The Problem with Carefully Crafted Headlines

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 at 9:46 AM | Category: Blogging, Books, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 8 comments

My youngest showed me a bookmark that listed the 20 Texas Bluebonnet nominated books. “Mom, I’m going to read all 20 of these books,” he said.

Needless to say, I did cartwheels and back flips in my mind. (The only place it can happen as I haven’t done a decent cartwheel since the ’80s.) A child who wants to read? My oldest was average about reading. The middle one despises it.

A little background. The Texas Library Association runs the Texas Bluebonnet Award program, a reading program that encourages children in third through sixth grades to read more books. They must read at least five nominated books to be able to vote.

We reviewed the list to find his next read. Then I did what I should know better to do. I started judging books by the title. An interesting thing happened. The synopsis of the titles that interested me sounded like books worth reading. And those with blah titles didn’t.

After my son finished “Benjamin Franklinstein Lives!” I picked it up. Good title, right? I don’t like monsters or anything, but I knew it wouldn’t be scary since this is for kids. Here’s the synopsis:

Victor Godwin’s orderly life is upended when he discovers that Benjamin Franklin never actually died. In truth, he was put in suspended animation and hidden away for more than 200 years in Victor’s basement.

Intriguing, right?

I didn’t like it.

Bad Headlines Live!

That’s what happens when I come across a headline that interests me. I click through only to find a disappointing article that doesn’t deliver.

There are jillions of articles about writing headlines for blog posts and online articles. They give advice, tricks and formulas for crafting a super duper catchy one that hypnotizes people into reading.

Please stop. Just stop.

It happens often enough that I quit visiting a few websites that let me down again and again and again. Everyone has an off day. Of course, I didn’t stop visiting after one over-hyped or perfectly crafted headline. These sites were notorious enough that I started remembering how they wasted my time too often.

Sometimes it’s not so obvious. Some headlines say they’ll show you how to create a plan or strategy only to be vague without helping you.

Back to Basics

A simple headline that describes the article beats out another using a formula that over promises and under delivers. The same goes for email subject lines. I open plenty of email newsletters with basic subject lines that tell me what the issue is about. They don’t always have a benefit or add a sense of urgency. Some even use the same headline such as: “Newsletter name: Title of key topic or article.”

Just say what’s in the email and make sure the content in the email matches the landing page. Bryan Eisenberg shares great examples of how an email promises one thing and delivers something else. (Check it out. It’s unbelievable how companies overlook something so basic.)

Now when I review the Bluebonnet list, I look up the book’s summary and read well-written reviews. I also ask around for recommendations. 2013-2014 nominee “Walls Within Walls” caught my eye. And guess what? The school librarian loved it. And my son is already hooked. (Bonus points: the book takes place in New York, my dad’s hometown.)

For 2012-2013, my son voted for “Aliens on Vacation.” If I could vote, it’d be “Wonderstruck,” which left me — like its title — wonderstruck after reading it.  (Its author, Brian Selznick, wrote “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”) At my son’s school, “Wonderstruck” received the most votes. “Postcards from Camp” won the 2012-2013 Texas Bluebonnet Award.

Are headlines becoming a problem for you in your Internet travels? Do they live up to your expectations? What can we do to write better headlines?

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Living Life to Its Fullest

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012 at 9:46 AM | Category: Books 8 comments

Welcome to meryl’s notes blog (this here place you’re lookin’ at) in Plano, Texas. We’re honored to be a stop in Sonia Korn-Grimani’s WOW! Women On Writing Blog tour. We’re giving away a signed copy of “Sonia’s Song” [affiliate]. Read on to see how you can win.

About Sonia Korn-Grimani: Sonia Korn-Grimani photoSonia Korn-Grimani earned her doctorate in French literature and the teaching of foreign languages, and directed a multi-cultural language program at UNESCO. With her husband John, and their children Anthony and Renee, Sonia traveled and lived all over the world. In her album Cantos al Amor, Sonia sings in 16 languages. In 1989, Dr. Korn-Grimani was knighted Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques, and in 1996 she was decorated Officier des Palmes Académiques.

Living Life to Its Fullest by Sonia Korn-Grimani

Railroad trackThe following fragment is from the Chapter “Hidden Cargo” from my memoir “Sonia’s Song.” It is June 1939, and my brother Heini and I, at the time aged 9 and 7, have been left by smugglers 40 kilometers from the German-Belgian border. The smugglers told us to walk along the track until morning and hide if we hear anyone coming. Even though it took place more than 70 years ago, I remember this long journey, fraught with danger, with extreme detail. At any moment, we could have been discovered by soldiers or sympathizers along the way. It was just one of many, many times that we lived through terrible danger before and during the war.

We continue along the tracks, towards the border. Night deepens. I hear sounds through the trees — rustling leaves and then branches cracking. Is someone following us? I grab Heini’s arm. He’s heard it too. We start to run.

