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Entries in writing craft (23)

Monday
Dec122011

5 Dialogue Mistakes You Can Fix Right Now by Ashley March

It's guest Monday! Today we have one of our regular monthly contributors, the lovely and talented Ashley March (who will soon be known as Elise Rome for her new novels!)


Ashley is starting a new blog series here to help you out with those fine tuning things in your manuscript. Be sure to look for her tips each month. First up...dialogue.

Day 240: Smooch!
Photo by Brian Gosline

You Can Fix ItNow: Five Dialogue Mistakes
by Ashley March
Sincebecoming a published author, one of the things I’ve tried to do as a way of“giving back” to the writing community is to offer critiques to other writers.Sometimes these come through auctions, sometimes through networking when I offera critique to someone who’s made an impression on me. I’ve learned a lot in thepast few years I’ve been writing and critiquing, and I’d like to start sharingwith you the most common mistakes I find in the manuscripts of aspiring/beginningwriters. These are mistakes that you can fix now, instead of waiting forsomeone else to point them out to you (although I highly recommend that everywriter has a critique partner, if not two, plus a few beta readers). I’mbeginning the series with dialogue issues.
  1. Redundant Dialogue Tags
I’ve seen somewriters who include a dialogue tag at the beginning and end of a sentence.
For example:“Don’t do that,” Sheilasaid, “or your eyes will become crossed and no girl will want to dateyou again for as long as you live,” she said.
Only one tag isneeded. In fact, if Sheila were to go on for an entire paragraph, expounding onthe reasons why the person shouldn’t cross their eyes, she wouldn’t need anyfurther dialogue tags, because we’ve already established who the speaker is.
  1. Using a Dialogue Tag Every Time
It’s notnecessary to add a dialogue tag with every comment that one of your charactersmakes. In fact, less is better. You should use dialogue tags for these reasons:to establish who is speaking, or to remind the reader who is speaking; and tohelp with the rhythm/pacing of the words.
What not to do:
“I thinksomeone’s at the door,” Sheila said.
“Who is it?” Peter asked.
“How should Iknow?” Sheila asked.“I’ve been in my room.”
“Look,” Petersaid, “you’re the one who told me—”
“Just go see whoit is!” Sheila exclaimed.
And so on.Better alternative:
“I thinksomeone’s at the door,” Sheila said, motioning to Peter.
“Who is it?”
“How should Iknow? I’ve been in my room.”
“Look,” he said,“you’re the one who told me—”
“Just go see whoit is!”
Notice that weremoved one tag completely by including it in the narrative description ofanother tag. After two or three lines of pure dialogue I usually try to givethe reader a reminder of who the speaker is, as I did here. If we had twocharacters of the same gender, I would have specified a name. But because theywere different genders, I used “he” instead of a name, because the constantrepetition of names—whether in dialogue or narrative—can become tiring for thereader. If you’ll notice, the second example of dialogue now has a much betterpacing with the changes we’ve made.
  1. Using a Dialogue Tag Instead of a Descriptive Tag.
I am a huge fanof the descriptive tag. They help keep the reader in the room with yourcharacters, so your characters don’t end up as talking heads. They reveal ticsabout your characters (for example, revealing that your heroine bounces her legwhen she lies). They help to avoid repetition of dialogue tags over a long stretchof dialogue. There are several great uses for descriptive tags. However, keepin mind that these tags can easily be overused as well.
Examples ofdescriptive tags:
“I don’t know.” Peter’s hand hovered over thestair banister as he peered into the dark entryway below. “I have a badfeeling about this.”
“Don’t be awuss.” Sheila blew on herfingernails. “It’s probably just the UPS guy.”
  1. Improper Dialogue Tags
I know you mighthave seen these in published books before, but unless your dialogue tag describesthe way someone speaks—their volume, pace, and so forth—then it’s not adialogue tag.
The most commonoffenders I see:
“Sometimes Ireally do hate you,” Peter sighed.
(If you doubt meon this, try saying this sentence while sighing. It doesn’t work.)
“I know,” Sheilasmiled.
This goes forgrinning, giggling, laughing, etc. The proper way to write this would be tochange this from a dialogue tag to a descriptive tag.
“I know.” Sheila smiled.
           
