platform-building initiatives he is planning after speaking with an interested agent.
With Candyce Ossefort-Russell at Harvard Medical school publishing course

Candyce shares how she’d been working on her book on and off for five years until the aha moment swimming at the Y when she realized that if she died that day her only regret would be not having written and published her grief book.

If you missed the course, I hope to share a few insights during the next few days. Today, Candyce, Alan and James offer their takeaways:
Alan Rozanski, MD found himself inspired, “to be among a sea of like-minded individuals in  the health field.”  Alan returns home clearer on “the need to build a platform and develop a strategy for developing a social media presence.” He now plans to develop both a website and blog. His takeaways:
  •  “It’s important to put yourself in a situation where you need to pitch your book. It helps you refine the idea.”
  • “I learned from Rusty Shelton that a website needs to gives visitors a clear action step. I’m now working on a short ebook that helps readers assess and improve their current vitality.”
  • “I realized how important it is to connect with people in the book industry in order to develop an action plan for success. In addition to my book coach, Lisa Tener, there were agents, publishers, a publicist and many types of editors. Just from my 70 second pitch, an agent requested to see my proposal when it’s done.”
Candyce Ossefort-Russell shared this:
  • “I learned from Dr. Julie Silver that I need to be able to describe my book in one sentence. This challenge forced me to become extremely clear in my own mind about what I’m writing about, which makes my book writing more focused; and having this powerful sentence makes it much easier to share with anyone what my book is about.”
  • “Rusty Shelton made it clear that social media is not just about numbers. It can be used to build relationships with people I find interesting. Kristin Meekhof expanded on this idea by saying she used gentleness and gratitude to build her online relationships. The idea of building relationships with gentleness and gratitude makes the whole prospect of building my platform a positive challenge instead of a necessary evil.”
  • Kindra Hall presented a novel way to think about anecdotes. The typical writing advice is to show instead of tell. By giving us the storytelling basic formula of Normal ->Explosion -> New Normal made the idea of showing come alive in a new way.”
Dr. James Zender’s favorite tips:
  • “Our brains are wired to connect to stories so the best lectures and writing utilize that structure. Easy to say and easy to forget, but critical to drawing in readers.”
  • “With the extreme highs and lows one can experience writing a book and book proposal, having a book coach can be a better mood stabilizer than Lexapro!”
I first met Dr. Zender at the conference two years ago. In addition to working together on his book proposal, he has been working assidously on his platform as an author. He developed a new website for auto accident survivors and other audiences, became a blogger for Psychology Today (publishing 18 posts, half  of which were featured as “essential reads”), developed a lecture series, keynoted at a conference and spoke at several others, applied to speak at several other national and international conferences, and was interviewed for a series of podcasts by McGraw Hill’s Professional Insights Blog.
If you attended the course for the first time this year, let Dr. Zender be an inspiration to you. List your planned activities for the year. Prioritize them. Implement them. Check them off. From building a website to blogging to writing a book proposal, you can do it!
But you can’t do it all at once. Make a plan that’s do-able. Figure out what you’ll give up to make the time for this. Schedule specific times to work on your book, proposal and platform, each individually.
Course attendees: Share your takeaways and aha moments!

Editing Tips: 7 Smart Ways to Tighten Your Writing

“Tighten Your Writing.”

book writing coach Lisa Tener
Your book writing coach Lisa Tener

Thanks to the participants in my Bring Your Book to Life® Program and writers who sent in samples for the writing workshop I’ll be facilitating at Harvard Medical School’s CME publishing course this week, we have lots of inspiration for today’s blog post.

Many times, writers aren’t quite sure where to start when editing a manuscript. “Tighten your writing” is one of my favorite starting points.

Pretty much every manuscript or writing sample I edited this week needed some form of tightening.

So many words. So little time to read them. Such is the lament of the modern reader. We want to be sensitive to our readers’ needs and time.

In addition, tight writing is more enjoyable, clearer, cleaner. Extra words make it boring.

Not only will this post teach you ways to tighten your writing, there’s a contest at the end where everyone wins a prize!

Have You Been Advised to Tighten Your Writing?

Blessed is the tight writer.

First drafts often prove messy, full of extraneous words and convoluted ways of saying things.

And that’s as it should be. First time around, you want to get it out on paper. Fine tuning and polishing should not come into play.

If you focus on editing and critique while writing a first draft, you can actually interfere with the flow. When it’s time to polish, however, tight writing can be one of your most crucial skills.

How do you develop this ability?

Same way you get to Carnegie Hall.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Of course, you’ll need a few tried and true tips.

7 Smart Ways to Tighten Your Writing

Read Aloud for the first 2

  1. Read aloud. Is there anything that sounds Does anything sound convoluted? Can you simplify it?
  2. Read aloud again. When anything sounds wordy or long, highlight it. Then go back and see if there is a briefer way to say the same thing.

Next, Cut the Obvious

3. Here are some words and phrases that are usually extraneous and can easily be cut 90% of the time they show up in a first draft: started to, began to, so, very, really, that, Well (at the beginning of a sentence). Can you think of others?

4. In dialogue, dump the “he said; she said” when it’s obvious who’s talking. Boring. Repetitious. Unnecessary. Just give us the dialogue, unless it’s unclear or readers need a reminder because it’s been a while. Better yet, give us an action by the speaker and you don’t have to write, “he said.” Plus, an action will break up the dialogue and paint more of a visual picture.

5. Practice on LinkedIn connection requests. Seriously? Yes. You have 300 characters to let a prospective connection know why you want to connect. If you know each other that’s easy, but if you don’t, and have a specific reason to want to connect, you may need to wordsmith to get it down to 300 characters. Here’s my final note to acquisitions editors for business textbooks at US publishing houses:

6. Graduate to Twitter: Got it down to 300 characters? Now try 140. Be patient. It usually takes more time to distill your message than it did to write a first draft.

7. Ask, “Does the reader need to know this? Does it add value by making the writing come to life, filling in important details, or adding clarity? Or was is it unnecessary? Does it fit and flow?” In a first draft, we may put in details or actions that don’t really add much value. When editing, use a more critical eye. Read the page with and without a particular detail, sentence or paragraph in question. Which works best?

BONUS! Win a Prize (and Everyone Wins)

Have any tightening tips? Share yours below.

BONUS: Notice any places I can tighten up this post? Comment with your suggestion. The top 3 suggestions win a book. Others will win a beautiful bookmark painted by my lovely niece. Yes, everyone wins a prize today!

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