We run through the darkness, until we are out of breath and our legs give out. I can’t catch my breath and wonder if I am breathing too loud, if my breath will give us away.

I hold my breath and listen. The wind rustles the branches of the fir trees. An owl calls, inquisitively, then silence. Maybe we outran them, whomever they were. We continue our walk west along the tracks.

The crescent moon lowers and sets behind the trees. Don’t leave us Moon we will be all alone in the dark. Just then I hear rumbling again on the tracks. Heini grabs my arm and we throw ourselves into the side of ditch, although it is shallower this time. I press my face into the dirt, and hold my breath.

After the train passes, I roll over carefully, open my eyes, and look up into the night sky. Even though I am too anxious to feel hungry, my tummy grumbles, loud enough for Heini to hear. He pulls out his butter sandwich and tears it in half, then half again. He hands a piece to me, and the butter, a rare treat, tastes like the best meal I’ve ever had. I try to keep the flavor on my tongue as long as I can.

“I suppose we’ve been walking for four hours. We still have a long way to go yet. I doubt we’re even a third of the way there,” whispers Heini.

We press on as fast as we can. After a few more hours, my toes blister, each step becoming painful. I curl my toes to prevent them from rubbing my shoe, but this only helps so much.

“Sonia — train!” We bolt off the tracks, jump into the ditch and wait.

After the train passes, I look up and find Polaris overhead. I see the great wagon and the kneeling giant Hercules with his club making his way across the sky, as we make our way to an uncertain future. The stars become our guide, our hope, our comfort, lighting our way in the darkness.

So much of my life during the war feels like it was broken up into little bits. We were in hiding, living for weeks and months on the run with the Nazis always just a step behind us. Each day, each moment, we didn’t know what was lurking around the corner, what the day would bring, or if we would ever see each other again.  I remember each time I’d see my mother I would try to savor that moment in time, because I honestly didn’t know if that would be the last time I’d see her.

And the thing is, we didn’t really know then, and we don’t really know now. Perhaps it is an effect from living day-to-day, and experiencing deprivation and danger for such prolonged periods of time as a small child, but I remember many times during the war my senses being heightened, and my world reduced to what I could see, hear, and smell at that instant. The past didn’t matter, the future didn’t matter. All that exists, really, is the present.

After war’s end, I was able to book passage on an Italian migrant ship, the SS Napoli, which was filled with hundreds of other people like me from war-ravaged Europe, all trying to seek a better life for ourselves. We left from Naples, Italy, and traveled past Egypt on the Suez Canal. During our nights on board the ship, we congregated on the top deck and sang to entertain ourselves. The passengers fervently loved Italian operas. They asked me if I know any Puccini arias, and I sang for them and led them in song. There we were, a chorus of fellow émigrés from all over Europe, united in harmony, singing Puccini under the summer night sky.

We were all so tired, so weary of the war, of our past, of our circumstances. But I felt a shared sense of determination to make something of ourselves in our new land. It was a time of joy as we ventured to our new home, a time to reinvent our lives and break from our past, and a time of sorrow for leaving a part of us behind us. And as I was singing beautiful songs under the night sky with my fellow émigrés, I felt a pure joy as I lost myself in the music and the summer night and the companionship of the other travelers.

I looked up at the stars and thought of the time Heini and I were laying in the soil, trying to disappear into the ground as the trains would pass us by on that fateful trip, pretending very hard not to exist, catching a glimpse of the great hunter in the night sky. And as we were trying to momentarily slip out of existence, so too did our fears and troubles, at least, for a brief instant.

We tend to cling to the past, and always make plans about the future. But in the moment, you are who you are, no more, no less; you are perfect, you are the sum of all that has happened in your past, you are the vessel of potential for every good thing that will do in your future.  And if you get lost, the stars to will always be there to guide you on your way.

Sonia's Song Book CoverAbout Sonia Korn-Grimani‘s Book: At the age of eight, little Sonia Korn is declared an enemy of the German State. She and her family are given a grim option; either find a way to disappear, or be rounded up and sent to certain death. After a perilous escape to the Belgian border, and becoming caught in the chaos and carnage of war-torn France and Belgium, Sonia finds that she must give up everything she knows and loves just to survive. This is the complex true story of one girl, who rises from war’s ashes to sing the songs of hope and love world-wide. A heart-wrenching and poignant memoir, by internationally renowned singer Sonia Korn-Grimani.

Comment and win: The prize: winner gets signed copy of “Sonia’s Song.” For a chance to win, please leave at least a 30-word comment about how you live life to its fullest or what music means to you. You have until 11:59pm on  October 11, 2012 to qualify for the drawing. The unbiased and robotic has the honor of picking the winner.