Yes, you cansmile while speaking and even laugh while speaking, but when it comes down toit in terms of writing, a dialogue tag describes how the character speaks,whereas a descriptive tag describes what the character does.
Please note thatthere are a couple of exceptions to this, such as “lied” or “hedged”. But thesedialogue tags tie directly into what the character is saying, so that theycan’t be used apart from the speech itself. You never see: “Sometimes I really do hateyou.” Peter lied. Just as you never see: “Sometimes I really do hate you.” Peter shouted.
  1. Alienating the Reader Through Dialogue Tags
This is more ofa character issue and how you want to present your character to the reader.
For example,let’s say that you write about a strong, independent heroine who knows who sheis and what she wants and has a good head on her shoulders. Then you write thissentence:
“Oh, Mr. Smith,I can’t believe you said that.” Rebecca giggled.
Unless I as thereader know that Rebecca is acting like a silly coquette for a reason, thisdisturbs me. Note that if you leave off the descriptive tag, I can imagine thissentence being said in a number of ways. It’s not the sentence itself thatthrows me off, but the “giggled”.
“Whined” hasthis same effect. Be careful in choosing your words. Just one wrong word canthrow off the reader and destroy character consistency.
Do you recognize any of these issues asthings you need to work on? What other dialogue mistakes have you read inmanuscripts/books that drive you crazy?
Ashley March is a historical romance author who lives in Coloradowith her adoring (or is that adorable?) husband, her two young daughters, andtheir dog. Her latest book, ROMANCING THE COUNTESS, was released in September2011. She won’t be Ashley March for much longer, however; as of January 1,2012, Ashley will become Elise Rome. 

 

 

 

 


“...a sexy, sizzling tale that is sure to have readers begging for more!" –Jo Davis, author of I SPY A DARK OBSESSION

 

 

CRASH INTO YOU is now available for pre-order!

Read an excerpt here.


All content copyright of the author. Please ask permission before re-printing or re-posting. Fair use quotations and links do no require prior consent of the author. ©Roni Loren 2009-2011 |Copyright Statement|

 

Wednesday
Nov302011

Slow Writer Reform School

 

So we writers can sometimes be a superstitious bunch. We make up stories for a living and many times that creative thinking bleeds into our real life. And one way we do this is by placing some mythical or magical significance on our "process."

 

Shh...don't disturb the Process. Don't try new things. This is working for you. You ARE a (insert appropriate designation: a plotter, a panster, a fast drafter, an edit-as-I-go writer, a morning writer, a midnight oil burner.)

I know I've done this. I read writing craft books like they're going out of style, but I quickly discard suggestions that may go against my Process. I can't write shit down on notecards! *gasp* That will send my pantsing brain into a tailspin. My muse will curl up into the fetal position and weep in a corner!

Okay, maybe you aren't as melodramatic as I am. But I know I'm not the only one who is scared to change things around too much because it might just suddenly steal our ability to write. Like our creativity is made of some delicate blown glass that will shatter if jostled.

Here are the things I've told myself: I'm a slow writer. A thousand words a day is about what I can do. I'm a panster. Planning ahead will kill my passion for the story. I will hit writer's block at some point in every one of my stories. I'm a morning writer. I must blog brilliantly every day and must be on Twitter all the time.

Well, guess what happened though? I sold two more books which have tighter deadlines than I've ever worked under before. My kidlet switched preschools and now goes in the afternoon instead of the mornings. And I fell in love with the Save The Cat! technique.

My Process has been tossed into a blender. Everything I was doing before isn't going to fit into this new setup. I had to figure out something different.

So for book 3, FALL INTO YOU, I've changed up the sacred process. I'm calling it Slow Writer Reform School.

