Category Archives: Michelle, personally

Goals and a Season Recap

tweentheweekends1Tween the Weekends is a hosted by Emblazon. Check out all the other tween posts, then join us the fourth Wednesday of each month.

It’s fall–the start of school and the end of summer. It’s the turning of the season and time once again to evaluate where I’ve been and where I’m going. This periodic setting and re-evaluating of goals is the best way I know of to keep myself growing as an author.

Image courtesty of Paul Davidson via flickr.

Image courtesty of Paul Davidson via flickr.

I’m a very seasonal writer. I do my best work during the long cold days of winter. So far, 2013 has been incredibly productive. I began a 65,000 word novel in January, published it in May, and got 35,000 words of the sequel finished before summer hit. 100K words! That’s way more than the previous two years combined!

Summer is usually my reading time, but this year I tried–I really tried!–to stick to a writing schedule. I was defeated by a house full of kids with late bedtimes, gardens, and camping. And honestly, I was burned out. Writing had become a chore that I was quickly starting to hate. Besides all that, who wants to stay inside when the sun is shining anyway? So I laid aside my laptop and my guilt, picked up a few books, and enjoyed the short season. The break did wonders. I’m raring to go again!

One fabulous thing I did accomplish over the summer–a project I had wanted to initiate for some time–was the formation of a collaborative blog run by a group of tween authors. Emblazon is off to a great start and forming into so much more than I hoped. Twenty heads are definitely better than one. And combined clout is great for marketing. We’ve really turned into a co-op with the power to make things happen. Keep watching this fantastic group!

Image courtesty of the Library of Congress.

Image courtesty of the Library of Congress.

Now it’s September, and that always brings an overlap of summer harvest (canning/freezing) and the start of homeschool, cross country, and fall programs. It’s a tough time to pick up where I left off writing in the spring, so I’ve been easing into it. I’m working on a few marketing angles. I’ve also reread Taylor 1 and double-checked the document listing all the important details that must stay consistent throughout the series. I just finished livening up the first half of the Taylor 2. I aim to have the last 25,000 words shortly. I’ve enlisted the help of two more sixth grade classes to act as beta readers, and I’m eager to see what they have to say. They’ll also keep me on schedule. I’ve set the release date for January 1, 2014.

After that, I have plans to write the next two books in my Mountain series. As Song of the Mountain weighs in at just 35,000 words, I’m hoping I can finish Fire of the Mountain and Tears of the Mountain by the end of the school year, but that’s a pretty lofty goal. I’m certain I can finish one. The other may have to wait for a fall release date.

That’s what I’m up to. What are your goals, and how do you keep them on track?

Happy Birthday to Me and an AWESOME Cover Reveal

My new site is up and runnning, but I’m still working out some bugs. If you signed up to receive posts from my new blog, you’ll have to do it again. I went to a new plugin with more features. I also don’t have it set to publicize new posts on Facebook and all. Still working on that. I miss some of the supported features from this site, but I’m learning.

Anyhoo…I figured I’d give the first several posts a little boost by announcing them here. So if you want to wish me happy birthday and check out the amazing, breathtaking, AWESOME new cover art for Taylor Davis, head on over to…

Christmas Break Accomplishments!

I got a lot done over Christmas break! I wrote a few thousand words on my WIP, read a few middle grade novels, waded through some serious pages of my ongoing classic read, Les Mis (Holy long book, Batman!), reworked my author website, and published two new shorts under my religious pen name, Shell Isenhoff. (Gotta show you the covers, because I’m getting ever so much better at them!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFour Paws in Heaven

I even cleaned the whole year’s worth of family pics and videos off my laptop and onto disks, and I created one of those fun memory books of our family vacation to the Smokey Mountains last summer. All while attending parties, opening presents, and, well, hacking my lungs out unfortunately. Despite that, it was really nice to have some time off the usual schedule.

Another major accomplishment was directly publishing all six of my novels and all four of my inspirational shorts on Kobo Writing Life. All my titles have posted there through Smashwords, but distribution usually takes six to eight weeks. Anytime I can have direct control, I like to take advantage of it (ie. Amazon and B&N). Then any changes I make (like dropping the price for last week’s BookBub promotion) are effective within a day. My Classroom Resources materials and Christmas plays are still distributed through Smashwords because I don’t really promote those. (Can’t do everything, and those target audiences are very small.)