Research Redefined

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012 at 8:56 AM | Category: Books, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 2 comments

Encyclopaedia Britannica adYou may have heard that Encyclopædia Britannica no longer sells a print edition. It now only offers a paid subscription to its online edition. Why pay a few bucks a month for information that’s available free? Ah, yes, Encyclopædia Britannica entices prospects by saying, “There’s no such thing as a bad question–but there are bad answers.”

Wikipedia vs. Encyclopædia Britannica

Resources like Wikipedia and infographics have been known to produce incorrect information. Besides, even if Wikipedia managed to produce perfect entries — it still has a human factor problem with volunteers writing and editing the entries.

I’ve seen an editor delete an entry due to bias rather than providing a solid reason that complies with Wikipedia guidelines. I’ve seen entries on controversial hijacked or rewritten with bias. And I’ve heard stories like David Henderson’s. He shares his thoughts and experience on Wikipedia.

I think we all agree Wikipedia has plenty of mistakes. But what about the stalwart Britannica? It’s not infallible according to a study.

Nature conducted a controversial study comparing the accuracy of the two sources. Using the average mistakes per article, the study found 2.92 mistakes for Encyclopædia Britannica and 3.86 for Wikipedia. However, Wikipedia could make corrections instantly while a printed edition could not … that is, until now. I wonder how the two compare when using the online edition of Encyclopædia Britannica.

Nonetheless, we all need to know how to discern bad information from the good. That means learning how to find information, looking at the facts, and evaluating the source [pdf]. Many Wikipedia contributors include citations to support the facts presented. Using our experience and research skills, we can figure out whether those resources suffice.

Wikipedia doesn’t get much respect in academics. Some educators consider it invalid as a source. (Search for it and you’ll see.)

Trusted resources not always reliable

The Internet has changed how we obtain information. The information is out there, but we need to know how to dig through it to get what we need. Even reliable resources get it wrong.

For example, The University of Texas’ Energy Institute conducted a hydraulic fracturing study that included a look at the media and public perception of shale gas development. The study found that the tone of media coverage was “overwhelming negative.”

Here are the most interesting facts from the study:

  • “Less than 20% of newspaper articles on hydraulic fracturing mention scientific research related to the issue.
  • “25% of broadcast news stories examined made reference to scientific studies.
  • “33% of online news coverage mentioned scientific research on the issue.”

Newspaper articles. Broadcast news. Online news coverage. These are resources many people trust. Yet, these media outlets don’t often rely on scientific research when talking about shale development.

Side note. Here’s an infographic comparing the two. Accurate or not? I found the Nature study through Google, which happens to be one of the resources in the infographic. Do a search on the study and you’ll see plenty of results about its controversy.

What kind of impact does the Internet have on research? What if many researchers, journalists, and students rely on flawed data found on the Internet and reliable resources? How do we determine what’s reliable aside from talking to a primary source?

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Traditional Publishing to ePublishing: What you need to know

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011 at 9:42 AM | Category: Books, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 2 comments

Margaret Norton

Guest post by Margaret Norton

Five years ago, when I started thinking about writing my first book, most people recommended a traditional publisher rather than self-publishing. I took that advice many times, but since then I’ve wondered if I made the right choice.

One year after my book was released, I terminated my relationship with my publisher. There were several reasons for this: I felt that I was doing most of the work anyway – except for printing the book – so why not get the full financial reward? However, my biggest reason was lack of control. I felt that I had very little say over anything that happened with my book and I had no way to track my marketing efforts. Like most new writers, I wasn’t making much money anyway, so why not venture out on my own?

That was five months ago and this is what I’ve learned so far:

The electronic author has most of the same problems as the traditional author. For the new writer, the biggest problem is publicity. I am doing the same things I was doing 18 months ago – press releases, blog tours, working social media, trying to build a name for myself as a writer, etc. The only thing I’m not doing is physical book signings, which I could do with my remaining stock, but have chosen not to. My goal is to have a total virtual experience.

Technology is the biggest epublishing challenge, especially if you’re weak in this area. For months, I took classes and read articles to prepare for this change, yet I’m almost overwhelmed with the amount and content of the information. Initially, I was under the impression that there were two major formats – Mobi for Amazon’s Kindle and epub for everything else.

What I’m learning is there are variations on these two and it hasn’t been as easy as it sounded. Most web sites that publish books have technical departments that are very helpful and there are companies that assist you with the technical aspects of epublication such as formatting and creating ecovers.

Numerous outlets exist for epublications. New writers are usually encouraged to purchase their own books from the publisher until they create a demand for their product. Epublishers typically do not have as many restrictions and once your book is in the correct format, you can often list it free. One list had 40 web sites that allow you to sell books online.

This is time consuming. Some have regulations, some charge small fees, some have time limits, most let you set your own price with a minimum and maximum, some allow you to give your book away or free chapters, some have blogs and community support and some list your book with other sites and help with the promotion.

