Summary: I went on a mini-writing retreat with a goal of writing X amount of words, but instead realized what I really needed was a mental health break.
How It Began
I recently took a mini solo vacation up the coast to Malahide. It’s stunning, but I’m very biased when it comes to the coast of Ireland. I find the beach is my happy place, beautiful, quaint, and relaxing.
My vision was to spend one day relaxing, walking the beach, visiting the small shops, and watching some trashy TV. Then, I would spend the following two days writing as many words as possible.
Monday, I got off to a late start. Usually, I like to leave as soon as the kids are off to school. This time around I had a few volunteer commitments in the morning. By the time I headed out, it was almost 1 PM. And when I finally settled in my hotel room, it was nearly 3 PM. I still needed to go to the shops for food and snacks.
After the long morning and traveling, a slight headache began building in my temples. I drank water, ate some dinner, and took a short nap, hoping that would solve things. Silly me, those things never work; minor headaches always become migraines. Long story short, I spend the next 24 hours with a full-on migraine.
Finally, at 12 on Tuesday, I managed to get out of bed and out of the hotel. I needed a good coffee and food in my belly. I strolled along the bay with my purchases enjoying the fresh salty sea air.
Time to Write
Now I was ready to write. I headed back to the hotel, set up my writing station, and…. nothing. I had nothing. So many ideas in my head but no idea where to start. Luckily, I brought a book, Master Lists for Writers, by Bryn Donovan. Let me do some character profiles, I’ve never done that before, and it sounded fun to randomly jot down personality traits for each character.
Once that was finished, it was time to start writing, but first…. several distractions. Now that I’ve procrastinated as long as possible let’s jump in. I wrote four paragraphs and then stared out the window. My motivation was low, and my concentration was all over the place.
Then, I had an epiphany. The last few months have been stressful and hectic, more so than usual. I realized at that moment the reason I couldn’t concentrate or focus was because I was physically and mentally exhausted. I needed to give myself a break, a full-on break from everything. No writing, no marketing, no drafting, no nothing. I needed to take a moment for myself, refocus, and re-energize.
The Lesson: Give Yourself a Break
The lesson here is that I often push myself so hard, especially when it comes to self-publishing. It’s a full-time job. It’s a struggle for many indie authors especially those who already have full-time jobs. Whether it’s working for a company or being a stay-at-home- parent, these are both full-time commitments. We all need to know it’s okay to take a break every now and again. We need it. We need a chance to replenish and relax; otherwise, we end up burnt out, unmotivated, depressed and lashing out at everyone.
My horrible headache fiasco turned out to be my saving grace. I was stopped in my tracks; all the plans I had so carefully crafted in my mind were tossed out the window. My brain needed a minute. I have no deadlines, no one to answer to but myself. In the end, I choose me. I turned a writing retreat into a mental health retreat.
Instead of cranking out thousands of words, I watched Netflix. Instead of crafting perfect pairings and plot lines, I leisurely shopped. Instead of stressful marketing, I dined solo.
Now, I’m back home. My kids missed me and smothered me in hugs and kisses. My husband missed me and was grateful to give back the homemaker role. I feel ready to jump back into writing, refreshed and renewed.
How It Ended
Even with a few mishaps along the way, my Mom break turned out to be a fantastic adventure and a very relaxing time. I’m grateful for the opportunity to take these much-needed breaks. I’m thankful to my supportive husband, who encourages these breaks. I’m thankful to my amazing kids for helping dad out and understanding how important these breaks are for me.
I have a weekend full of visitors and adventures, but I’m ready to start fresh next week with writing. I still have a goal of 80K words in 30-days, and I’m confident I’m in the right headspace to reach that goal.
Short Version: If you want to be a writer, you need to write. Finding the time to write can be difficult, but if you start small, setting simple goals, you can develop the habit of writing every day.
As I begin to prep for NaNoWriMo (1), I’ve been thinking about how I can successfully carve out time for writing every day. This got me thinking. In the past, I’ve wasted a lot of time feeling I never had time to write. And so…I didn’t. I hear this a lot from other aspiring authors, they want to write, but they have no time. If you dream of writing, you have to make the time and develop writing habits.
I have four kids and am a stay-at-home mom. The primary caretaking of both the kids and house falls on me. Though the days are busy, I’ve always found time to do various projects, including building a house (no literally building a house from the foundation up). These projects benefited the family as a whole but rarely included writing.
The truth is, it’s not that I never had time; it’s that I never made time to write. I didn’t make myself or my writing a priority. To me, writing was a hobby, something selfish I wanted to do benefiting only me. Therefore, I allowed my kids, husband, and household to become the only priority, feeling I didn’t deserve time for a silly hobby.