Housekeeping done, my evenings are now open for much more writing. I’m chafing to really get going on my YA idea, but I’m having a ball with my MG adventure. My only research for it has been, get this–medieval weapons!

(Hmm…can I fit in any more links? :))

A Look Forward and a Look Back

What a year! There are things about 2012 I’d like to repeat and things I never want to go through again. I suppose that’s like any other year. As far as my writing is concerned, it’s also been a mixed bag. Now it’s time once again to pick out the highlights, celebrate the goals met, and start planning for next year.


Of course my list of accomplishments has to start with the publication of not one, but TWO books during 2012: Beneath the Slashings, which finished off my Civil War trilogy (whew!) and Song of the Mountain, a project that spanned several years. I also released my first podcast and put together my first blog tour. I learned a good deal in both cases. The first I will repeat; the second, probably not. In addition, my blog experienced substantial growth this year as I added over one hundred middle grade and young adult book reviews and shared many posts about the ins and outs of self-publication. I am well-satisfied with all these accomplishments.

One thing I am not satisfied with is book sales. I pulled in just under two thousand dollars this year. While that’s three times the amount I made my debut year, it’s a ridiculously low amount. As my books have been given very fair ratings from strangers as well as friends, I’m left to assume obscurity is the biggest culprit. Second is the lack of enthusiasm among adult readers for children’s literature. I cannot change the latter (and I will not change my genre), but the former does leave room for improvement. I confess my promotional efforts have been pretty much nonexistent. So my first goal of the new year is the implementation of a marketing plan. Fortunately, I have a lot of ideas. I’ve just been lazy in this regard.

My second goal, of course, is publication of my current MG manuscript by summer. I’m not sure that I can also bring my YA manuscript to print this year, but I am setting a substantial word count goal. I also plan to release 2-3 more of my titles as podcasts. I may even dabble a bit at submitting to traditional publishing houses, though I cringe at my loss of control. (Obscurity…control…obscurity…control…hmmm…)

Hee! Hee! I loved this one.

Hee! Hee! I loved this one.

These are some lofty goals that far exceed last year’s. The only way I can hope to meet them is to break them down into monthly and weekly chunks. I’m also giving myself permission to read less and cut my blog reviews to only once a week. While I love to read—and might later give myself permission to write less and read more—it takes a lot of time. This balance is always tricky for me. I don’t want to be a servant to my writing, my reading, or my blog. But I do know if I don’t set some solid writing goals, I’ll have nothing to show for myself next year at this time.

And so I continue to try to turn this hobby into a career. I’m eager to see what 2013 brings!

What goals did you meet this year? What do you hope to accomplish next year?

NaNoWriMo 2012

nanowrimoDid anyone complete NaNoWriMo this year? For those unfamiliar, this is a yearly event in which writers try to complete 50,000 words of a first draft in the month of November. I participated with a goal 25,000 to 30,000 words. The first of November I was just starting to sit comfortably at my computer again after an October surgery and I had high hopes of writing a decent amount after being out of commission for a while. Unfortunately, my favorite pooch was diagnosed with cancer a few days into the month and I’m afraid that stole most of my energy. I did manage to write 5,000 words.

Actually, I divided those 5,000 words between two different manuscripts. I have a fabulous idea for a young adult historical fiction novel about a nationally known event that took place many years ago not far from where I live. (And that’s all I’m saying for now!) Middle grade fiction is my first love, but it’s pretty hard to move if you don’t have the connections of a publishing company’s marketing team, so I thought another YA title might be sales savvy at this point. My plans to visit the historical site had to be postponed, however. Also, the story’s subject is rather heavy, and as real life has been a little taxing, I abandoned the project after only 1,000 words. Temporarily, of course.

In the meantime, I wrote several chapters of a the first installment in a four- to five-book middle grade series I’ve been picking at. It’s very light material, with half the word count of a YA title and a lot of humor and adventure. It also requires very little research. Perfect for the moment. It’s a different writing style than I’ve tried before, and I’m having fun with it, though I admit I’m moving at snail speed. But better slow than not at all!