 

Slow Writer Reform School Procedures

 

  • I've dialed back my online time to free up more hours for writing. I don't need to be constantly available online.
  • I wrote the synopsis of this book before starting to write it. (Something you have to do, btw, if you want to sell on proposal.)
  • I wrote out a sentence for each of my major scenes and turning points on (ack!) index cards
  • I'm holding myself to a 1k a day minimum goal
  • I'm writing in pockets of time I usually wasted doing something unimportant
  • I'm am not tying my ability to write to a certain time of the day
  • And when I want to make a major change in the story, I just make a note and don't rewrite the whole thing right then.


And you know what? In seven days, I've written about 12,000 words. Now that may not seem like a lot to you fast drafters or Nano-ers (congrats, btw, to those of you who won Nano), but for me, that is a revelation. I even had an afternoon where I wrote 3200.

 

And it's been fun. Refocusing myself has helped me remember how awesome it is to get lost in your story and to be itching to get back to it. And having those simple plot points already sketched out has kept me moving forward instead of taking a day off to figure out what happens next.

So if you are feeling stuck or not as productive, consider throwing a few curve balls to your sacred Process. If it doesn't work, you can always go back. You never know what you might find.

And if you need more inspiration, there have been a number of posts recently about how others have sped up their writing:


So how about you? Do you see your Process as precious? Have you told yourself that you can only do things a certain way? What have you changed up in your process that's helped you? What hasn't worked?

 

 



"Revved up and red-hot sexy, CRASH INTO YOU, delivers a riveting romance!"
--Lorelei James, NY Times Bestselling author of the ROUGH RIDERS series

 

CRASH INTO YOU is now available for pre-order!

Read an excerpt here.


All content copyright of the author. Please ask permission before re-printing or re-posting. Fair use quotations and links do no require prior consent of the author. ©Roni Loren 2009-2011 |Copyright Statement|

 

Monday
Nov282011

How Low Can You Go? The Important All Is Lost Moment by Sierra Godfrey

It's guest post Monday! Today the lovely and infinitely wise Sierra Godfrey leads us through that dark black part of our manuscript where we go all sadistic on our characters. Fun times!


Over to you, Sierra...


How Low Can You Go? The Important All Is Lost Moment
by Sierra Godfrey

In women’s fiction, one of the main story features is the transformative journey our main characters usually go through, which ultimately ends in self-realization and a life change by the end of the story. But getting to that resolution first requires our gals to go through some tough times and situations. And it’s our job to put them through the literary wringer.

 In plot structure, one of the hardest moments in a character’s transformative process is the All is Lost point—also called the Dark Moment, or the point about ¾ of the way through the story when after everything our girl has been through, she’s lost. She’s defeated, broken, and there’s nothing left. The All is Lost point comes after the midpoint, and is the point at which our girl will fall, and then ultimately gather herself up and head into the finale where she’ll (ideally) take back the day and win. (The All is Lost moment really applies for any genre of fiction--must apply, really--but in women's fic, it's especially important in our heroine's journey.)

In the movie Bridesmaids, the midpoint of the story comes when main character Annie snaps spectacularly at the bridal shower. She throws things, swears a lot, and makes a massive scene--all in public. Her behavior is the culmination of lots of tension, and she lets it all out. After Annie storms out of the shower, her car’s pesky broken taillight (the one she was told to fix repeatedly) causes an accident and she gets stranded (which is bad). Worse, she calls the only person she can think of, the smarmy guy she was dating/sleeping with, who greets her with possibly the most insulting greeting ever—“Hi F- Buddy!” Worse, he does this right in front of the nice Irish cop Annie’s been sort of dating. Oooh. Ouch.

Cop leaves Annie, and Annie has no choice but to go with smarmy F- Buddy guy. He continues to be obnoxious, and she gets out of his car and has to walk home. It’s the movie’s All is Lost point. Annie has lost her friends, her place in the bridal party (let alone maid of honor position), her car, her Irish cop, even her smarmy her F-Buddy. The next few scenes see Annie really take in the despair of this moment by lying on the couch in misery and watching TV.You need this All is Lost point in a story so your heroine can sink as low as she can go before she can rise again. It’s a natural story dip. Your job is to make this moment as low as possible. Take everything away from your character that you can—everything that matters.


