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SUNDAY INSPIRATIONS: A novel can be anything it wants to be…

Sunday Inspirations. Send us your favorite quote, image, poem, idea … anything that has been helpful or inspirational to your writing process. If we love it, we may use it as is, or take the inspiration and modify it in some way. Give us a link to your website or blog and we’ll be sure to give you credit! Email inspiration@writemarketdesign.com or post your suggestion in the comment section below!

Here’s today’s inspiration: “No one says a novel has to be one thing. It can be anything it wants to be: a vaudeville show, the six o’clock news, the mumblings of wild men saddled by demons.”

novel can be anything quote

Laura

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We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________Anatomy of a Book Launch

If you’re getting ready to launch your book and would like help to put together a successful event, download my free special report: Anatomy of a Book Launch. Then CALL me at 602.518.5376 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation. It’s never too early to begin planning!

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The writing “zone”: Pinnacle of FUN!

Who’d have thunk it? Writing fiction is FUN! For Day 17 of the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge, we discuss the biggest surprise in writing our books. All 35 posts for this Challenge will be focused on writing, publishing, and book marketing. I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.

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Day 17 writing prompt:

What has been the biggest surprise about writing/publishing your book? What has been the most enjoyable or most memorable aspect?

Hands down and without a doubt, the most surprising thing about writing my first novel, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World, is how much FUN it’s been. When I first sat down to begin the 3-Day Novel Contest at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, September 3, 2004, I had a vague idea of what would happen to my main character. Then, I got in the zone. Yep – that zone. The one athletes talk about all the time.

Kobe quote

Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi gathered the results of 25 years of research into a book that explores “the zone,” including the ways it enhanced Michael Jordan’s performance. According to Pathos.com, “In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihalyi identifies a self-surpassing dimension of human experience that is recognized by people the world over, regardless of culture, gender, race, or nationality. Its characteristics include deep concentration, highly efficient performance, emotional buoyancy, a heightened sense of mastery, a lack of self-consciousness, and self-transcendence.”

Yep – that’s what I experienced. And it surprised me to no end. Writing had always been easy for me, but it had never been fun. This – creating characters out of whole cloth – was a blast! The gnarled old fisherman wasn’t there a moment ago, and now he is. Interacting, advising, foreshadowing. And it kept going that way, new characters coming to life before my eyes. Until I hit Asia – a continent about which I have little personal knowledge, but which Stan would have to visit if he were truly to circumnavigate the globe.

Fortunately, I got through that too.

Then, thinking I was nearly done with the first draft, I was reading Chuck Wendig’s ebook, 250 Things You Should Know About Writing, on a plane trip back to New Jersey to visit my son. Much like Steven Pressfield does in The War of Art, Wendig smacks you upside the head and tells you what you need to know to improve your craft. Point #6 of Section 2, “25 Things You Should Know About Plot,” fell on me like a collapsing brick wall: In life we avoid conflict; in fiction, we seek it.

I think I scared the lady next to me when I yelped and smacked my hand over my mouth like I’d just seen a big, fat, hairy spider. Oh, my god – my novel doesn’t have nearly enough conflict!

Back to the drawing board – the word picture drawing board – for a number of additional scenes and characters. But, also, back to the fun!

Since beginning this novel, I’ve come up with ideas for at least a half-dozen others. I totally Careful, or I'll put you in my novelunderstand how and why people want to make their living as writers in a way I could never appreciate when I was writing exclusively nonfiction. When contemplating writing a screenplay (which we actually started a few years ago!), my sister and I used to joke about the funny situations we experienced that would make good movie scenes. Now, they get filed away as perfect enhancements for my present and future novels. I can’t wait to finish Stan off (no, he doesn’t die at the end) and get started on another world with new fictional friends.

What’s been your most challenging or surprising experience with your book or manuscript? Share the details in the comments section below!

Please be check in again tomorrow, when I’’ll be revealing the song that I think best connects with my book…

And for the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to wonderful writing surprises!

Laura

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________Anatomy of a Book Launch

If you’re getting ready to launch your book and would like help to put together a successful event, download my free special report: Anatomy of a Book Launch. Then CALL me at 602.518.5376 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation. It’s never too early to begin planning!

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Aiming high has benefits and drawbacks…

For a lifelong writer, putting the words of my novel down on paper was a new kind of challenge. For Day 16 of the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge, we examine our biggest publishing challenges. All 35 posts for this Challenge will be focused on writing, publishing, and book marketing. I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.

