Wednesday, November 20, 2013

5 Tips For Creating an Interesting "Merry Christmas" Letter This Holiday: Get Started Now!

The annual task of writing a letter to accompany your Christmas card can seem to be a chore, rather than a joy.
Do you struggle each year to find a creative and easy to read way to share our family news from the previous year with distant friends and family?
Instead of putting off your letter writing this holiday, here's our 5 tips to making your Christmas letter easier to write and more fun for your readers:-
  1. Introduction - write an upbeat, but short, introduction, no more than two lines. An example might be "It's been an exciting year, if unpredictable year, for the Carter family this year. I can't say we've loved every moment of it, but it's certainly been an adventure!"
  2. Include Photos and/or Clipart - if you have a photo taken during the year, include this, preferably printed in color. If not, add some simple holiday clip art to liven up the text. You probably don't need to buy the special Christmas letter paper available in some store. It's possible to create your own with software such as Microsoft Word, using the page border tool (Format/Borders and Shading/Page Border/Art) to create imaginative and festive borders.
  3. Include Family News - Add one or two sentences from each member of the family - one of a fun thing that they've done this year and the other of their best achievement. This is a great way of involving your children and can be a simple and helpful introduction for them to the art of letter writing. For younger members of the family, don't forget to add their news too.
  4. Use Your Own Samples from friends and family creatively - do you keep the newsletters that others send you from the previous year? If so, dig them out and have a quick read through and see what you enjoy, what catches your eye and use some of those ideas for your own writing. Find something that is in the style that you enjoy writing in and it can help you find your own "voice" with your letter reflecting your own personality and style.
  5. Keep it brief - anything over 500 words isn't a letter, it's an essay! With dozens of letters and cards coming through the mail at this busy time, folk simply don't have time to read lengthy letters. Make yours brief and succinct - even use bullet points or very short paragraphs, maximum 5 lines each. Everyone's going to appreciate your thoughtfulness in keeping it short!

One of the easiest ways of simplifying things further is to send a traditional Christmas poem or reading, with one or two lines of news for each family member - perfect if you're short of time and running short on holiday patience too.
Hope you enjoy writing and mailing your letters at Christmas this year!
For further tips & ideas, check out our sample Christmas letter.
This article was submitted by Jen Carter, creator of the Printable Letters from Santa Claus website.
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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Story Ideas From the 4 Seasons

I wrote the following in my writing journal in late winter:

"A bird sang outside my window this morning. It was startling, but quite welcome, considering that we have just come out of two weeks of double-digit sub-zero temperatures and more snow than normal. It's an unmistakable sign that spring is not too far off."

Hopefully you've noticed that, as spring approaches, there's a different aroma in the air. And in a sixth sense sort of way, there's anticipation in the air, as well. The landscape is changing from snowy white to soggy brown and in places yellow-green as the snow mountains that decorate parking lots and roads begin to melt. Such details are the stuff of good fiction. They can inspire theme, setting, characters or a possible story situation.

So regardless of what season you are in, it's important for you as a writer to make note of the details and nuances of that time of year. Observe your responses to weather or weather-related incidents/activities, as well as the reactions and behavior of people around you.

Why is this necessary? Well, if you don't do this and you're, say, in Tahiti trying to write about winter in Vermont (and I would be so jealous if you were!) I guarantee you'll have difficulty making your readers shiver with cold and feel snowflakes kissing their cheeks unless you have previously recorded impressions from winter -- that or you have an eidetic memory. If I had not written about that late winter experience and the context of the incident, I might not remember the impact that bird's song had on me. And I would have missed a great slice of life to use in a short story or a novel.

The key is to catalog the input that your five senses (and even your sixth sense) take in, WHILE YOU'RE IN THE MOMENT.

So when in Tahiti, while taking a break from writing about building a snowman, making snow angels and skiing in Vermont, be sure to record the sights and sounds unique to where you are:
  • the feel of tropical breezes caressing your skin
  • the smell of the sea
  • the pounding surf
  • the shushing of palm branches
  • the thud of coconuts falling
  • the water lapping at the stilts of your hut hotel
  • insects in your hut
  • the tastes of unusual cuisine
  • island traditions
  • exotic-looking men and women
  • unique entertainment
  • local legends

And so that you can write about winter wherever you are, regardless of the season, make note of activities like this and many more:
  • quintessential snow days where children are sledding and delighted to be out of school
  • a glorious day for skiing
  • digging out after a blizzard
  • navigating country roads (or freeways) in treacherous, drifting snow
  • the race to batten down the hatches when high winds are about to pummel your home
  • the sound of the wind: does it whistle or moan?
  • when you came inside, what did you smell? Hot chocolate to warm you? Chicken soup to soothe you? Do those smells take you back to another time and place?