Your All is Lost moment should:

  • Feel like the heroine’s lowest emotional point in the whole story—she should die inside a little.
  • Be a huge blow to every goal the heroine’s been trying to achieve.
  • Happen after the character has resisted hard against every obstacle.
  • Take away things from the heroine and leave her bereft.
In general, the lower you go, the better the high of the bounce back up will be, and the more satisfying the story’s conclusion.Let’s look at a few more All is Lost moments:
  • In the movie Tangled, Rapunzel and Flynn finally come together and are sharing a loving moment out on a boat. But then Rapunzel’s evil mother tricks her, and takes Rapunzel back in (in a great display of maternal guilt tripping) and Rapunzel is heartbroken and bitter, and has lost her freedom and her love. Flynn is also captured by the mother’s henchmen and tied up in a boat so palace guards will capture him. For both Rapunzel and Flynn, all they’ve fought for has been lost.
  • In Pride and Prejudice, the All is Lost point can be hard to pick out. It initially looks like the point after Elizabeth hears the news that her naughty sister Lydia ran off with the equally naughty Mr. Wickham, wreaking general disgrace and havoc on the Bennett family. Elizabeth thinks Lydia’s disgrace will cause Elizabeth to end her acquaintance with Mr. Darcy. But in fact the real All is Lost moment comes when Mr. Darcy’s stink-face aunt, Lady Catherine, visit Elizabeth and tells her to renounce Mr. Darcy and that he’s engaged to her own daughter, Anne. Elizabeth goes for a walk, unable to sleep. Of course, she meets Darcy on that walk, but that walk is your moment. (Austen clearly knew about modern plot structure way back in 1813!)
In the story I'm working on now, I just took away my girl's house, fiance, and job--and for good measure, I let her see that someone had been tricking her for most of the book. And I loved doing it.

What are some of the low All is Lost moments you've put your character through?

About Sierra:
Sierra has enjoyed crafting stories for as long as she can remember. She especially likes stories that feature women who grow from the choices they face—and get the guy at the end. She’s a member of RWA and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, two little boys, and two annoying cats. In her spare time she works as a freelance graphic designer and technical writer. To the untrained eye she can appear somewhat sassy, but at heart she loves a good story and is really quite sweet, especially when the lighting is right. Visit Sierra at her blog or on Twitter.

Monday
Oct312011

Stop, Collaborate, and Listen: Plot Building for the Character Driven Writer by Ashley March

It's guest Monday and today Ashley March is not only going to give you a peek inside her newly revised writing method, she's also going to get Ice, Ice Baby in your head for the rest of the freaking day. You've been warned. :)

 

Characters andPlot: Can’t We All Just Get Along?
by Ashley March
 Iam a character-driven author who recently decided that I needed to learn toplot. Oh, the agony! The despair! I cannot tell you the turmoil this created(or, to put it bluntly, the general suckiness of my writing as a result). OnceI plotted the story, suddenly I couldn’t get into my characters’ heads. I hadan outline of where I wanted the story to go, and the characters had to followalong like the good little puppets that they were. Of course, they refused.Imagine it as a movie set and I’m the director. The actors knew the script, butthey kept trying to improvise their lines, while I lurched out of my chair andcut them off on a continual basis. The movie (or, rather, the book) got made,but in the end it was uneven and lacked substance because the characters andthe plot were at complete odds the entire way through production (which, yes,meant major revisions—also not fun).
This is not an experience I ever wish to repeat again. Honestly, I’d rather have mytwo-year-old throw a tantrum every hour on the hour for a hundred days ratherthan go through something similar with another story. Since I’ve now finishedthat book and turned in edits, it’s time to move on to a new one! And I thoughtyou guys might be interested in seeing the change in my process from the oldstory to the new, as well as what I’ve learned as a result. I’m calling this my“Ice Ice Baby” remix, now more appropriately named: “Write Write Baby”.

