Book Giveaway from Author Danika Dinsmore

I have a special treat today. One of the first blogging buddies I ever made is here today to talk about living a purpose-driven life.

author danika dinsmore writerDanika Dinsmore writes middle-grade fiction. She is published by Hydra House (based in Seattle, Washington). Faerie Tales from the White Forest is her first novel series. The third book in the series, Ondelle of Grioth, will be officially released tomorrow.

Danika is giving away a copy of her new book to one random commenter! See details at the end of this post. Sorry – giveaway is over.


Living a Purpose-Driven Life

I bet many people idealize the “writer’s life” (happily working from home on the next novel while royalties pour into our bank accounts). I know I used to. That was before I was faced with scheduling the open days ahead of me with writing, marketing books, marketing myself, cold-contacting schools & libraries, blogtwitfacebooking, and sending proposals to conferences. With so much in front of me, and not a clue how to organize it all, I often got over-whelmed and even depressed. Especially on unproductive days.

If only I could get my priorities straight, right?

But I had trouble discerning through the daze of “to do” what exactly my priorities should be, especially when it came to social media. I thought maybe if I only had more discipline I would be able to prioritize action items more effectively. I was the QUEEN of To Do Lists, but every action swam in front of me with no clear purpose attached.

I eventually realized that I can’t get my priorities straight if I don’t have my purpose straight first. How can I even make priorities without purpose? I learned that getting my purpose straight practically wrote my priorities for me, and that it was perfectly fine to drop actions that didn’t serve this purpose.

For instance, I began to rethink how I use social media. I took a step back and looked at what my purpose is around social media. If my purpose is to build an audience, then I need to think of actions to build that audience. Should I hang out in online forums? Many forums are great places to exchange information, but not really audience builders. Perhaps I should limit how much time I spend in them.

If my time is really limited, it would serve me better to simply find the one thing I can do that best serves this purpose and focus my energy on that one thing rather than using a scattershot approach and doing several things half-assed.

On a grander scale, I can create purpose for my entire life. My purpose on that scale might be: to be joyful in my creative endeavors or to share my creative expression with others. If that’s the case, perhaps I decide to spend less time on social media in general and more time expressing myself creatively, since that brings more joy into my life. Or, simply become more creative in my expression thru social media.

It doesn’t matter if my purpose is to “sell books” or “have fun.” It’s MY purpose. It’s just that my actions will look different accordingly, and I can prioritize by asking myself if that action serves my purpose. When I started acting from this place of purpose, many items on my “to do” list simply disappeared. I didn’t feel the necessity to do EVERYTHING any longer.

Whenever I go to a conference now, for instance, I create a purpose around it. I might decide my purpose for a particular conference is to have fun. I might decide it’s to have meaningful dialogue. I might decide it’s simply to sit back, listen, and learn. If I decide my purpose is to have fun, I don’t worry about book sales. If my purpose is to have meaningful dialogue, then my priority would be to find new and interesting people and my action would be to strike up a conversation with them. (I’ve done this before and set a goal of having 3 meaningful conversations per day. At the end of the day, it’s usually 2 or 3 times that, but I want to set myself up for a win.)

In the book The One Thing Gary Keller states, “The most productive people start with purpose and use it like a compass. They allow purpose to be the guiding force in determining the priority that drives their actions . . . The prescription for extraordinary results is knowing what matters to you and taking daily doses of actions in alignment with it.”

“Purpose provides the ultimate glue that can help you stick to the path you’ve set.” ~Gary Keller, The One Thing

Note that doing something because you think it will make you happy is different than doing something because it serves your purpose. Ironically, if you do the things that serve your purpose, it will help you find happiness.

(This article was based on a blog post that included a writing exercise about a character’s purpose. If you’d like to try the exercise, you can find it HERE.)

~          ~          ~


Danika Dinsmore is an author, performance artist, and educator with an MFA in Writing and Poetics, an advanced certificate author writer danika dinsmorein screenwriting, and a diverse creative background. Over the past 20 years she has developed content for the page, stage, screen, and web. She currently works in speculative fiction, with an emphasis on juvenile and young adult literature, and teaches world-building and creative writing at schools, conferences, and festivals across North America.