You Deserve To Follow Your Dreams
Maybe someone needs to hear this; I know I needed it to kickstart my writing habit. I deserve to do something for myself. You deserve a chance to follow your dreams too. Your goals are just as important as your spouse getting a promotion, your son making the football team, or your daughter getting the lead in the school musical. Everyone deserves a shot at their dreams.
I take good care of my kids, I’m a supportive wife, and I work hard to keep everyone happy and healthy. But, I also deserve to be happy. It’s not selfish to take time out for yourself. An hour a day to work on your goals and dreams should be expected, not a reward you get once everyone else’s needs are met.
I always felt guilty for taking time away from the family to write. I often felt like Cinderella; if I finished all these chores, maybe I could go to the ball (write).
I take full responsibility for these thoughts and feelings. No one was telling me no; well, maybe society norms had a negative influence, but my husband and kids weren’t telling me no.
Now, my kids are all in school, and I take the entire morning to write. Somedays, I take a whole day to write, market, and build my author profile. I no longer feel guilty (well, sometimes a little, I’m still human). However, I don’t feel I have to beg and plead for time (even though this thought process was all in my head); I take time and own it because I’m more than just a wife, mom, and caretaker. I’m a writer.
If you want to write, you have to write. There is no way around this fact. The first step is to create habits to get you writing every day. The first step is to figure out what you want to do with your writing. Become a published author? Become a blogger? Write for fun with no intention of sharing? These are all great goals. Again, you have to write, not dream about writing, not think about writing, not plot out stories in your head. Sit down, pick up a pen or use the computer, and write.
Set Daily Goals
A great place to start is by setting a daily goal. Write something, anything, besides a shopping or chore list; those don’t count. Write about your plans for the day, an event you hope to attend, or describe a chore in full detail. It doesn’t matter what you write, especially if you are starting; the goal is to create a habit of writing every day.
Daily Word Count
Set a daily word count goal. Start small, adding more words as you gain confidence. Many successful authors say aim for 500 words a day. It may not be plausible to hit that goal right away. Start small, 50 words a day, then 100, then 150, and so on until you get to 500. If you can manage more than 500 words a day, go for it.
Carve Out Time to Write
Again, start small; try committing 10-20 minutes to write each day. It may take a few days or weeks to carve out extra time. Make writing a priority. Tweak your schedule to create more time to write. Perhaps, getting up 30 mins earlier or staying up later. There should always be time for the essential things in life. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day dedicated to writing.
Take Back Your Time
As I mentioned before, I have four kids and a husband, a dog, and two cats. My home is in constant chaos. Meals, dishes, laundry, packing lunches, school drop-off and pick-up, shopping, walks, gardening, cleaning, homework, snuggles, and the list goes on and on. The neat freak in me struggled with the messy part for a long time. I had to force myself to stop caring.
This past year, my youngest started school, and I took back my mornings. No longer was I doing laundry, cleaning, dishes, dinner prep, or random household projects. No! As soon as I drop off the kids, the mornings are mine. I hole up in my office, and I do writing things for three glorious hours.
I’m lucky; I have the luxury of extra time. I don’t have a job, I’m not a single parent, I’m not a student, and I have time to take for myself. However, it has taken me over 10 years to get to this point.
If you work full-time or don’t have extra help, it will be challenging to make time to write. It’s not impossible, though. It means you have to be pickier when it comes to your time. You may not be able to write every day; maybe you pick two days a week to write for 30 mins. Some time is better than no time.
Write Anywhere and Everywhere
Perhaps no matter what, you don’t have an extra 15 minutes to commit solely to writing. Focus on the daily word count instead. Can you manage to write 500 words over the course of a day? 100 Words? 50 words? Make it a habit to write whenever and wherever you can. Don’t worry if it takes an entire day to reach your daily word goal. It’s crossing the finish line that matters, not how long it takes.
Places I’ve Written
Commute: I use a lot of public transportation. I have written on the bus, the train, the LUAS, and even in a car while on road trips. Of course, if you are driving, don’t write; bad idea. Writing in the park
Park: I take my kids to the playground a lot. On nice days, we spend countless hours at the park.I have written many blogs, jotted down story ideas, developed plot outlines, and written a few chapters between playing with the kids, watching them do tricks, and dishing out snacks.
Beach: I’ve set myself on a blanket and written while the kids and my husband played in the water or sand. Of course, I took time to look for shells and help create sandcastles.