Payment is quicker with epublication and varies by site – PayPal, check or electronic transfer. Returns are not as likely with ebooks, a good thing. It takes time to get everything set up. Once this is done, all you have to do is maintain and collect your checks.

Changing from traditional publishing to epublishing is going from one extreme to another. I no longer feel that I have little control. Instead, I have total control over everything that pertains to the distribution, promotion and sale of my book. If it doesn’t do well, I can’t blame my publisher. On the other hand, if it does, then I’ll get to claim all the glory. The royalties are less per book, but the expectation is that I’ll sell more books.

Publishers tend to send you out to pasture unless you continue to generate healthy sales numbers. Online sales are different – they don’t drop you if sales are down. You can spend the rest of your life promoting a book and perhaps generate some healthy sales over time. For me, this was a chance that I was willing to take.

If you’d like a copy of the list of 40 web sites, the name of the company who did my formatting, my ecover designer or others who’ve helped me in this process, please contact me at margnorton at yahoo dot com.

When Ties Break bookAbout Margaret Norton: Margaret Norton has always pushed the envelope – never totally accepting the status quo. A people person, her greatest joy comes from helping others. Preventing abuse, empowering women and improving health are her passions. As a personal life coach, Margaret founded Life Transitions to help individuals deal with change. In addition, she’s a trained Stephen Minister and Dale Carnegie Coach. This training, along with her personal life experiences, makes her a caring and compassionate coach. Her stories have appeared in A Light Along the Way, the Upper Room, various local newspapers, and on-line.

Margaret Norton’s When Ties Break: A Memoir About How to Thrive After Loss chronicles one woman’s struggles through life, encumbered by far more than her fair share of burden, and her eventual triumph. The author provides an excellent guide through the tribulations of life, having survived divorce, abuse, abortion, excommunication, chronic illness, homelessness, death, bankruptcy, sibling rivalry, adultery, single parenthood, drug addiction, low self-esteem and depression.

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Guest Post: Prepping Book Questions

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011 at 9:04 AM | Category: Books, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 5 comments

Welcome to meryl’s notes blog (this here place you’re lookin’ at) in Plano, Texas. We’re honored to be a stop in Kathy Handley‘s WOW! Women On Writing Blog tour. We’re hosting a giveaway of her book Birds of Paradise [affiliate]. Read on to see how you can win.

Kathy HandleyAbout the author: Her grandfather entertained his family with stories and dancing, her father quoted Shakespeare and her mother was known as “Mary the Poet” so naturally Kathryn would become a writer … eventually!

Now a published novelist at age 71, Kathy’s short fiction has appeared in many literary magazines. She recently won Word Hustler’s Page-to-Screen Contest (2011) and currently serves as Prose Poetry Judge for the National League of American Pen Women Soul-Making Contest. A collection of her work will soon be released under the title A World of Love and Envy (short fiction, flash-fiction, and poetry).

Prepping Book Questions by Kathy Handley

You, the author had many questions and problems to solve as you progressed through your long story, the novel. At certain stages, you went back in the story to look for consistency in character development, time line, plot, clues as to what would happen next.

And so, for your astute readers, they will be considering the same aspects — perhaps consciously if they are writers and reading to learn more from the great guy and gal authors. Remember questions your writing group, agent, editor, trusted readers and you had about the early drafts of the books and the outcome of the final draft.

With my first novel, Birds of Paradise, I’ve been asked many questions during readings and discussions, as well as in interviews. Along with answering these questions in person, I prepared a “book club” list for my readers. The questions usually bounce around between general and specific. Listed are examples of author and reader questions.

  • Why did the author choose the choice of title? What does it mean in terms of the storyline? What would you have named the book?
  • Who was your favorite character? Why?
  • What did you find predictable about the plot? How would you have changed it?
  • What specific details, as in quirky attributes and “things they carried” did you like about the characters?
  • Who was your favorite? Why? Would you like to read another book following the same or many of the same characters in a sequel?
  • What was the most memorable incident in the book?
  • What did you learn about the areas where the story took place? Did the author place you there in a natural way or was it obvious she was trying to use the setting for character reveal or something else?

Personal questions about you, the author

  • How long did it take you to write the book?
  • What motivated you to choose this setting and characters?
  • What projects are next for you?
  • How did you research details for this book?

Birds of Paradise bookHave fun preparing book questions.

Birds of Paradise tells the story of a lonely, long-haul trucker, Joe-Mack, who picks up a runaway, Freddie, in Las Vegas and drops him in Hollywood, offering to help him if needed. When the call comes, he reaches out to the boy and becomes embroiled in the lives of homeless kids.

Comment and win: For a chance to win a copy of Birds of Paradise [affiliate], please leave a comment. You could share a memorable book club discussion that resulted from the questions posed, questions you’d ask your favorite author (let us know your favorite author) or questions you’d ask about a book you’ve read. You have until 11:59pm on October 11, 2011 to qualify for the drawing. The unbiased and robotic has the honor of picking the winner.