Find her on her new website or on twitter @danika_dinsmore


Danika is giving away one free copy of her new book, Ondelle of Grioth, to a random commenter. Giveaway is effective until Friday, April 18, 2014 at which time a winner will be selected. (Details: a print copy to anyone in North America and an ebook copy to anyone else worldwide. AND, if the winner has not read books One and Two and would like to read those first, she can send free ebook copies of those as well.) Sweet deal!


Britt’s Life Enthusiast Chronicles

This is not a picture of my dog. This is a mixed wolf - half gray wolf and half Husky. Her name is Spirit. She was abused by her owner, but later she was rescued and rehabilitated by a woman named Brenda. Doesn’t Spirit have a sweet face?


wolves inspire me with my writing

The fun-loving, energetic, and talented Britt Skrabanek is an indie author who has recently made a move to Portland, Oregon. While Britt is unpacking her bags, I am making myself at home on her blog.

Please come on by and read about one of my greatest passions. I’ll be waiting for you!

Pen Names: Sleazy or Savvy Writing Strategy

One of my writing friends, Amy, told me about a self-published author she met. The woman – let’s call her Sheba – apparently supports herself and her husband publishing sci-fi and non-fiction. She sold 40,000 books last year.

She researches and outlines, learns about new subjects, watches headlines for new topics. Her biggest hits are “lunch reads” with word limits of 8-12,000 words, appealing to people accustomed to reading the internet. Her constipation quick read was one of the books that sold the best.

Sheba admits she is not a very good writer. She writes fast and does little editing. If she finds typos later, she might take the book down to fix the errors, but only if the errors are glaring. Sheba advises never to read your reviews.

Here’s what really caught my attention: She has 10+ pen names.


pen names: sleazy or savvy writing strategy 

Self-published, full-length novels can sell for .99 as an ebook, so a lunch read shouldn’t cost as much. Sheba’s selling her books at .99, 2.99, and 3.99. Even at .99, her lunch reads are overpriced (in comparison to full-length novels).

With a pseudonym, Sheba doesn’t carry the “scarlet letter” of bad author from book to book. People buy her books not knowing that previous books of hers received bad reviews. Her advice? “Insulate yourself with pen names otherwise you might as well be playing on the freeway.”

Don’t get me started on her careless attitude on proofreading.

Sounds to me like Sheba writes crap.

if you're writing crap, get a pen name

No wonder her constipation quick read was a huge seller.

I may not be completely sold on the merits of indie publishing, but the indie books that I have read are written by honest people who truly care about what they write and how well their work is received. Yes, they’d like to make money but they care about the way they are making their money.

My friend, Amy, has queried two novels. I have read them both, and they are worthy of publication. Solid writing; fun, interesting characters; smart plotlines. Even though she received partial and full requests, nothing more has happened down the traditional publishing route.

When Amy told Sheba that she was considering traditional publishing, Sheba told Amy to get a pen name and go indie.

Amy is considering it, and I can see the allure. Testing the indie waters with a pen name, so as not to mar her real name. If her book tanks, then she saves herself a lot of embarrassment, right? And if it soars? Then she can remove her disguise and admit proudly that she’s the real author. It’s an option for writers who are worried about how their books will fare in the public eye.

For Amy, this could be a solution to her publishing dilemma. Her books are quality writing, where no one would feel cheated. And if she uses a pen name, at least she’d be doing it for legitimate reasons.

Such a scenario brings to mind JK Rowling of the Harry Potter series fame. Afraid boys wouldn’t buy books written by a woman, she was marketed as a male author. When her true identity was revealed, were boys disappointed? Did she lose readers? If she did, it was barely a scratch on the surface of her fame and fortune.

Then, apparently, she did it again with Cuckoo’s Calling, publishing under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. Sales were minimal until it was revealed that Galbraith was really Rowling.

In no time, sales shot up. Rowling explained she wanted to “publish without hype or explanation.”