Hotel Rooms: Vacations with my family include playgrounds, walks, and a lot of downtime. While the kids unwind with a show, my husbandand I write. He mainly blogs about the trips while I write whatever happens to be in my head. Writing in an Air BnB in Malaga, Spain
Planes: I’m not a fan of flying, so it’s helpful if I can pull out my phone and get lost in a draft to distract myself during take-off. Writing also helps fill the time until I’m safely back on solid ground again.
Anywhere: I’m not the person always writing, but if an idea or scene pops in my head, it doesn’t matter where I am; I’ll open the Word app and start typing.
Tools I Use On
Phone: I used to carry around a small notebook and pen to jot down notes; that is when I remembered to grab them. I downloaded the MS Office app to my phone, and it has been a game-changer. I almost always have my phone, so no excuses. Not to mention, all my documents automatically sync to my OneDrive, allowing me to move between my phone and computer seamlessly.
Arteck BlueTooth Keyboard: I’m horrible at texting; I’m a one-finger typist on my phone. My husband bought me a Bluetooth keyboard, and it’s fantastic. It folds up and can be taken anywhere. Unfolded, it can be used as a standard keyboard.
Phone Stand: I have a very cheap phone stand I picked up at our version of the dollar store. It’s a simple, two-piece wooden stand that folds down flat, and I can use it anywhere.
You deserve to follow dreams. If your dream is to be a writer, the only thing standing in your way is you. Time can seem like a distant dream; however, if you want something bad enough, you have to take the time to grab it.
Writing 100-200 words a day is an attainable goal. Make small goals in order to build a writing habit.
Carve out time each day, whether it’s 10 mins, 20 mins, or an hour.
Share your goals with family members. Let them know when your writing time is so they can leave you alone.
Use your time wisely. If you find yourself stuck in line at the store or sitting idly at the park, turn that into writing time.
Most importantly, don’t talk about writing; write
1. NaNoWriMo: “National Novel Writing Month began in 1999 as a daunting but straightforward challenge: to write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days. It takes place during the month of November.”
TLDR: A few weeks ago, my husband stumbled across an advertisement for a brand new Book Market starting up called Books and Browsables here in Dublin (St. Patrick’s Park, Sundays 11-4 pm).
I jumped on the opportunity and booked myself a table at the event. I’ve never done a book market, and I was unsure how to prepare myself for it. Below I list my experience, what I took, and how it went overall.
Preparing to Sell
My excitement quickly turned to stone cold fear. Like a deer in the headlights, I had no idea what to do next. Simply having a table at a book market isn’t a guarantee to sell books. I needed to draw people to my table and supply as much information as possible in less than the 1 minute it would take them to walk on by.
Lucky for me, I’m a member of several self-publishing groups on Facebook, and they are chock-full of marketing ideas to get people to stop at your table.
Product: Make sure you have some
First things first, make sure you have plenty of books ready to sell. Currently, I have less than 20 copies of each book in my home. I quickly ordered 100 author copies of each book; then tried to breathe through the panic once I realized the books wouldn’t arrive for three weeks!!! Okay, brain, remain calm! It’s going to be okay; you have enough copies to get you through the first day. As of this posting, it’s been almost three weeks; my books will be arriving any day now.
Supply List: Things you (may) Need
For this market, I need to provide all my own supplies. It’s outdoors, and I don’t have a car, so everything must be portable and easy to set up.
Table: I bought this metal folding camping table. It folds out to be 4ft by 2ft and comes with four folding camping chairs.
Tablecloth: I bought a colorful PVC tablecloth from my local home store to cover the table and make it stand out.
Bookmarks: I created a bookmark for each of my two books, with a picture from the cover on one side and information about the two books on the back. I used flowcode.com to create a scannable QR code that links back to my Amazon page.
Stickers: I created a temporary logo with my name and email address and made that into a sticker. Then I used my book covers to make a sticker for each book. These turned out a little smaller than I expected, and I’m not quite sure what to do with them at the moment, but I have them for when I figure it out.
Postcards: I wanted to create a sell sheet (1) if booksellers come to the event. Instead of fliers, I made postcards since they are easier to transport and quick to hand out.
Banner: I only have a table, and I wanted a poster attached to the front, so people know exactly who I am and what I’m selling. I think I’ll upgrade to a PVC vinyl poster that is more durable in this weather.
Fun Extras: To Bring People Over
Prize Wheel and prizes: I created a spinning wheel kids can spin for a chance to win prizes. I bought random toys like bouncy balls, stamps, and rings from the dollar store. I also purchased some fidget toys in bulk from Amazon for a mystery grab bag.
Stickers: Kids always love stickers, so I bought a bunch (again from the dollar store).
Activity Sheets: I created a word search, maze, and word scramble using characters and themes from my books (2). I also used some illustrations as coloring pages and attached my info to the back page, including a QR code leading to my website and newsletter sign-up. These I had printed at a local copy shop.