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Day 16 writing prompt:

What has been the most challenging part of your book process: writing, building the book, printing, distributing, marketing, etc.? What do you wish you’d known before you began?

I have been blessed, in that for as long as I can remember, writing has been easy for me. I’m not talk your bookdownplaying the significance of the struggle some authors/writers experience. I hear nearly every day from people who say something along the lines of, “I’d love to write a book, but I just can’t arrange my thoughts on paper.” I typically suggest they try “talking” the book instead of writing it. Sometimes answering questions from an impartial person and transcribing the interviews is the way to get your thoughts “on paper.” For others, a long list of bullet points can turn itself into a book with the help of a good editor/writing partner.

Fortunately, I’ve never had to rely on any of those techniques, because writing has always been like breathing for me. I just do it – I don’t think about it, slave over it, worry about it, dread it, or procrastinate it. My brain can organize words and I can almost always get what I’m thinking to read exactly the way I intend it. And yet … writing a novel has proven to be my biggest creative challenge to date. Now, I will make the caveat that I think it’s less the writing than it is my audacious choice of subjects for my very first novel: sending a 30-year-old guy (I was a 37-year-old woman when I began writing this story) around the world (he visits 23 countries; I’ve been to five of them). And yet, I was inspired to write this story as my first novel.

Stan in Minsk

Stan and Isis in Minsk

Parts of it have actually been easy. It’s a fairly straightforward travel account, so once I decided which countries Stan would visit, the outline pretty much wrote itself. I have good organizational skills, so even with the inclusion of a generous number of flashbacks, keeping track of who did what when has just been a matter of adding notes to the timeline. Describing places I’ve never been, based on other travelers’ videos and images and blogs – and making it sound like I know what I’m talking about? That has proven quite tricky in places. The good news is that the writers’ block seems to have resolved itself, so the words are flowing again.

Another helpful bit is that I’ve got more marketing ideas than I have time – so I’m already certain of Stan’s success, even though he’s still being shaped. I’m targeting January 8th for the book’s release. Stick around. More details to come.

Please be check in again tomorrow, when I’’ll be talking about my biggest surprise in writing this book…

And for the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to meeting the challenges head -on!

Laura

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________Anatomy of a Book Launch

If you’re getting ready to launch your book and would like help to put together a successful event, download my free special report: Anatomy of a Book Launch. Then CALL me at 602.518.5376 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation. It’s never too early to begin planning!

__________________

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If “Stan” were nonfiction, it’d still be a travelogue… just drier

Time to stretch a bit. The prompt Day 12 prompt for the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge asks our bloggers to “think differently” on our subject matter. All 35 posts for this Challenge will be focused on writing, publishing, and book marketing. I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.

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Day 12 writing prompt:

If your book is fiction, how could you change it to make it a nonfiction book? If your book is nonfiction, what could you do to turn it into a story?

I know a guy in his 50s who’s still trying to make it as a musical artist. He had about 27 minutes of fame for his creepy audition on The X Factor, combined with the snarky comment he made to one of the judges. Thing is, he was attempting to be something he’s not, recording funky pop music that tweens and college kids prefer. When I asked him why he’d left his punk rock roots to make music so outside his natural interests, his answer was that pop music is “where the money is.”

But he was immediately spotted and called out as a scammer, because people knew he had no passion for this kind of music. The same, I believe, is true for authors.

Meg Cabot

While I don’t think I deliberately set out to do this, looking back on my novel writing process, it seems inevitable that I would write something I wanted to read. I mean, who doesn’t? Children’s authors, maybe. But don’t you think you’d HAVE to write a book that you, personally, would like? Otherwise, it would feel forced and fraudulent.

Whether it’s a book or a film, I am driven by characters, always. I don’t have to like them, but they have to be fully developed enough that I at least understand them. And I’m also drawn to real stories – things that might actually have happened. One of the best books I ever read was We Need to Talk About Kevin, a fictional account of the relationship between a mother and her teenage school-shooter son. Even as I was mesmerized by the story, I remember thinking that the author must have had some personal involvement or insight into a real school shooting in order to have portrayed it so seemingly accurately.

While my story is not nearly as dramatic, I strive for the same thing in my writing, to make the Jorge and Andydetails as accurate as possible. For instance, in my novel, the main character and his best friend attend a baseball card signing event as kids. This is a fictional episode, but I made sure that the two members of the New York Yankees farm team the boys meet, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, were actual playing with the living, breathing Albany-Colonie Yankees at the time.