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Guest Post: Two Attorneys Spill the FAQs.

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011 at 9:05 AM | Category: Books, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 2 comments

Welcome to meryl’s notes blog (this here place you’re lookin’ at) in Plano, Texas. We’re honored to be a stop in Joanne Lewis and Amy Lewis Faircloth‘s WOW! Women On Writing Blog tour. We’re hosting a giveaway of a Kindle version of their book Wicked Good [affiliate]. Read on to see how you can win.

Joanne Lewis and Amy Lewis FairclothAbout the authors: It was a chilly day in Maine when Amy received the call from her sister, Joanne, “Wanna write a book together?” Amy said yes and the journey began.

Amy is the older sister who loves her two sons and nephew, dogs, volunteering at the Bangor Humane Society, running, hiking, snowshoeing, surfing the web, her brown poodle Teddy, Lola, writing, reading, cycling, going to bed early, spending time with her friends and family, being outdoors when it’s nice outside and indoors when it’s not,and editing Joanne’s writing. She is a pescatarian and a lawyer in Maine.

Joanne is the younger sister who loves her three nephews, her grey poodle Frisco, writing, hiking, snowshoeing, kayaking, cooking, traveling, Florence, Italy, anything to do with the Italian Renaissance, Michelangelo, spending time with her friends and family and being edited by Amy. She a vegetarian and a lawyer in Florida.

Two sisters, both attorneys; as sisters, Amy and Joanne have learned to play to each others strengths—an important lesson for any co-authors.

Two Attorneys Spill the FAQs by Joanne Lewis

Amy and I get asked all the time (FAQ#1) how did two sisters who live in different states and are both attorneys end up writing a book together? My best answer: It beats the heck out of me! Okay, that’s only partially tongue-in-cheek. I know how it happened.

I’m a novelist and I was looking to write another book. I was in my home in Florida and on the phone with my sister and without thinking asked: do you want to write a book together? She was frost-bitten from a long Maine winter and figured, why not? The hard part was actually writing it.

Get ready for the answer to FAQ #2: it took us three years.

Throughout this amazing journey from deciding to write a book together to publication, we have been asked many questions. I have compiled the top 10 FAQs. You already know 1 and 2. Here are the others.

FAQ #3. How did we actually write the book while living in different states? A lot of emails and telephone conversations. Wicked Good takes place in Maine and Massachusetts so one time when I visited her we took a road-trip to Salem and Gloucester where part of the novel takes place.

FAQs#4 and 5. Who came up with the story idea? and Did you alternate writing chapters? We developed the plot as we went along with a lot of trial and error. The mad scientist who wanted Rory’s DNA to cure cancer was thankfully stricken from the novel. The chase scene through the city forest was also mercifully cut. If we didn’t enjoy writing something we figured no one would enjoy reading it so that was a main indicator of needing to take the plot in a different direction.

As the plot moved forward and we came up with ideas we’d ask each other: do you want to write that? Typically, Amy wrote the mother-son scenes, capturing the emotion, and I filled in the rest. We also edited each other’s work, which leads me to FAQ#6: If you have a disagreement over something involving the book, who wins? My answer: Amy. Amy’s answer: Jo.

FAQ#7. Do you write books without the other? Yes, as to me. No, as to Amy. While I am not working as a lawyer, volunteering and writing the Wicked series, I am writing other novels on my own. When Amy is not working as a lawyer, volunteering and writing the Wicked series, she is playing with her dogs.

FAQ#8. How do you find the time to practice law and write novels? It’s not easy. That’s why Wicked Good took three years to write.

Wicked Good bookAre you writing another book together is FAQ #9? Yes. It’s called Wicked Wise. Rory is nineteen years old and about to graduate high school. We’re hoping to have it published in 2012. We are also planning on continuing the Wicked series where we follow Rory as he ages.

And the FAQ #10 is (drum roll, please): Did writing Wicked Good bring you both closer together? Absolutely!

Wicked Good is the story of a single mom raising an adopted Asperger’s Syndrome child. The adventure begins when Rory, the boy, decides to set off in search of his birth parents. The story is part mystery, part drama with a good dose humor and a bit of “witchy” history. In the end, mother and son discover more than just the origin of Rory’s birth — they discover the deep bond of love that they have with each other.

Comment and win: For a chance to win a Kindle copy of Wicked Good [affiliate], please leave a comment at least 50 words long about writing about parents or Asperger’s. You could share a favorite memory, an intriguing fact in your family history or even something witchy. You have until 11:59pm on October 4, 2011 to qualify for the drawing. The unbiased and robotic has the honor of picking the winner.