Packing it in and out:
REI Bags: I have these fantastic travel bags from REI; they fold up when not in use and hold a lot of stuff.
Foldable Hand Truck: We bought a fold-up hand truck at Costco a few years back. It’s been great for hauling bags through the airport and is working out for transporting everything to and from the market.
Day One: How My First Day Went
The day started slow, and I wasn’t sure I was going to sell anything. I’m an introvert, and throwing myself out there was difficult(3). However, I smiled, greeted people as they passed by, and talked to everyone who stopped at my table.
I had my daughter with me, and she was great about asking kids to spin the prize wheel. For the kids under 3, we gave them a free sticker and bookmark. The older kids spun the wheel, got to pick a bookmark, and got the activity sheet. Not everyone who stopped bought a book, but I gave out several bookmarks, hopefully leading to extra sales.
I ended up selling ten books, which was more than I expected. About 50% of the parents who stopped to spin the wheel ordered a book. The other half thought their kids were too young for chapter books. I had several grandparents and other adults without kids stop and buy a book for Christmas presents and/or a gift.
All in all, the day was successful. I put myself out there, I put my books out there, and I made some sales.
Balloons: I plan on adding balloons to my table to attract the attention of more kids.
Bigger Prize Wheel: I need a bigger and more stable prize wheel as well as a sign advertising the free spin to win prizes.
Clear Plastic table cover: It’s Dublin, and it rains sporadically. I need a heavy-duty clear plastic table cover to drape over the books in case of rain and a place to attach my poster so it stays protected.
Book Stands: My books mainly were lying flat all day. People had to approach the table to see all I was selling. I’ve ordered some plastic book display stands to showcase the books better. Perhaps if people can see the books from a distance, it will draw them to me.
A book market is a great way to get your middle-grade or chapter books in front of adults. It’s nearly impossible to market directly to your target audience in this specific genre; you have to reach the buyers of books.
Anyone can do a book market or book fair. It does take a little start-up money, but it won’t break the bank if you plan accordingly and shop around for the best prices. If you can make your booth or table stand out, you should turn a profit and make that money back, plus some. Be sure to welcome everyone who passes by, be friendly, and give them something to take home with your information on it.
Most importantly, have fun!
1) Sell Sheet: a quick advertisement you give to bookstores or librarians to get them interested in selling your book. You can read more here.
2) Use your search engine to find “create your own…crosswords, word searches, and/or mazes”. This Teacher website is an excellent place to start.
3) I’m an Introvert. The event left me physically and mentally drained. I ended up taking an hour nap when I got home. It took me an entire day to recover. Still, I’ll do it again because it’s worth it. Just be aware you may need some recovery time.
Choosing to use a pen name can be a tough decision. Don’t think of it as losing your identity, rather gaining an extra personality. Knowing you want a pen name is only half the battle. How do you choose a pen name?
1) Narrow Down Your Genre
You should already know what genre you are writing for. If you don’t, stop everything and figure that out. Narrowing down your genre is the first step in getting to know your audience. Consider names that flow well with your chosen genre. For instance, if you write for children, think light-hearted, easy to pronounce names. Likewise, mysteryous names for the mystery writer, sexy harlot names for the romance author, and a great detective sounding name for the crime or thriller author.
2) Variations of your Own Name
If you aren’t looking to stray too far from your given name, start with some variations. Use your initials and keep the last name. Try out your middle name as first name, or first and middle. You can also do some variations of your name. My name is Michelle so I could use Mich, Elle, Chelle, Shell, Shelly, Michael, Mitchel (which I use), Mitch, and so on.
3) Name Generators
I love all the name generators found online these days. They are perfect to use when naming characters and places in my books. Why not use one to find a good pen name? Here are two you can try:
If you know anything about the Actor’s Guild, no two actors can have the same name. That isn’t necessarily the case in the writing world, but it should be an unwritten rule. Your name should be as unique as the books you create. Therefore, once you narrow down a few pen names, run them through some search engines and see how many hits you get. Likewise, run the name on Amazon to see what sort of competition you would have. Ideally, you want a name that is not already taken; this will ensure you dominate any search engine as well as give you the ability to purchase the domain name.
Choosing a pen name opens a world of opportunity. Once you figure out some basic tips on how to choose a pen name, the process can be both entertaining and exciting. Who knows, perhaps you’ll come up with a few great character names in the process. Happy hunting!