Over the last couple years, I’ve found I like to have two projects going at once. If one isn’t working, the other is just waiting for me to pour in some time and effort. Eventually the tangle works out and the first one moves again. This way I keep two stories fresh and moving forward.

Because I’m back in writing mode, you’ll notice a scarcity of Wednesday book reviews here on Bookworm Blather over the next few months. That reading thing has slowed for the winter–though I did break my goal of 100 books this year. Demolished it, actually!

So, that’s what’s been going on with this writer recently. Does anyone else work on multiple projects at once? Anyone else participate in NaNoWriMo this year? How’d you do? And finally, anyone want to venture a guess as to how many books I read in 2012?

Tough as Nails? Usually, but…

I swapped out the post I had scheduled this Friday to give you all a personal update. You non-Michigan readers probably don’t even have a clue that I’ve been struggling this summer. Those of you who see me every week are just starting to ask questions. Because I’m usually tough as nails, with the pain tolerance of, well, a distance runner and a quick and goofy grin. Shoot, I even ran a mini-triathlon in July. Who would guess anything was wrong?

Truth is, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s when I was in junior high. If you want the back story on that, you can click here. I haven’t had bowel issues for 21 years. But this spring it came back. And some stuff that’s supposed to stay inside of me now has to come out.

So after finishing the triathlon that week at family camp, I finally sought out the doctor. (Because, you know, I had to finish all vacations and summer family fun first.) Fast forward to this past Tuesday when the specialist gave me the CT scan results and said surgery ASAP. So Monday it is. Like, in four days. Guess that pain tolerance isn’t always such a good thing.

Doc gave me an outlook of five to seven days in the hospital and a recovery time of four to eight weeks. (I’m hoping for the four, since I’m pretty doggone stubborn. But I’m not 18 this time.) So this week I’ve been writing out extended homeschool lesson plans, jotting down cross country schedules, looking up school phone numbers, bus numbers, finding replacements at church, catching up on bills, getting things as organized as possible for those folks who get to step into my life temporarily.

So how’s the emotional state? I’m all right. I’ve been through this before. I’m not afraid. Not of the pain—though that part really sucks–and not even of dying. (Yeah, Doc gave me that encouraging run down of worst case scenarios.) I know exactly where I’m headed, but to quote that great imparter of wisdom, country star Joe Diffy, “Lord, I wanna go to heaven, but I don’t wanna go tonight.” Because I have kids to drag to adulthood first. Either way, I’m not going to waste my worry.

You want to know what’s really bothering me? My garden. It’s a wreck! And I am NOT about to go under the knife while there are weeds going to seed in it. Yeah, maybe I should get my head checked while I’m in there. (Note to self: Add garden to tomorrow’s job list anyway.)

So now you’re updated. When next you hear from me on Monday’s MMGM post, I’ll actually be heading in for surgery. In fact, I have posts scheduled ahead for a few weeks, but I’ll try to pop a more personal update on here a day or three after I get home from the hospital.

Oh, and that new book I’ve got coming out? Ahem. Ah, probably not going to make my November release goal. (Darn it!) :)

An interesting bit of history

Not my uncle, but close to the same age. Young!!

Last night I was talking to my elderly uncle who shared a bit of family history I had never heard before. In light of the book I just released, Beneath the Slashings, I found it pretty interesting. It seems I have a great, great, great Uncle Peter whose father died when he was 13 years old. As the man of the house, his mother packed him a lunch of johnny cake and sent him out each morning to a nearby lumber camp to earn a wage for the family. At 13! This same uncle fought in the Civil War a decade or so later. I looked him up. He lived from 1839 till 1914 and served in the 28th Michigan infantry.

He had two blind daughters, one of which I remember from when I was very young. She would “look at me” each time we visited the nursing home by feeling my hair and face and tell me how big I was getting. She was in her nineties at the time. I was nine when she died. Somehow I never heard of her father.

What a piece of history! Sometimes I wish I had a working time machine.

A Canon of Literature

Canon, not cannon!