Obstacle Illusions

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011 at 12:14 PM | Category: Books, Life Tips, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing No comments

Born profoundly deaf, Stephen J. Hopson didn’t let that stand in the way of fulfilling his dreams. He landed his first job on Wall Street at a major New York bank. Ten years later, he left this secure position to further his career as an award-winning stockbroker. He made aviation history by becoming the world’s first deaf instrument-rated pilot in 2006.

Stephen J. HopsonBecause he wanted to inspire others to overcome their shortcomings, usually imaginary, the way Stephen had experienced his life; he turned his life’s journey into a national bestselling book Obstacle Illusions: Transforming Adversity into Success [affiliate link]. Through his writings and keynote speeches, Stephen is inspiring thousands of people worldwide to believe in themselves and achieve the impossible.

How did the book project come about?

The book had been in the making for over a decade after I quit Wall Street. I began hanging out in coffee shops in the city and writing stories, reaching deep within me and pulling out life experiences and putting them on paper. Soon, I was submitting some of them for publication as a way of testing my writing talents and to my surprise, it got accepted in three then-bestselling books. (Chicken Soup for the College Soul [affiliate link] was one of them.)

That gave me confidence to keep writing, which I very much enjoyed doing. In 2000, after hundreds of rejections, I landed a prominent literary agent named Joseph Dupreos who was, at that time, representing Mother Teresa. I thought for sure we would get a big book publishing contract. But after months of working on the book proposal and then approaching them, all of them turned us down.

The book went on the back burner for 10 years while I pursued other things of interest. Along the way, I had several people help me edit the manuscript while I added and deleted chapters. Eventually, I had a 300-page manuscript. On the advice of experienced authors, I cut it in a half, which is what is now the book Obstacle Illusions: Transforming Adversity Into Success [affiliate link]. The other half will eventually be book #2. I finished it a year ago and then hired a professional editor and cover designer to assist with the finalizing of the book. It’s been a long road!

What will book #2 focus on? How is it different from Obstacle Illusions?

It will be mostly a “how-to” book based on my life experiences.

How did you land your agent?

Sent hundreds of one page query letters outlining the book’s purpose and invited them to request the book proposal, which I wrote with the help of Write the Perfect Book Proposal [affiliate link] by Jeff Herman.

How long did it take to write the book?

Ten years or so.

What was the writing process for the book?

I broke it down into manageable tasks. I bought a bulletin board and a stack of index cards. Every day, at the beginning, I allocated a time block (usually an hour or two) and thought about what kind of chapters I wanted to create and then wrote titles on the cards.

They were put up on the board and I was free to move them around anytime I felt inspired to do so. Then I would pick a chapter idea that inspired me on any given morning and start writing the chapter. That was my daily commitment.

How is your book different from other personal development books from people who faced similar challenges in their lives?

They contain signature stories of things that have happened to me. People like stories because they can relate to them more than dry facts. The book gives people a chance to take a peek into my life and how I got to be where I am. People have told me they felt all kinds of emotions while reading about my experiences. Each chapter ends with a life lesson and a series of interactive type questions.

How do the emotions help them? If they read the life lesson and answer the questions, what will they walk away with?

Emotions are universal. We all have the ability to tap into them and reading a good story is a good way to help them feel better about themselves. A good story reminds them they are not alone.

Here are a few things I hope readers will walk away with:

  • When we make up our mind about something, we set the universe in motion. Forces beyond our ability to comprehend, far more subtle and complex than we could imagine, are engaged in a process, the dynamics of which the human race is just beginning to understand. In other words, make a firm decision and go for your dreams! You will be supported!!
  • Nothing happens by chance. Everything happens for a reason. Look for the good in everything. If you look hard enough you’ll see healing taking place in there somewhere.
  • Don’t force your hand — learn to stop being control freaks and surrender the final outcome. Trust that things will happen at the right time.
  • Everything you need to achieve your dreams will be made available through divinely orchestrated events — the appearance of the right people, and other resources you may not have previously thought possible. In other words, trust the universe to guide and provide for you along your journey.
  • Some people call this coincidence, others, synchronicity. Whatever you call it, it all stems from you. You create your reality. So why not go for what you really want!!!

Please share a time of when you faced an obstacle and overcame it or learned from it.

Obstacle Illusions BookWhen I went to a seminar for speakers and just happened to be low on funds. When it came time for lunch, I went to the hotel’s restaurant with another participant because it was sweltering hot outside and I didn’t want to venture outdoors. Everything on the menu cost over $20 except for the soup of the day which was $9.99. That’s exactly what I had in my pocket so I ordered that, stuffing free crackers in my pocket in case I got hungry later.

After the seminar was over, I went home and went straight to the mailbox to check my mail. As I was flipping through the stack of mail, I noticed a flaming red envelope, which stood out. Curious, I opened that first and as I was doing that, something fell out and floated to the floor like a butterfly in slow motion. It took me a minute to realize what it was. A ten dollar bill! I knew immediately it was the universe that just paid for my lunch earlier that day. The lesson was “It’s the universe’s job to take care of you, if you let it.”