When I first started creating the Magic Cube series, I hemmed and hawed over what name I would write under. I’m sure I was overly dramatic about the whole thing; I am a writer, after all; we have a flair for the dramatic. I always imagined I would write under the name I was born with and pay homage to my ancestors. The very thought of using a pen name sent a chill through me; I was horrified by the idea. How would my family feel? Would I be spitting on the very name that brought me into this world?
Then, I pulled myself together, and I remembered I was an introvert. I love hiding in the shadows. If I used a pen name, I could hide behind this extravagant persona. After taking to the internet and doing an obnoxious amount of research, I came up with a few other really great reasons to use a pen name.
1) I have a common name
Michelle Peterson is the name I was born with. Michelle is okay if I had some oddball last name, but I don’t. I have one of the 100 most common last names in the US. Then, I went and married a Miller…now I was in the top 10 most common last names. Why is all this information on popularity important? Search Engines.
There are millions of books out there. It’s hard to market a book, especially if thousands of people already have established web pages with your name on them. The last thing anyone wants is to get buried in the search engines. Searchability is one of the most critical aspects of building a brand and gaining publicity.
2) Building a Brand
Self-publishing includes a ton of marketing. You are essentially creating a brand around your author name. You will want to create social media accounts and build an author website.
I knew I wanted to buy a domain name and build a website. I also wanted a name unique enough to show up on the first page of any given search engine. Hardly anyone scrolls past the first page. If you aren’t there, how will anyone find you?
3) Introvert Problems
As mentioned above, I’m an introvert and horribly shy. I love talking to people and hearing their stories; I’m not so good about sharing my own. Talking about writing and publishing is terrifying to me. It is entirely out of my comfort zone. Marketing for someone else? Now, that’s something I can do.
It sounds silly, I know. I’m marketing for myself, hiding behind someone else.
What’s in a Name?
I finally decided to go with a pen name. Now came the hard part, what name to use?
The Magic Cube Chapter books are geared toward early readers. I need a name they can all pronounce and remember. Also, after reading about J.K. Rowling and why she used initials, I wanted something gender-neutral.
Mitchel Maree is born
For as long as I can remember, my grandfather always called me Mitchel. Maybe he secretly wanted more grandsons; I don’t know, but it stuck. I have a couple of uncles who use this pet name to this day.
My middle name is Marie. I messed with the spelling and ended up with a French last name.
I have been using this pen name for about a year now. When my first book came out, I felt uncomfortable telling people I wrote it under a pen name. Now, I’ve embraced the writer in me, the author I call Mitchel Maree.
I choose a pen name to build a brand, be more marketable and easy to find, and as a way to keep some anonymity.
Recently I started a newsletter. The goal is for the newsletter to be informative, and contain some exclusive material, while not being overly annoying and flooding your inbox.
I like to share things such as: artwork for upcoming books, chapter excerpts, cover reveals, as well as a summary of things I’m working on. It’s a way to keep readers up to date on current and upcoming projects. It’s as if I’m bringing you along on the journey from the first draft through publication.
This month I released an exclusive Prequel to the Magic Cube series. This novella introduces us to the Magic Cube. The free PDF download. can stand on its own; you don’t have to read other books in the series for this one to make sense. You can read the first chapter here.
I would like to share a sample of what a typical newsletter looks like. Below is a copy of the April 2021 issue: – April 2021 NewsletterIf you are interested in subscribing and receiving your free PDF of, Adventure Under the Sea, sign up for the newsletter today.
TL; DR: I hate store-bought slime. I discovered a super easy homemade, kid-friendly slime recipe. It only takes three ingredients and 10 mins. The kids love it and it cleans easily with warm water; never stain clothes or carpet again. Here is the PDF printout, and I made a quick video tutorial as well. You don’t have to read any further, but I’ll do my best to keep it entertaining.
Covid-19 vs. Mom
Like all horror stories of 2020, mine starts during the first lock-down. I was like most parents of the time; frazzled, mostly sober, trying to log in to four different education programs at once, pulling out my hair, and desperately handing out electronics like candy just so I could hide in the bathroom for five minutes. Ah, the memories!
My kids were obsessed with slime. All they wanted was slime, they watch countless YouTube videos of other kids playing with slime, and they had to have it. I was fooled once by this mystic substance, but I was not going to cave on this. A while back, I bought slime, and it ended up everywhere except for the container it had come in. It was in hair, on clothes, in beds, in the carpet, on blankets, on their poor dolls, and I even found some on my clothes. No matter how much I soaked, scrubbed, and washed, that slime would not come out. I swore, henceforth, never would slime enter my home again.