So, in many ways, my novel already has many nonfiction elements in it. I think my best description is that this book is part travelogue, part social commentary, and part fiction. If I were to make it entirely nonfiction, I suppose it would be a travel guide for first-time world travelers. Suggestions on where to stay, what to eat, security tips, places to visit off the beaten path. I’ve never personally enjoyed those kinds of books or articles – but they definitely have an important role, or at least they used to, pre-Internet. Since beginning Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World, I have picked up many a travel book at thrift stores, book sales, and used book stores, as even with five books about Athens in front of me, each contains different details.

Please be sure to check out my next post, which will be a commentary on critique groups.

And for the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to changing things up every once in a while!

Laura

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________Anatomy of a Book Launch

If you’re getting ready to launch your book and would like help to put together a successful event, download my free special report: Anatomy of a Book Launch. Then CALL me at 602.518.5376 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation. It’s never too early to begin planning!

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Neck deep in travel blogs, books, and pictures

Depending on the topic of your book, you may need to do more or less research. The prompt for day 11 of the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge asks our bloggers to describe how they handled the research for their books. All 35 posts for this Challenge will be focused on writing, publishing, and book marketing. I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.

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Day 11 writing prompt:

Describe the research process for your book. Did you interview people? Travel? How prominent a role did the Internet play? If you didn’t do new research, how did you learn what you needed to know to write your book?

When I wrote this prompt for the Author Blog Challenge, perhaps subconsciously I remembered interviewing some friends for background on countries my main character visits. It definitely wasn’t an overt thought – I was just ticking off the possible ways for an author to do the research necessary to complete any book.

My main character, Stan, travels to 23 different countries over the course of about 18 months (no, he’s not related to Flat Stanley). I have personally been to five of them, including the USA, which meant that research wasn’t an option, but an absolute necessity.

Stan's path

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, back in 2004 when I began writing this story, the Internet was still young and sites like TripAdvisor.com and LonelyPlanet.com hadn’t yet made their appearance. But there were Lonely Planet, Frommer, and loads of indie travel guides, and I used them heavily in planning Stan’s trip.

My novel began as a submission for the 3-Day Novel Contest, the rules of which prohibited contestants from writing ahead. Participating authors were, however, permitted to construct full outlines before the contest got underway. So I spent the three days prior to the contest at the Phoenix Public Library, ensconced in travel books up to my eyeballs, mapping out Stan’s travels and determining how he would get from one location to the next.

When you read this novel, you’ll notice that Ireland gets a lot of air time, as that’s one of the countries I have actually seen in person. I relied on Google images to help refresh my memory, but I was able to construct many of those details without a whole lot of research.

travel icons

Since I’d never been to most of the other places Stan visits, and subsequently had no first-hand knowledge of them, I made a deliberate decision to keep many of his stops off the main tourist thoroughfare. For instance, he doesn’t go to London, Paris, or Rome – perhaps in a vain attempt to prevent too many “that’s not how it is there” comments from readers who’ve actually been to the places Stan goes. Mapping his journey was lots of fun, and I used second-hand knowledge to do much of it.

  • For instance, my closest friend through high school and college was Korean, having come to the United States at about age 4. Incidentally (yeah, right), Stan has a close friend from South Korea, and makes a lengthy stop in Seoul and Incheon.
  • Another good friend lived for some time in Dubai, so Stan’s Middle East travels take him through Dubai.
  • A friend I knew at Lehman Brothers married a gal from Malaysia – in Malaysia. So naturally, Stan visits Malaysia.

Of course, each of these stops along Stan’s journey still required scads of research, which enabled me to flesh out the story.

Then there were the people still in my life who are originally from a couple of the countries Stan visits. Others have traveled to some of Stan’s stops fairly recently, and I was able to sit down and interview them about the things an American would notice on his first trip abroad. These tiny details add flavor and realism to the story that I might not otherwise have been able to capture.

  • My friend Sunil is from India and told me about the lack of air pollution regulations, and that the exhaust would be an instant and insidious annoyance to an American.
  • Joey was born in the Philippines and still visits fairly regularly. He explained the “Jeepneys” in Manila and some of the more interesting dishes of his homeland.
  • My friend Janet visited Machu Picchu about eight years ago and lent me a jump drive with her amazing photos on it.
  • My friend Tom travels regularly to China for business and has regaled me with some interesting observations about the people.
  • A good friend whose husband is a professor has spent a great deal of time in Turkey and aided me with some of those details.
  • And then my niece visited Egypt about a year-and-a-half ago, and provided a couple of important pieces that allowed me to inject a bit of humor into the story.