I want people to realize that when you act on faith and pursue your dreams (in my case that was quitting a lucrative six-figure career on Wall Street to become a speaker), the universe will gather at you feet and support you along the way.

Wall Street jobs tend to involve a lot of meetings and phone calls. And so does being a coach. As a fellow deafie, I know the lipreading is not a science. How did you communicate in these roles?

Yes, indeed. I used my teletypewriter (TTY) and the relay to call clients. I placed buy and sell orders on the computer. Meetings were always a challenge for I didn’t have an interpreter nor did I request one. I just did the best I could while I was there.

Thank you, Stephen, for your time and inspiration.

How did you handle an obstacle? What did you learn from the experience? Have you ever felt the universe took care of you? If so, how?

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Book Summaries and Editorial Reviews: Revealing too much?

Thursday, June 9th, 2011 at 4:36 PM | Category: Books, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog 1 comment

The Hunger Games bookI went to bed late a couple of times this week because of The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. Great series — so far. I’m just getting to the meat of the second book (Catching Fire). I knew the games and themes in the series resembled the The Running Man, but couldn’t imagine why it was a best seller. “The Running Man” was a good movie, but I didn’t love it and post-apocalypse themed stories tend to be depressing. After finishing the first and digging into the second, I got my answer.

But I don’t think everyone would love it especially my mom. I’m curious to know what she’d think if she reads “The Hunger Games.”

Anyway, I accidentally learned the result of “The Hunger Games” when I was reading the synopsis of “Catching Fire” on Amazon’s page. (I looked at it to see if I wanted to read the series.) Despite knowing the result, the book gripped me to the end. Some of us may read the synopsis for an entire series to see if we want to read it or not. You can bet I’m not reading the synopsis for the final book, Mockingjay.

Thinking about this, I checked out the synopsis for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series. I’m at a disadvantage because I’ve read the whole series. After reading all three summaries, I believe they don’t contain spoilers. I tried to do the same with Harry Potter, but again I’ve read them all and may not be the best person to judge.

The synopsis from “The Hunger Games” also gives away a couple of things. However, these happen near the beginning of the book and not knowing these things beforehand adds to the surprise. Then it dawned on me to “Look inside” for the official blurb on the book’s jacket. The blurb revealed little compared to the “Editorial reviews” that I often refer to for the summary. I never had a problem with reading these until this happened.

The editorial reviews read like a summary not a review. A review gives an opinion. The two summaries only have one line giving an opinion and they reveal nothing about the plot. Did the rest of the summary need to reveal so much?

Amazon lists editorial reviews before any other content and doesn’t display the blurb anywhere on the page. The customer reviews appear further down the page. All this time, I saw them as summaries and rely on them to give me an idea of what the book is about without any spoilers. Not every book has a preview aka “Look inside,” so we have to rely on something to help us decide to read or not to read.

I checked Barnes and Noble’s summary on its website. It was almost identical to the blurb on the book jacket. Same for Borders’ website except it included an extra paragraph right before the blurb. I like Borders’ the best of the three.

So why does Amazon post editorial reviews instead? What do you think? Should Amazon post the blurb in place of editorial reviews and move the editorial reviews elsewhere? Have you ever read a blurb that contained too much info?

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Wednesday, March 16th, 2011 at 9:15 AM | Category: Books, Meryl's Notes Blog 5 comments

When Paul, my husband, was in his late 30s, I started thinking about how I could surprise him for his 40th. It’s hard to be surprised when turning 30, 40, 50 and so on. Paul surprised me for my 30th. To be honest, I wasn’t that surprised. I have a weird radar that figures out surprises. That, and my five-year-old made a comment — but she only confirmed what I thought. Paul 40th

So I decided to do something drastic… celebrate his 40th when he’s 39 1/2. This put the date in the summer and right between my daughter’s camp sessions, so she was home for the celebration. Frisco RoughRiders, a minor league baseball team, plays within a couple of miles from our house. Hmm… how about an old fashioned ball game for a party?

The day arrived. Paul isn’t one of those who feels the need to show up early especially for a ball game. Of all times, he decided he wanted to leave earlier. Oh, fine. I went with it delaying as much as I could.

We ran into my parents in the parking lot. (They lived an hour away.) So I came up with a perfect explanation on the spot. (And I’m not usually good at on-the-spot situations.) “Dad won tickets to the game and had plenty for the family.” Oh, it was very plausible. Everyone knew Dad was lucky. He won a car, a bike, trips.

We went to our seats and ran into my brother and sister. No big deal. Then our friends started showing up causing my husband’s face to turn curious confused. We revealed the party. Surprise! He was surprised even though we didn’t arrive after everyone else did as I had hoped.