Alas, the lock-down came and schools closed. I was desperate for a new activity to keep the kids entertained. Slime was the answer. I needed something easy to make and even easier to clean-up, emphasis on the second half. To the internet we go…
Hunting and Gathering
I found an easy recipe that only called for 3 ingredients: glue (didn’t have any), shaving cream (nope, none of that either,) and borax (don’t even know what that is). After searching through the empty shelves of the local grocer, I struggled to find glue, let alone borax; I did find shaving cream, though.
After searching more and more, I could not find borax anywhere. Back to the internet to see what other options I had. Contact solution was the next suggestion, but I couldn’t find any with boric acid in it, which was recommended. I felt like giving up, but my kids gave me those puppy dog eyes; I had to persevere.
Finally, I went to Amazon. They had bottles and bottles of multi-colored glitter glue, added that to my basket. Then I saw (this activator) show up in my suggestions, perfect no more searching for borax or contact solution. Now we wait. Shipping in Ireland during those dark times was 7-14 long days.
Finally, the package arrived; the kids were so excited I was forced to drop everything and make slime. Here is how we did it.
First, get a bowl for mixing. Dump in equal parts glue and shaving cream (I used ½ cup of each, yes I actually measured it; I’m meticulously annoying like that). Start with a few drops of the activator and stir it like you mean it. You will stir until it pulls away from the sides and forms a ball. You may need more activator if it seems too sticky, slowly add more drops until it pulls away from the sides.
Now comes the fun part, well, besides playing with it. Take the ball out and knead it in your hands. Stretch it out and fold it in, stretch and fold, stretch and fold; until it no longer sticks to your fingers. That’s it, now the kids will be entertained for hours….or at least 10 mins.
This is what it should look like:
The best part about making your own slime is all the creations the kids can make. This slime is so easy; after our practice batch, the kids made their own. In our first batch, we used colored glitter glue. We made quite a few batches, the most recent ones we used plain PVA Glue, glitter, and food coloring. We end up with purple, blue, orange, and pink slime. Be creative and see what you come up with.
(Here are the girls “kneading” their first batch.)
(Now, they get to play)
Mom tested and approved. This recipe is super quick and easy. It is a bit messy while making the slime, but clean up is a breeze. A little warm water is all it takes to dissolve the slime. I easily removed it from clothes, hair, and the carpet (always the carpet) with no problems. This is definitely one activity to save and use again in the future. Kids love it, and I love it! Enjoy!
Oh yeah, the girls wanted to make a video of themselves making and playing with slime. Check it out here (and give it a like); the girls will appreciate it. Happy sliming!
When I first started writing, I struggled with character development. I completed my very first manuscript, an adult suspense book, about ten years ago. I sent out countless queries begging agents to represent me, and I received numerous rejections letters in return. One agent took the time to respond with constructive criticism; my storyline was interesting, but they couldn’t connect with the characters. Ooof, that one stung a bit. Thus began my decade-long struggle to create characters worthy enough to be featured in my stories.
Since that first attempt at publishing crashed and burned, life took over and moved me in a different direction. I shelved my writing while I took on the challenge of motherhood, four times over. I wrote on and off during my children’s infant stage, but it wasn’t until my youngest child started school, I could focus on writing again.
Modeling After Real People
In another blog, which you can read here, I explain how I came up with the Mystery of the Cursed Elves idea. The book is centered on four siblings’ adventures; those children are loosely based on my own kids. This time around, I really wanted to nail the characters in the hopes of creating a really great series. I figured if I used real people as my models, it would be hard to fail.
As I sat down to write the story, I picked out each child’s most prominent personality traits and then embellished them a bit.
To my great wonderment and surprise, writing these characters came easy. In all honestly, I didn’t even think about the four children; they simply came into being and worked with me to tell the story. In fact, it wasn’t until a few Beta Readers mentioned how fun and relatable the characters were that I really understood what I had done. I managed to develop great characters because I knew their personalities like the back of my hand. Years of motherhood gave me the insight I needed, and all I did was write the story as if my own children were in it.
If I ever struggled with “What would Max do?” or “How would Sophie react to that?” I thought about the child they were modeled after and found my answers. It was a no brainer and, in hindsight, quite impressive. I discovered something here as if a light bulb switched on in my creative mind.
My Favorite Character to Write
I get the most compliments on Parker. My Beta readers love Parker; her personality shines through most effectively. Author confession, she is my favorite character to write for. Parker is based on my youngest child, Roxi, my spunky, wild child. And although Parker is an exaggerated version of Roxi, their personalities are similar.
Roxi is younger than Parker in real life; she was only 4 when my first book was published. In the books, Parker is six. Since the children go on many wacky adventures, they all needed to be slightly older for the stories to make sense. Some of the things Parker does would be far-fetched if she were only four. That being said, both Roxi and Parker share an adventurous and bold disposition. Although Roxi isn’t quite as fearless as Parker, she shares the same spunk and spirit. Parker is the embodiment of what I think Roxi will be as she gets older.