A note from Michelle: Because I’m currently on holiday in the Smokey Mountains, the planning of which took up mucho blog time, and because all the rest of my free time lately has been spent turning The Candle Star into an audio book, I do not have a Friday Freebie for you this week. This post, however, has been in my draft folder for a while. If you subscribe to my blog, you may have already seen it in your inbox because I’m the queen of clicking “publish” instead of “schedule” and then hastily pulling it. Since you lot had so much time to think over your answers, I’ll expect some enlightening comments when I get home.  :)

I’ve been doing a little research into the biblical canon this spring. By definition, a canon is collection of authoritative or influential books. It’s easy to see this application to religion, but a canon can be applied to other topics, too. Say, children’s literature. (You know I was going there, didn’t you?)

So I began thinking what children’s books had the most influence on my growing up. Which ones did I visit again and again? Which ones instilled in me a love of story and the written word? Which most prompted me to pursue a career in teaching? Which most encouraged me as a writer of children’s literature? There have been many, but here are a few of the most important books that I could truly call my own personal canon:

The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley – Mom brought this one home for me in fourth grade.  I went on to read nearly every book in the series.  This big, beautiful horse and Mr. Farley’s imagination first glued my nose to a page.

A Dog Called Kitty, by Bill Wallace – I won this one that same year and bawled when I read it.  Still do.  But it captivated the dog-lover in me.  This was the first book in which I identified solidly with a character.

Nancy Drew, by Caroline Keene (Hardy Boys, too, by Franklin W. Dixon) – I read every one I could get my hands on.  Great literature?  Nah.  But they entertained me in the middle grade years and cemented my love of reading.

The Call of the Wild, by Jack London (also London’s White Fang)– I visited the Klondike many times in junior and senior high.  It was the dog that first captured me, but I was drawn again and again by the survival themes and the rugged wilderness.  I wasn’t surprised to find out in high school that it was considered a classic.

All Creatures Great and Small, by James Herriot – This was my favorite book during high school.  I still enjoy the series, though this one is the best of the four.  I learned a great deal about the skill of writing short stories from this book.  (I also picked up a bit of British lingo, like “on holiday” and “you lot.”)

Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbit – I didn’t actually read this until college, but it played a role in my choosing teaching as a career.  I realized I hadn’t outgrown these books and I wanted to share them with kids.  I’ve also used this as a text, studying it when I wrote my first manuscript (The Color of Freedom).  I love its depth and quaint setting.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by AVI – Again, it was read in college, enjoyed immensely, and helpful in guiding me toward elementary education.  I began to pinpoint the middle grades as my favorite, in literature and an educational setting, which is still the case.  I’ve also used this one as a manual to study character development.

The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien – I first read these after college.  I was immediately hooked and read them every year for many years.  I still read them when I’m in need of inspiration.

Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling – I was teaching when these first came out, and I had to fight the fourth graders to get a library copy of each new release.  I was just starting to use my own talent for writing.  Rowling taught me a great deal about what makes a book a page-turner.  (She also added those wonderful terms “barking” and “git” to my British vernacular.)

I could list a lot more, but I think this will suffice.  Now you tell me, what books would comprise your personal canon?

Kindle Book Swap

One of the really cool things about Kindles is that you can lend out some of your ebooks. Lending terms usually allow an ebook to be loaned out one time, for a duration of 14 days. So I was thinking, for my birthday today, why not celebrate by hosting a Kindle book swap between the regulars on my blog? I’m sure we all have at least one book in our Kindle library we’d recommend and be willing to loan out. This way, we can all try something new,  save each other a couple bucks, and promote some great books. It’s almost as good as bringing cupcakes to class.  :)

If you’ve never loaned a book before, here’s what you do:  First, log into your Amazon account on go to the “Manage your Kindle” page to make sure the book you have in mind is “lendable.” Find your book and click on the “Actions” drop box on the far right. It will say “Loan this book” if lending has been enabled for that particular ebook. (Not all ebooks will be enabled.) Click on it and you’ll be able to enter the email address of the friend you wish to lend the book to. It must be the email associated with their Kindle account. Your friend then has 14 days to read the ebook.  During this time, your book will NOT be on your Kindle. At the end of the two weeks, the book will automatically drop off your friend’s ereader and reappear back on your own.