All of us received an unexpected surprise… us adults with black tongues from the red and black — RoughRider colors — frosting on the cake.

Everybody’s Talking about Surprises

I wrote today’s post as part of the WOW-Women on Writing Blanket Tour for Letter from Home by Kristina McMorris ( This debut novel is the story of three young women during World War II and the identity misunderstandings they and the men in their lives have. Ask yourself: Can a soldier fall in love with a woman through letters? and What happens if the woman writing the letters is different from the woman he met the might before he shipped out, the woman he thought was writing the letters? Is it still love or just a lie?

Like many authors, Kristina has had a wild selection of “real jobs” everything from wedding planner to actress to publicist. She finally added novelist to the list after Kristina got a peek at the letters her grandfather wrote to his sweetheart (a.k.a. Grandma Jean) while he was serving in the Navy during World War II. That got her wondering how much two people could truly know each other just from letter writing and became the nugget of her novel. In honor of her grandparents, and all the other families kept apart by military service, Kristina is donating a portion of her book’s profits to United Through Reading, a nonprofit organization that video records deployed U.S. military personnel reading bedtime stories to their children.

Comment for a Chance to Win

If you comment on today’s post on this blog or any of the others participating in Everybody’s Talking About Surprises by 11:59pm on March 17, you’ll be entered to win a special surprise prize! It includes an personalized copy of Letters from Home, a Big Band CD, Victory Garden seeds, and a $20 gift card the winner can use at … well, it’s a surprise! All wrapped up in a vintage WWII box. To read Kristina’s post about surprises and a list of other blogs participating in Everybody’s Talking about Surprises visit The Muffin.

Tell us about a time when you were surprised.

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Books vs. Library vs. Ebooks

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011 at 5:29 PM | Category: Books, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech 1 comment

For the past few years, I’ve been more cautious about things I buy and keep. Part of it, I attribute to my dad’s passing. He left behind a massive Donald Duck collection thanks to friends and family spoiling him with the Disney character he often imitated to make children laugh. Plus, why have all that stuff in the house to sit there and take up space?

The Books Must Go on … elsewhere

I hope to donate my Theatre World Annual collection. Each book is an encyclopedia of theatre for that covers one year. The shows that played, the shows that closed and recognized actors. I started collecting them in the early 1990s when I discovered the first five books. I wish I had never started the collection because I spent more time loading and unloading the books from shelves than I did reading them. Besides, today we have and many Internet resources where I can look up show information.

Yet, I can’t just give them away. I tried to sell some of the books, but it’s hard to find the hardcore theatre fans who actually collect these. I sold a couple on eBay, but it wasn’t worth the time to post and repost each book as collectors will be looking for specific editions, not a bunch in the set. Shipping a bunch of books in one box is pricey.

The Second Kindle Book Purchase

My book club announced the latest book (It’s a new year — so we haven’t put together our list yet) the day before I had two doctors’ appointments. While I could grab one of my many books I want to read, I needed to read the book club’s choice because of the deadline. With two doctors’ appointments, I expected to read a bit even with a kid in tow.

I don’t keep fiction books after I read them, so why pay for it? I checked with the library. I put my name on the waiting list that had seven people in front of me. I couldn’t tell how long it’d be before the book would be available.

Since I have a Kindle and a need to get a book ASAP, I bought my second Kindle book. (And I’ve had the thing for almost a year.) The first Kindle book came in August when I was heading out of town and found out my book club’s read the night before leaving town. Since I read a lot while traveling, I thought it’d be worth purchasing and it was.

I checked in my library’s website to cancel my request. Aw, man! I couldn’t. A copy is on its way to my library and arrived at the library on the day of the doctors’ appointments. Thanks, Murphy. It’s OK. I read at least 13 percent of the book, so I’d say it paid for itself (it was cheap for a Kindle book, too).

Quirky Book Buying Habits

By the way, the Kindle has a bunch of free books and PDF files loaded. (Check Amazon’s limited-time offers page for free books — scroll down past the fee books.) Have yet to read them just like the many books on my bookshelf. Isn’t that odd? I don’t want to buy an ebook unless I’m absolutely sure I’ll read it soon. Yet, I have books on the shelf that have been sitting unread for years. When buying books, I don’t think about when I’ll get around to reading it — just that it has value because I typically buy nonfiction reference and advice.

Even though I, a geek and gadget lover, still prefer books to ebooks — the ebook readers have a purpose. For me, I can grab a book that I need in a hurry without fuss. As much as I’d like to cut down on books and bookshelves, I’m not going to buy an ebook version of all of the nonfiction books I own and keep. Ebooks aren’t cheap enough to replace a big library.

Besides, I make a lot of mistakes with the tiny mouse / joystick on the Kindle. The administration and categorization process is tedious on the Kindle.

How do you feel about ebooks today?


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