Which leaves all of the rest of the countries: Sweden, Belarus, Greece, Sudan, Ethiopia, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and El Salvador. Every detail of those places was aided by some combination of travel blogs, travel sites, Google images, travel books, atlases, digital maps – oh, and perhaps most important of all, my imagination.

Guess my next step will have to be planning my own world tour to see how my descriptions hold up to me!

Please be sure to check out my next post, which will talk about how I could make Stan a nonfiction book if I were so inclined.

And for the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to the right investigative reporting for your next book!

Laura

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________Anatomy of a Book Launch

If you’re getting ready to launch your book and would like help to put together a successful event, download my free special report: Anatomy of a Book Launch. Then CALL me at 602.518.5376 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation. It’s never too early to begin planning!

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Organized chaos? What’s your method for outlining and keeping your story on track?

Virtually every author,  fiction or nonfiction, needs a method for outlining and staying organized. Day 10 of the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge asks our bloggers to describe their outlining and organizational processes. All 35 posts for this Challenge will be focused on writing, publishing, and book marketing. I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.

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Day 10 writing prompt:

Describe your process for outlining your book. What do you do to stay organized? Do you use a software like Scrivener? Index cards? Sticky notes? Giant posterboards taped to the wall?

Sometimes, the desire to write the book shows up before we even know what the book will be about. That was somewhat the case for me with Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World. It was also the case for my friend, Joe Torres.

Joe’s been attending the Phoenix Publishing & Book Promotion Meetup (PP&BP) for a few months, and every time he comes, he’s made some significant progress on his book. A couple sessions ago, he described his outlining process: grabbing several huge sticky-back sheets of poster paper, slapping them on the wall, and recording the ideas for his first novel as fast as they come to him.

Joe's outlines

Joe’s outlines

My process was a little tamer. Mind you, there is NO right way or wrong way to do this. It’s just important that you have an outline of some sort and know who your characters are, where they came from, what they did yesterday, what they will do tomorrow.

My story is about a man who travels around the world, visiting 23 countries over the course of a year-and-a-half. It’s an audacious undertaking, as I personally have visited five of those 23 countries. Which means the book required research. Back in 2004 when I began writing, the Internet was still young and there were no such sites as TripAdvisor.com or LonelyPlanet.com. But there were Lonely Planet travel guidebooks, and I used them heavily in the planning for Stan’s trip.

As I mentioned yesterday, the novel began as a submission for the 3-Day Novel Contest. The rules prohibited writing ahead, but allowed participating authors to construct a full outline before the contest got underway. So I spent the three days prior to the contest ensconced in travel books up to my eyeballs, deciding where Stan would go, and how he would get there. Knowing I’d never been most of the places he would go, I made a deliberate decision to keep many of his visits off the main tourist thoroughfare. For example, he doesn’t go to London, Paris, Rome. Of course there will always be a reader who’s been there to catch me up on an error or inaccurate description, regardless of where Stan travels – but why give them extra ammunition? I have had several globetrotting friends as beta readers, asking them to check the descriptions for accuracy. The reports thus far are that my depictions are quite good, particularly for my not having visited most of these places in person.

Microsoft Word - schedule - lo 2013

Since the novel is told partially in flashback, I also had to create a timeline so that I could keep track of Stan’s past. When did his dad leave? When did he graduate from college? Get his MBA? Start dating Gretchen? Meet Paula? As new details find their way into the story, I add to the timeline. It’s just a Word document, stored in the “Stan” file of my computer.

I’ve tried Scrivener, and it seems like a great tool for someone who needs a lot of help to get and stay organized. I was already so far into my novel by the time I came across it, though, that moving all the information into the Scrivener system seemed like more work than reward. Fellow author C.K. Thomas wrote a blog post for the PP&BP blog about the importance of writing character profiles, something I would not have initially thought to do, but now consider a worthy time investment.

The tool you use to organize your outline, keep your characters straight, and move your plot in the right direction is unimportant. What’s important is that you do those things. Readers notice inconsistencies, like moving a scene from the beginning of the story to somewhere toward the end, but forgetting to remove subsequent mentions that now pre-date the original mention of the episode. They notice when a character started out as a Boston native, but somehow and inexplicably morphed into a guy who’s originally from L.A.