Make similar lists for spring and summer, as well.

Be Prepared
I recommend having a notepad always handy for those moments when you're away from your writing area, like when you come inside from shoveling snow and you feel your cheeks begin to thaw and your eyeglasses fog up.
Don't neglect everyday situations unique to the season. (e.g. - chopping wood, loading up the wood stove, shoveling the sidewalk, thawing snow/ice for barn or field animals to drink, etc.) If something happens only at a particular time of year, or as a direct result of a weather-related occurrence, WRITE IT DOWN!

What Journal Will You Use?
Now let's talk about an actual "journal" to use for documenting your observations, reactions and feelings. What you decide on should fit with your personality and personal preferences.
Some choices:
  1. fancy leather journal
  2. simple cloth-bound or paper-back journal
  3. spiral notebook
  4. computer spreadsheet program
  5. word processing document file

The advantage to a digital journal is that it's searchable and sortable. With a physical journal, however, you'll need to set up your system of how to organize the information.
You might begin a naturalist's journal, commenting on temperature, humidity, other weather phenomena, and your observations of flora and fauna.

For example, you might comment on the antics of a pair of squirrels chasing one another from tree to tree, across the telephone cable, up the side of a house, scrambling across the roof, etc. Perhaps you discovered crocuses poking their heads through the snow in your garden.

A multi-subject notebook with tabs would lend itself well to this naturalist's journal. Create a label for each season or for certain months. Some of these notebooks have pockets in the divider pages where you could store photos from each season, pressed leaves, bird feathers, etc.

Of course you need not be limited to observations about weather. Here are some suggestions:
  • Capture the sights, sounds, smells, feel and tastes of any given day, so that you can recall what it was like.
  • Take photos as a way to jog your memory.
  • Record sounds if possible, such as the delighted squeals of children sledding, the crunch-crunch of people digging out their cars after snow and ice storms, the music of the calliope or merry-go-round at a carnival, the desperately pathetic cries of the mothers of calves who have been weaned and removed to another location.
  • Pay attention to your reaction to aromas -- good or bad: e.g.- skunk, cotton candy, chlorine at the pool, wood smoke, a backyard barbecue, etc.

What can you do with this seasonal information?

Here are 14 story starter ideas, given in the form of questions relating to the four seasons. Take your characters through a weather transition, possibly even using the seasons as a metaphor or to support your underlying theme. (Savvy non-fiction writers can draw inspiration here, too.)

- If Spring is delayed, is there a sudden crime wave because people have "cabin fever," or is there something else going on, some other influence? Why is Spring delayed? Is it a natural phenomenon? This could be science fiction, mystery, thriller or horror.
- Premature Spring gives everyone a bad case of Spring Fever, including the teachers. What madcap situations can you envision?
- Spring sports, including injuries, might be a topic to explore with your characters, at least as a sub-plot -- particularly if you write for teens.

- Heat wave sends tempers flaring in the city and crime takes a sudden frightening trend upward.
- Drought plagues an area for the third year in a row, leading to famine. What desperate measures do people take to secure water and food?
- Examine summer vacation from a unique perspective -- the family pets, the air conditioner unit, the house when it's unoccupied with the family traveling, etc.
- July 4th celebrations in the U.S.are a big deal in most communities. What might turn an ordinary event into a disaster? A miracle? A phenomenon?

- Follow the stages of fall as it progresses from crisp, bright days full of color, to soggy, cold nights, to leafless, bleak, almost-winter landscapes, using the evolution of the season to characterize your protagonist's life.
- Fall is a time of more beginnings than the first of the year. School, college, a first job and fall sports are just a few. Create your own list and place your characters in that scenario.