 
*waitsfor eyes to stop rolling* :D
Ashley’s “WriteWrite Baby” Process
1)      Find the hook.
Quite simply,every story begins with an idea. I don’t care if your hook is “high concept” ornot. All you need to know at this point is the basic idea—what about this storymakes you get excited and want to write it? For my September release, ROMANCINGTHE COUNTESS, the hook is about a widow and widower who fell in love aftertheir cheating spouses died. For SEDUCING THE DUCHESS, my 2010 debut, the hookis about a duke who kidnaps his wife and tries to get her to fall in love himagain. This doesn’t have to be an agent pitch. It’s not fancy. It’s your idea—your wonderful, unique,I-am-a-Mensa-genius idea, and that’s it.
If you’llnotice, this hook/idea features two very important components, both of whichare equal in significance: the characters and the plot.

 
2)      Then STOP, collaborate, and listen.

a)     STOP.
Now, if we wereplotting this baby out the way I plotted the previous monstrosity mentionedabove, then we’d start at Point A (otherwise known as The Beginning) and workout what happens in general synopsis format until we reach Point B (The End).We’d think about our characters and maybe draw up their backstory so we canfigure out what their emotional investment and motivation is in the plot. We’dwrite about what we foresee happening throughout the story; we’d come up withclever scenes and cool twists and end with a fantastic climax and neat littleresolution tied up in a bow. And after that’s done, voila! We have everything we need to start writing…right? Wrong (at least for me).
This is going tosound a little…well, I suppose insaneis the most appropriate word to use, but since we’re all writers here, I trustthat we’ve each already reached that stage of madness. :)
b)     Collaboratewith your characters to begin the book.
After you findyour hook, you don’t start plotting. No, you find out who your characters are(do whatever you must to find out their backstory, their GMCs, etc.—whateverworks for you; I’m a big fan of opening a blank document and free writing asthe characters tell me who they are). Once this is done, you look at your hook,your idea, and as the author you keep this at the back of your mind. But withthe character whispering in your ear, you let them dictate where to begin thestory. They can’t tell you anything else about the story, because they don’tknow what’s going to happen yet.
Note #1: Withthe book that I had such troubles with, everything I wrote was from an author’sPOV. I decided how the story was going to begin, and I wrote the scene thatway. While I have to be honest and tell you that the scene isn’t terrible atall, it didn’t satisfy me because I dictated what would happen. In contrast, Idid these first steps with my debut, SEDUCING THE DUCHESS (hook, stop,collaborate), and I’ve had multiple readers tell me it’s the best openingchapter they’ve ever read. And when I wrote it, all I knew was that the dukewas going to kidnap his wife. The difference? I wrote that scene from thecharacter’s POV, from the man I knew him to be. The conclusion? This canactually work. (By “author’s POV”, I do not mean it as a literary term, i.e.“omniscient”. I mean that you’re writing as if you’re the dictator pulling thecharacter-puppet’s strings. “Character’s POV”, then, means that you’re so deepin the character that you’re writing it as if the character is truly in charge.) 
Note #2: I knownot everyone writes in a linear fashion as I do, and that’s perfectly fine! ButI stress starting at the beginning at this point because I believe that how youstart the book influences everything else that comes afterward. Mostimportantly right now, it influences the tone and your immersion into thecharacter’s POV.
Note #3: I knowsome people are going to read this and think that it might sound good, but haveabsolutely no idea how to “collaborate with your character”. Let me put in adifferent, applicable way: Answer the following question. What is the firstthing your character sees or knows at the beginning? In SEDUCING THE DUCHESS,the duke saw his wife and knew he intended to kidnap her. In ROMANCING THECOUNTESS, the heroine saw the canopy of her bed overhead as she waited for herunfaithful spouse to return home. In the new story I’m about to write, the heroknows that someone is watching him. In each of these examples, we start thebook off immediately in the character’s head. As a result, the tone of thescene, your character’s voice, and the tone of that book (usually) can also beestablished inside your head.
c)     Listen.
Once you writethat first scene with the knowledge of the idea for the book in the back ofyour head, you can start brainstorming how you want the plot to unfold. Buthere’s the really important part: don’t stop listening and collaborating withyour characters. Don’t plot out the entire book all by yourself after thebeginning. Instead, listen for ideas from your characters for scenes you mightwant to include. If you come up with a great idea for a twist or the ending, beprepared to ditch it if the characters don’t lead you down that route. Thedeeper involved in the story you become through the characters, the deeper intothat world your readers will fall, too.
Conclusion, or What I’ve Learned
Here’sthe truth: I think you can write a terrific book without doing this. If you wereborn a plotter, this is probably advice that you’d be better off ignoring,anyway. But if you’re character-driven like I am and you’ve always longed forthe discipline of plotting, here’s a chance to learn from my experience as apantser and then a plotter, and how I’ve discovered to combine the two.
AsI said before, I’m sure you can write a terrific book without this process. Butfor me, the difference between doing what I suggest above and what I did before(focusing more on the plot than the characters) is the satisfaction with thestory. To me there is nothing to describe the joy I get from writing when I’mdeep in the characters’ heads and am discovering everything from theirperspectives. I become emotionally invested and pour my heart into every word.But when I plot everything out and then tell the characters what to do, I feeldetached. It’s no longer a joy, but just work. I don’t care about the words; Icare about finishing the book. And in my opinion, that’s not what writing issupposed to be at all.
Afterhearing back from several readers who read the book I just finished, they allsaid they loved it, but I know I will never be satisfied with it, no matter howmany edits or revisions I make. It will always be the book I wish I could havescrapped and started completely fresh. Even though I’ve spent several monthswriting and editing/revising, I still don’t feel emotionally connected. This iswhy I knew I had to try something different, and if you’re faltering betweenwanting to focus on your characters and thinking that a “good” writer plots, Ioffer this alternative. It’s already made a world of difference for me, and Ihope it does for you, too.
Have you ever found that a certainprocess takes away your joy in writing? What did you change to get it back?