I love writing her parts because of her fearlessness; she is the polar opposite of myself. While I tend to think before acting, I love that Parker acts without thinking. Its so different from my own experiences, but almost freeing in a way. Its honestly the way I wish I could be sometimes, running at things head first, completely spontaneous, without a single thought to the consequences. Parker can do all this because she knows her siblings will be there if she does end up in over her head.
The Other Kids
Sophie, the oldest sister in the series, is based on my oldest daughter, Mila. Mila has always been a “little mother” to her siblings. She is kind, caring, helpful, and always nurturing, just like Sophie in the books. In our family, Mila is the natural leader, but I gave that role to Max in the series; I wanted him to be important in driving the plot forward.
Max is modeled after my only boy, Maddex. Like Max, my son also loves adventure and problem-solving. He isn’t quite as bold or outgoing as Max, but he can be very persistent and determined when he gets an idea in his head. Much like Max, he gets along well with his sisters, and they spend quite a bit of time together.
Violet is a mixture of my middle child and myself as a child. Khaleesi is quiet but has an active imagination. Her personality is more passive, often allowing her ideas to be easily overshadowed and dismissed by her bolder, louder sisters. Like myself, her imagination is vivid and overactive; in fact, when I find myself struggling with the plot, she is my go-to gal, often helping to spark my creative juices and get me back on track.
Lessons Learned – Developing Characters
I have learned so much from writing this first book. I now know I am capable of creating characters my readers not only relate to but will cheer for. While building characters is not my strongest trait, I can put into practice what I learned from this series in future writings.
Basing characters on real people works well for me. It takes the guesswork out of creating a personality from scratch; I already know the traits.
A character needs to feel like a real person. Everybody has their own specific traits and personality, so work to make that shine in everything they do.
Bring the personality to life. I don’t want to tell my readers what a character is like, I want to show them. Use dialogue and action to really accentuate and amplify those traits; bring the character to life.
I’m looking forward to putting all I have learned into practice and meeting all the new characters lurking around in my head.
Keywords: developing characters, fiction characters, book characters, character building
Several years back I lived in a tiny town called Olalla in Washington State. In that town lives a famous author, Mr. Gregg Olsen. Every year, on Christmas Eve, Gregg does a book hunt. He takes 10-20 of his books, hides them around the town, takes cryptic pictures, and posts on Facebook. Everyone loves this book hunt. We all scramble to decipher the clues and be the first to find the book.
I’ve decided to take that idea and bring it 3000 miles across the Atlantic and into my tiny town in Ireland. Everyone knows how different this year has been. Most of us are stuck at home over the holidays. I thought it would be the perfect year to start something new.
I decided to use two of my local Facebook community groups; which I’m keeping anonymous for the sake of privacy. I messaged the admins of each group for approval to post. The group admins both loved the idea and approved
Countdown to Christmas Eve
Tuesday: Time to start advertising and getting the word on the street, so to speak. I posted my first advertisement along with a fun picture of the elves bagging up the books.
Wednesday: Time to post a friendly reminder along with another fun picture. This picture was to keep things fun and let parents know we were keeping in line with Covid-19 guidelines.
Morning: We bundled up the kids and headed out with our books and elves in tow. The kids helped figure out some great places to hide the books. We tried to make the hiding spots both simple, but not so easy random people would find the books before the hunters did. We took photos of the elves hiding the books around town.
11:30: It took much longer than anticipated to hide all the books, walking with four kids and all. We made it back home with about 30 mins to spare. I quickly uploaded some pictures of the elves about town as well as one last reminder of the hunt started at noon.
Noon: Final post included the rules and pictures. Then it was time to take a deep breath, sit back, and wait.
Outcome: The response was amazing. I received several likes and comments on the original post Tuesday; however, simply because people like an idea doesn’t mean they will participate. As soon as I posted the 7 pictures, a horrible feeling of doubt passed through me. I had really put myself out there and I thought, for sure, I was about to crash and burn.
I should have known my wonderful community would shine! The first book was found within minutes. It took less than an hour for six books to be found. There is one more book still out there waiting to be rescued from the cold; I’ll give it a day before sending out a search party. – UPDATE – all books have been found.
Conclusion: This was a great event. Free marketing plus some fun for all during a holiday season like no other. I have already received some great feedback on the book, and hope everyone else enjoys it as well.
This is definitely something I will try to do again next year. I’m hoping to get more of the community involvement and perhaps more local authors as well. I would love for this to turn into an annual, community event.