I thought it would be cool if all my readers who have a Kindle went into their library and found one kids’ book they wouldn’t mind loaning and posted the title in the comments section along with an email address that can be made public. Maybe you’ll want to include a link to a book review, too. (Keep in mind it will be the only time you can loan the book, so if you already have someone in mind who might want it, don’t choose that title.) On the flip side, if you find a book listed that you’d like to read, leave a comment and ask for it, or contact them privately using the email address they provided. Keep in mind you’ll have to give that person the email address associated with your Kindle account, but it can be done privately, and your account would still be password protected. I’d be comfortable doing so, but if you’re not, that’s okay, you don’t have to participate. I just thought it’d be a cool “techy” way to hold our own swap. And a birthday party.  :)

The book I chose to lend out is Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula, by Elise Stokes, a fun and clean adventure for kids ages 10+. Here’s my review, and my email is if you’d like to borrow it.

So let’s see what happens. Anybody else got a book to lend?

Indie Endeavors, part 1 – My Eight-Year Journey

Last year, I choose to become an independently-published author (affectionately dubbed an “Indie”).  This year, I’m going make an effort to share some of my experiences with others who may be considering the same route.  Today, as my first post in this series, I’ll describe the eight-year road that precluded my own decision.

Actually, I’ve been writing far longer than eight years.  I made up stories for fun as a kid, and in high school I managed a 50-page novella.  Another followed in college, then a trilogy of short, Christian, middle grade fiction.  None of these were publishable, but, as I’ve come to understand, they were all excellent practice.

Fresh out of college, I took to heart some general advice I read about breaking into the publishing world; I began playing with articles and short stories in an attempt to build up a portfolio.  I wrote dozens of stories for church programs and even managed to publish fifteen or so of my articles, but I quickly decided this was not for me.  My heart belonged to novels.

Because I taught in the public schools for several years, I ultimately chose to forego the Christian market.  I wanted to create stories like the wonderful literature I taught at school – fun, clean, quality reads for mainstream students to enjoy.  With this new focused goal, my writing suddenly went from hobby to serious pursuit.  That was the moment I said with certainty, “I WILL be published.”  I stopped teaching after the birth of my second child, and about a year later, my first novel, The Color of Freedom, was born.  And that marks the true beginning of this eight-year journey.

I’ve never been very good at pushing my work to publishing houses.  I gave it a half-hearted attempt, receiving back several rejection letters.  Before they even arrived, however, I was well into my second novel, The Quill Pen.  After a year and more rejections, I rewrote The Color of Freedom, doubling its length.  I then scrapped The Quill Pen completely and started over.  More rejections, further revisions, a third child, mommy duties, church duties, a little writing time stolen here, a little there, then the big decision to homeschool.  Eventually, The Candle Star took shape, followed by its sequel, Broken Ladders.  More time constraints and rejection, rejection, rejection…frustrating, but pushing me to become better and better.

And then the event that changed everything…

Last year, I received a Kindle from my husband for Christmas.  Before this, I had heard of self-publishing.  I thought it involved a small fortune and a basement full of books leftover from a print run.  My Kindle opened up a whole world of digital publishing: ebooks and print-on-demand paperbacks.  It was overwhelming and a little frightening, but I jumped in.  I was ripe for it.  For eight years I had called myself a writer.  I was ready to call myself an author.

I took out my old copy of The Color of Freedom.  I was appalled!  In the years since my last revision, I had indeed learned a great deal about the artistry of writing!  But my story was solid, so I took a few months to clean it up, and in the spring of 2011, I became a published author.  Over the course of the year, I dug out all four of my finished manuscripts and brought them to print.  Two more will debut this year, along with a series of classroom resources booklets to help teachers get the most mileage out of my books.

In the next few months, I hope to pass along some of the knowledge I’ve picked up: how and where to publish ebooks, how and where to publish paperbacks, using various file formats, self-publishing vs. traditional publishing, editing, ISBN numbers, marketing, creating cover art, making Amazon work for you, creating a platform for your work.

I’ve barely started in this endeavor, and I’m still learning a LOT.  I probably bit off more than I should have publishing FOUR books this year.  In fact, last month was the first I managed any kind of profit worth mentioning, but I finally know where I’m going, and my numbers are continuing to improve.  I hope these posts will help others debating whether or not to take those first self-publishing steps.

Go to Part 2: Traditional vs. Self-Publishing