- Unusually warm weather followed by extreme cold wreaks havoc on orchards and the commerce of a community. Who might be affected? What's the long-term impact. Short term? Consider what characters have the most at stake in the situation. One should be a protagonist and another the antagonist.
- Limited snowfall for the past few years has nearly devastated the local ski industry. Now the snow is back. What changes take place at individual resorts? Did an owner recently sell out for a song to a competitor, only to regret his decision? Does he try to get back his business?
- An adopted child from a warm climate experiences snow for the first time. This might make a kid book story spark, or perhaps a scene in adult fiction.
- Holiday gatherings (are there ever too many family gathering stories with all their attendant interactions, conflicts and resolutions?
- What if you want to write about someone on the run in depths of Winter? What physical trials will s/he endure?
Whatever kind of journal you use, not only will it become a primary source of writing inspiration, but it should, with some time perspective, yield insight into your life. And that can only help your writing.

In addition to this technique for finding story ideas, I invite you to visit The Story Ideas Virtuoso blog, where you will find many different ways and places to find those often elusive story ideas at Lessons Hurricane Ike Taught Me
And I invite you to download, with my compliments, two excerpts from "Story Ideas - The Calendar of Our Lives" on using the seasons, weather, holidays and life events related to the calendar as story inspiration at: The Calendar of Our Lives Excerpts
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Friday, November 1, 2013

How to Create a Best Selling Title for Your EBook

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Outline the Benefits of Your eBook

Readers want to know "What's in it for me?" If your reader doesn't see any benefit to read on, then they won't continue. Therefore your headline should put forth your strongest benefit. Such as "Make Money Online" or "Get Healthy in 3 months."

Be Believable

Treat people with respect in that they are not stupid! If it sounds "too good to be true" then it will likely be ignored.

Tell the Reader What the eBook is About

Provide an overview in a few words regarding "What your eBook" is about.

Curiosity Factor

Provide words of interest such as secret to, profit, how to, etc.

First Three Words

The first three words should contain your main keywords (e.g. eBook Marketing Online.) This is not only beneficial for the search engines to target in on, but also to provide the reader with the topic of your content.

Create a Match Between the Message and Your Targeted Readers.

These days, people are "time poor." As a result, it has been shown that it only takes a few seconds for a reader to scan most headlines and decide whether to stop and read or to move on.


Be Specific, as People Are Attracted to "Specificity."

For example; people who are searching "how to make money on the internet" will be attracted to a headline such as "How I Earn $1,000 While I Sleep."

Keep it Short and to the Point!

A short and well written headline will attract attention. Where as a long-winded headline will likely lose the reader, not to mention being cut off due to word limits by some media outlets and search engines.

Don't Confuse or Distract the Reader.

Keep your title and message simple. If your title is too confusing or "creative" then they won't be able to relate to it.

Avoid "Dead words" that search engines hate.

Tips for creating a title for a Fiction eBook:
Generate interest, excitement, passion, capture their attention and touch on the emotion that you desire with the reader.
  • Evoke emotion such as excitement or curiosity that will lead to action.
  • For a love story, write a title that pulls on the heart strings, so to speak.
  • For a thriller, create excitement and intrigue with the headline.
  • General eBook Title Tips:
  • Choosing the "Right Title Length" for Your eBook Title is Essential for Success!
  • Short Titles
  • Need a powerful subtitle to explain what the eBook is about. Generally when I say short I mean between 1-3 words max.
  • Long Titles
  • This is where everything about your eBook content is used in the title.
  • Shock Titles
This is where those tabloid magazines, newspapers, online news sites and trashy TV shows excel. I know I have been tempted by curiosity and clicked on these links or picked up that magazine to see what they are talking about.
Example: "How My Husband Got Pregnant" - now that raises curiosity and has shock value!
The Use of Common Sayings in a Title With a Twist
This is where you use a well know quote or saying and then add your own little twist on it by changing a word to depict what your eBook is about.
Example: "Show Me the Money" from the Tom Cruise movie becomes "Show Me the Honey" (from a book that writes about bee hives and bee keeping)

As you can see, there are many ways to create a great title for your eBook. If you fail to create an attention grabbing title for your eBook then you will also be likely to also fail in getting people to buy your eBook.

If you could think of the most rewarding and amazing success story for your eBook what would it be? Would it be selling 20,000 copies? Would it be seeing your eBook on a bestseller list? How about a new career as a professional writer? Maybe it will be just hearing the personal stories from one your readers about how your eBook has enriched or changed their life? Whatever it may be, our eBook Author Academy will provide you with all the tools, tips and resources to help you achieve your dream! Visit which has been helping writers become successfully published authors since 2004.
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