Other famous authors have published under pen names. Nora Roberts, Michael Crichton, and Agatha Christie are a few examples.

Obviously, pen names come in handy. Authors can hide behind them to allow their work to be judged without prejudice. If Rowling and Roberts and any other writer feel their gender, race, age, or inexperience (or experience in Rowling’s case) would hinder sales, then I can understand the desire for anonymity.

Maybe Sheba’s simply a savvy businesswoman. After all, this is a subjective field and not everyone is going to agree on whether a book should be published or not.

But if this so-called author is using pen names because she knows her books aren’t very good, then maybe she ought to try harder at the craft.

A Writing Contest Tale

This past December, I came across a writing contest run by a local independent publishing company. The contest was open to all fiction. Contestants were to send in their first 15 pages, no query or logline required. The pages were to be anonymous, but the email cover letter needed to have contact information.

The judges would pick their favorites from the initial round, contact the contestants to send in full manuscripts, and they’d announce the top 3 winners in March.

The prizes? Free publishing contracts with the company, worth $1500.00 plus benefits.

I sent in Ms. Bossy. The book that won’t let me move on.

Ms. Bossy -- the book that won't let me go

As it’s finished and just hovering in my workspace, I figured why not? I sent the first 15 pages through cyberspace. I waited. And hoped. I spent the entire month of January thinking about what I’d do if I won. I visualized myself getting the big call letting me know they picked my book.

Weeks passed without a word from the press. By mid-February, I felt deflated. I figured the contestants had been contacted by that point, and I had to face the fact the judges didn’t like my first 15 pages. I think, more than anything, that bothered me the most. Winning the contest itself would have been wonderful – but to know that not even the opening chapters elicited interest was demoralizing.

On March 1, I received an email announcing the 3 winners of the contest. I don’t know any of the writers; I’m sure they all deserve the honor and I’m happy for them. Maybe they’re writers who can’t get past those slush piles in New York. These writers may have been struggling as much as I have, and finally, they’ve been recognized for their efforts.

For days, I moped. I still couldn’t get past the fact my first 15 pages didn’t entice the judges. That meant my opening chapters didn’t hit the mark. It meant my book wasn’t ready. The thought of putting that book away forever sat in the pit of my stomach.

The other day, I received an email from the host of the contest:

Dear Contestant,

Thank you for entering our novel writing contest!  At this time, we’d like you to send us the whole manuscript, as a Word document. We will be announcing the winners on March 1st, so stay tuned!

I had to re-read the email several times. It was way past March 1, and they’d already announced the winners. What was this about?

I emailed right back, asking for clarification.

Here is the host’s response:

Wow, Kate, I don’t even know how that could happen. That email was sent the first week of January. Seriously. I can’t even pretend to tell you how that works, and I’m very sorry you didn’t have a chance to have your full novel in the running. We had over 100 submissions, and asked to see the full manuscript for half of them. We did not track down those who didn’t respond, because we had so much reading to do.

Again, my apologies, but at this point there is nothing we can do about the contest, the winners have indeed been named. Please let me know if I can be of any help.

Reality hit me, and I stopped breathing. I missed my chance on the contest. Because of some stupid cyberspace glitch, the coveted email that requested my FULL manuscript never reached me in time.

Have you ever seen a grown woman throw a tantrum? I was quite the show, I’m sure.

I was upset all day long. Depressed might be a better word. Then, I realized: They had wanted to read the book. My first 15 pages had enticed them.

Then, I realized something else. I can be angry all I want about this so-called missed chance. But, for every day I spend not doing something about this book, or my quest for publication, or writing in general, is a day where I’m missing a chance.

I stopped querying Ms. Bossy last summer. I told myself I wasn’t giving up. I wanted to write another book, a middle-grade novel. I wrote it with my kids in mind, and I thought it would be fun for them to read it while they were at a middle-grade reading level. That was justification enough to switch projects.

But, to be grueling-honest, the querying was wearing me down. Either I was getting rejected or not hearing anything, and for someone as vulnerable as I, that can wreak havoc on a creative spirit.