A screenwriting system I learned from Jeff Schimmel could easily be applied to novel writing. It involves a couple of decks of index cards. One set is for the characters. Each character gets a color, and every detail about the character is recorded on a different card. Physical description,3d cover significant relationships, education, hobbies, etc. Another set of cards is for the scenes. In Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World, it would make sense to use a different card (or set of cards) for each country Stan visits. Dialogue goes on another set of cards. What eventually emerges is a storyboard – a graphic organization system that allows you to pre-visualize the story.

Please be sure to check out my next post, which overlaps quite a bit with this one: about my research process for #StanTravels.

And for the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to staying organized in your writing!

Laura

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________Anatomy of a Book Launch

If you’re getting ready to launch your book and would like help to put together a successful event, download my free special report: Anatomy of a Book Launch. Then CALL me at 602.518.5376 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation. It’s never too early to begin planning!

__________________

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Dinner with a friend kicked off the 11-year novel

Back in 2008, I bought a book called A Book Is Born, which presents the stories of 24 authors and how their books came to be, from idea to publication. Day 9 of the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge asks our bloggers to offer descriptions of their books’ genesis. All 35 posts for this Challenge will be focused on writing, publishing, and book marketing. I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.

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Day 9 writing prompt:

Describe how the idea for your book first came to you. Where were you? Who was the first person you told? How did they respond?

The idea for Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World came in increments. The precipitating event was dinner with a good friend. He’s one of the best people I’ve ever known, but life circumstances made him very security conscious. If you know anything about the Enneagram personality typing system, he is a 6.

So we were having dinner one night, and I asked him, “If you could go anywhere in the world, where Enneagram 6would it be?”

Deadpan, he answered me, “I think I’d like to walk around the world.”

I laughed – which annoyed him.

“Why are you laughing?”

“Because in a million years, you’d never walk around the world. You’re too safe.”

“No I’m not,” he pouted, unwilling to admit I was right.

“Yes you are. You’d never give up your job, your apartment, leave Jennie…”

The pouting continued. “I don’t like that you called me safe.”

And then the conversation eventually drifted to another topic.

FAST FORWARD 2 YEARS

I was running a little weekly writing group (and by little, I mean three or four people) for a short time (and by short time, I mean three or four weeks). Each time we got together, we’d take turns suggesting a writing prompt. Then we’d put pen to paper and see what we came up with in half-hour or so. One of the prompts was: Early one morning…

So I started a story about a guy who sets off on a trip around the world. I got four paragraphs written.

FAST FORWARD 18 MONTHS

I heard about an international writing opportunity known as the 3-Day Novel

3d Businessman standing on earth globe: European and African side. Isolated on white

Contest. It takes place every Labor Day weekend, beginning at midnight on Friday night and running through midnight on Monday night. If you’ve been reading my previous Author Blog Challenge posts, you know that I was a nonfiction major, and fiction was never my strong suit. Nevertheless, I decided I could spare three days to give novel writing a try.

Then, I had to come up with a story I could tell in three days. Enter Stan. The contest rules said that the entire work had to be created that weekend. You couldn’t pull out an old manuscript, dust it off, and submit it. I’ll admit a wee bit of cheating, in that I had four paragraphs already written before the contest kickoff. But the rest – 107 pages – I wrote over those three days. Tomorrow I’ll tell you the process of researching and outlining the book.

So, realistically, three days is not long enough to write anything of substance. But it was enough to write what my friend Carol described as “a really good outline.” I showed an early draft to my sister, who I know will never mince words or tell me she likes something if she doesn’t. She said, “Of all the creative stuff you’ve done in your life – and you’ve done a LOT – this is, by far, the best.”

Those two positive responses kept Stan alive for me throughout the years. He’s getting there, now. Hell, I wrote past the biggest episode of writers’ block I’ve ever experienced just a couple days ago. So now it’s onward. And upward. And outward, into the vast, vast world around which he traveled.

For the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to your book idea, and getting the damn thing written!

Laura

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________Anatomy of a Book Launch

If you’re getting ready to launch your book and would like help to put together a successful event, download my free special report: Anatomy of a Book Launch. Then CALL me at 602.518.5376 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation. It’s never too early to begin planning!

__________________

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