All in all, the book hunt was a success and I’m glad I did it.
TLDR – Coloring contest wrap up – judging the contest and learnings (I need more followers and further reach in advertising.)
An Idea Sparks
Let me start by saying, I am not a marketing guru; not even a little. As a self-published author, I have been thrust head first into this foreign field. Now, not only am I writing books, I have to promote and market those books as well, *cue big eye roll. One day, while “working” on my website, I thought it would be a great idea to post some of the illustrations from the book, then parents could download them as coloring pages for the kids. Bam! That sparked the idea for hosting a color contest. Who doesn’t love a color contest? I didn’t have a huge budget for prizes, but it would be a great way to get some exposure for my book.
The question now was, “how do you market a coloring contest in the time of Covid-19?” It wasn’t as if I could go out and physically ask local businesses to display the contest for me. Besides, half of Ireland (where I currently live) was in partial lock-down. This contest had to be fully online, from promoting to turning in entries to prizes be awarded. Spoiler alert: thinking this would work my first mistake.
Kids are limited to what they are exposed to on the internet. In order for kids to learn about an online color contest, I had to tell their parents. I took it to social media and I advertised like crazy. My Twitter following was fairly small at the time and therefore, so was my reach. Many of my friends on Facebook either don’t have children or have children who are too old to enter. I tried two Facebook ad campaigns and although the reach and views were great, it didn’t bring in any entries.
Somehow, I ended up with 18 entries at the end of the contest. This was mostly due to my sister, a school teacher. She is reading the book to her class of 1st graders, and she told them all about the contest. Over half of my entries came from these students. Thanks, Sis!
Pros: The contest/competition was a great learning experience. I learned the power and impact of a social media following. I got a crash course in #hashtags, keywords, and SEO (search engine optimization) marketing; the result clearly stating I need more practice in all three areas.
It also forced me to learn more about GDPR (general data protection regulation), privacy rules, and contest rules. GDPR is a European regulation in which, if you ask for personal information you must state the purpose for needing the information, how it will be used, and how it will be stored. I created a document (contest entry rules) that ensured I was following all privacy processes as well as GDPR . I can use this as a template if I run a contest or giveaway in the future.
Cons: I spend a lot of time advertising for this contest with little return on investment. My following on Social Media wasn’t large enough. The response wasn’t big enough. I had a few complaints from friends who didn’t have ways to print the pictures out, or it was a hassle to do so. I didn’t garner any extra sales, there wasn’t a jump in website views, and the whole ordeal ended up costing more than I earned in return.
Final outcome: I learned a lot, but at a cost. I most likely won’t do something like this again.
Judging the contest
The entries we did receive were pretty amazing. The kids put their heart and soul into coloring, which some kids going the extra mile and adding in more detail. I should considering using some of these in my book.
In order to keep the pictures anonymous while judging, the contest entries were saved to my computer with only a number beneath them. I used Excel to keep track of the names and email addresses. Here are the entries in the 5 and under category.
My judges were my four children, ages 10, 8, 6, and 4. I called them in separately, displayed the pictures on my computer screen, and let them pick their top three in both categories. The under 5s was simple as only four entries had been received. All the children picked 1st place: #5, second place: #6, and three kids picked #16 as third place, with one child picking #7. Under 5s was sorted.
Moving on to the 6-12 age category proved more difficult. As you can see above, we had some amazing entries. Here is how each judge voted in the first round:
10-year-old: 12, 18, 8
8-year-old: 1, 12, 17
6-year-old: 4, 9, 3
4-year-old: 18, 12, 4
For round two, we picked the entries that had two or more votes. 12, 18, 4…then all kids voted again.
Round 2 came out in a tie:
10 and 8 year old: 12, 18, 4
6 and 4 year old: 4, 12, 18
We needed a tie-breaker and I felt it couldn’t be me, I knew too much. We brought in Dad to break the tie. The final outcome: 4, 12, 18
We had our winners. Congratulations to everyone who entered. As you can see, choosing a winner was tough. Everyone did a fabulous job, and each picture showed fantastic creativity.
Big Congratulations to our Winners:
Under 5 winners
1st Place: Gustaw, age 4
2nd Place: Averi, age 4
3rd Place: Halle, age 3
1st Place: Antoni, age 6
2nd Place: Savannah, age 7
3rd Place: Iolani, age 6
You can view the winner’s pictures and see all our entries here.
All in all, this whole process was a great learning experience. I know I have a lot to learn when it comes to marketing, and I feel its important to always try new things. We take the good with the bad and we learn what works and what doesn’t. I have several more ideas in this head of mine and I hope those further endeavors are more successful.