However, how do I know the next agent I queried wouldn’t have asked for the full? By stepping away from Ms. Bossy, I also stopped giving it a chance. And, let’s face it. If I’d been getting bites on those queries, I wouldn’t have stepped away at all. I’d have figured out how to keep querying alongside writing the middle-grade novel.

I have a lot to consider now. Things I tried to put off are in my face again.

Told you it’s a bossy novel.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Sometimes I wonder about becoming emotionally connected to our characters. On one hand, it’s helpful because I believe we write them with more intimacy, credibility—that’s how we make them come alive. On the other hand, it’s harder to get them into trouble, kill them off, or even, end the story. Often, characters become our friends, our moral support, our escape, and it’s not easy to let them go.

Finding the balance between an emotional connection and a business relationship is the key for successful authors. If we hope to write more than one book, or finish a story at all, we have to learn how to say goodbye to a story that moved us deeply enough we had to write it.

For years, I worked on one novel. Even when I put it aside to try another story, those characters from the first novel kept talking to me. Even when I thought I was finished writing it and I was querying it, those darn characters wouldn’t leave me alone. I could never truly finish it.

writing never ends

I have referred to this novel as my Bossy Novel. I had many half-begun stories, a few 50,000-word starter novels from NaNoWriMo, random story ideas and character sketches, but due to Ms. Bossy I had no drive or focus to finish them.

I was afraid putting my novel aside and committing to another project was the same as giving up on that first book. I didn’t want to let my characters down, so I kept fighting for them. I failed to understand that what I needed most was to get their story written.

The rest would fall into place when it was time.

Saying goodbye to characters, to their story, to the time we’ve spent writing about it all, is tough. Some books are harder to let go than others. Recurring characters in sequels sometimes help ease that pain. Writing something entirely new is another way to transition. Understanding the purpose of each book in your life can also help put everything into perspective.

This is what writers do. We lay stories down for audiences to read. If we are good at what we do, we get to do it again. And again. I doubt King or Chabon shed many goodbye tears after they’d written their skeighty-eighth book.

Job security is often a great painkiller.

I eventually made peace with Ms. Bossy. I will never give up on it, but I have a new understanding about this book. It’s one of many that I will write. Knowing that made it much easier to write The End.

Do you have trouble moving on from a book you’re writing?

Writing Recovery

I have been absent from this blog for several weeks. I’m sorry. In all honesty, I couldn’t think of anything I cared to write about. My writing energy had been depleted by my novel, which I just sent off to some beta readers. Then, I just kind of had to decompress. I think I put a lot more into my novel than I realized and I was burned out.

However, I don’t do well when I’m not writing. I’m sluggish, grumpy, restless. Basically, I’m a non-joy.

I read a lot of posts from people who lose their way with writing. They don’t feel the passion anymore. They’ve been rejected one too many times. They can’t fit it into the maze of Life. I know I have written my fair share of posts on this subject. Either I have lost my edge, or I want to reach out to other writers with suggestions on how to get back into the writing saddle.

So, here I am again. Feeling that drag that writing does to me so often. The familiar crossroads where writing makes me feel foolish, but not writing makes me feel useless.

Enter the wolves.

Just when I needed a reason, a motivation to get back into the swing of things, I came across a neat video (below). After watching, I felt a surge of hope. Not just for the wolves or the ecosystem, but for my place in this world.

The singlemost reason that drives anyone to keep writing is writing about something that matters. As a crafter of story, be it fiction or not, you need to find one thing in this world that matters to you above and beyond your own life. Something that you can impact in your own way. Something that you should speak up for. Writing because you simply have to write does not count.

When you lose your way, writing about the one thing that matters can reconnect you to your path. You will keep writing as long as you have something or someone in your heart that needs a voice. And the joy, the satisfaction, that results links you to the next thing that matters. And the writing continues.

I had no use for a blog post for the past month or so. Had no desire to think about my next writing project. Didn’t miss my characters or fictional settings.

Until I saw this video.

And now I want to write again. If only to be a voice.