 
AshleyMarch is a historical romance author who lives in Colorado with her adoring (oris that adorable?) husband, her two young daughters, and their dog. Her latestbook, ROMANCING THE COUNTESS, was released by NAL Penguin in September 2011,and she is currently working on the fabulous beginnings of her next twoprojects: the story of Joanna and Ethan, two secondary characters from herVictorian debut; and the first book in a series set in 1920s Long Island.





Everyone have a safe and happy Halloween!

 


"Revved up and red-hot sexy, CRASH INTO YOU, delivers a riveting romance!" --Lorelei James, NY Times Bestselling author of the ROUGH RIDERS series

 

 

CRASH INTO YOU is now available for pre-order!

Read an excerpt here.



All content copyright of the author. Please ask permission before re-printing or re-posting. Fair use quotations and links do no require prior consent of the author. ©Roni Loren 2009-2011 |Copyright Statement|

 

Friday
Oct282011

Fill-Me-In Friday

 


It's time for Fill-Me-In-Friday where I share my favorite links of the week. Hope you enjoy!
On Writing/Publishing:
The Dark Side of Metrics by Kristen Lamb
Get in Late, Get Out Early - A Writing Tip by Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Google Now Alerts for Books by The Digital Shift
QR Codes, The New Sexy by Jenny Hansen
Do Writers Need to Think About SEO? by Erin MacPherson (via Rachelle Gardner's blog)
How To Make Your Own Book Trailer by Jungle Red Writers
Just For Fun:
Yoga, Jersey Style by JM Randolph
Wendigisms compiled by Todd Moody 
What You May Have Missed Here:

by Sierra Godfrey
by Mina Khan
What You Missed on my Author Blog:

 
(even if you're an 80s purist like me)

Favorites from Tumblr this Week:
(for bigger pic, click here)
(for bigger pic, click here)
(for bigger, click here)
Alright, so those are my favorite links of the week, what were some of yours? 

Hope everyone has a fantastic Halloween!

 

 


 

 

"Hot and romantic, with an edge of suspense that will keep you entertained.” --Shayla Black, New York Times Bestselling author of SURRENDER TO ME

 

 

CRASH INTO YOU is now available for pre-order!

Read an excerpt here.


 


All content copyright of the author. Please ask permission before re-printing or re-posting. Fair use quotations and links do no require prior consent of the author. ©Roni Loren 2009-2011 |Copyright Statement|