make a difference by Christmas shopping {gift guide}

Christmas means so many things. Christ's birth, family, friends, cookies, twinkling lights . . . commercialism. With so much greed surrounding us, how do we participate in the joy of gift-giving without causing harm? Although I have, year after year, found myself drawn to the convenience of shopping on Amazon, I'm choosing something better this December. If you'd like to join me, here are some options for making a positive difference this Christmas, simply by doing your holiday shopping.

1. Fair Trade
Make sure the people who made your gift are respected and paid fairly for their hard work by choosing items that are Fair Trade certified. From a bag of coffee to a coffee table, you can find a Fair Trade option for just about anything! Check out this handy gift guide if you're not sure where to begin.

Gift ideas for bookworms, bloggers, and writers:
Fair Trade notebooks, chocolate, tea, coffee, or comfy socks.

2. Local
Instead of joining the crowds at WalMart or scanning page after page on Amazon, take a stroll down Main Street or check out a holiday craft fair and support your neighbors.

Gift ideas for bookworms, bloggers, and writers:
Locally made snacks or candy, a book from the local bookshop, notecards from a local artist . . . the options are endless!

3. Recycled
While you're browsing local shops, craft fairs, and Fair Trade stores, look for items that are made with recycled materials. Like-new used items can make great gifts, too! By choosing recycled gifts, you're helping keep useable materials and products out of the landfill.

Gift ideas for bookworms, bloggers, and writers:
Used books, recycled paper notebooks or stationery, a recycled materials pencil bag, or recycled cotton socks.

4. Homemade
Making something yourself ensures that you know exactly what went in it, plus it can be fun, comes from the heart, and might even save you money! There are countless tutorials and recipes online for creative homemade gifts.

Gift ideas for bookworms, bloggers, and writers:
Hot chocolate mix, homemade candy, bookmarks, or a box made from an old hardcover book.

5. Donate
For the person who has everything, a wonderful option is to donate to a nonprofit organization in their honor. Many organizations offer a printable gift card for the person in whose honor you donate, but you can also write a message in a Christmas card made by a local artist!

Gift ideas for bookworms, bloggers, and writers:
Donate to your local library, New Community Project's Give a Girl a Chance program (girls' education), Mennonite Central Committee (choose "Education"--or any category!), Books for Africa, or Room to Read.


I highly recommend going to brick-and-mortar stores, but if you prefer shopping online, here are a few options that fall under one or more of the above categories:

Amazon Smile -- still Amazon, but a portion of what you pay is donated to an organization of your choice
Better World Books -- online bookstore that donates one book for every book sold
Booksavers -- nonprofit used bookstore
Heifer International -- nonprofit organization focused on ending hunger and poverty
Ten Thousand Villages -- sells only fair trade items (TTV has physical stores too--see if there's one near you!)


now what? {publishing tips}

Perhaps you just won NaNoWriMo, or maybe you've been laboring over your manuscript for months, but the result is the same: a glorious, complete novel that you're ready to share with the world! First, congratulations! Writing a novel is no easy feat! Second, don't publish it yet. There are many steps to publishing a book, and completing the first draft is really just the beginning!

I haven't finished my novel yet, so I'm not writing from the experience of a published author, but rather as a beta reader and professional editor who has done her research. Despite having participated in two NaNoWriMos, I still have not written 50,000 words--though I reached my personal goal of 25,000 last year, I only penned 10,000 this year. I'm still satisfied, though, because that's far more than I wrote all year! But I digress.

Publishing a book is a process--a journey, if you will--that does not end with the triumphant clicks of a keyboard that set "the end" at the bottom of your last page. It's going to take some time. You've been laboring over this beautiful manuscript for countless hours, so it only makes sense to ensure that it's in its best possible form before launching it into the world.

I know you're itching to publish this masterpiece, but please, please, please don't take any shortcuts. I've read too many self-published books that had great potential but weren't great novels, because they lacked proper editing. It breaks my heart to see them, because I know the effort that went into writing those books, only to have them fall flat for want of a little more attention.

So, it takes time. It also takes some financial investment, and I know as well as anyone how hard this is, being on a very tight budget myself. But if you go through the proper steps, you will eventually sell books, which will bring in some money. There are also ways to do this more cheaply, especially if you are self-publishing. If you have the money, though, I highly encourage you to hire professional editors, and not just because I am one myself. I want your novel to shine!

The Chicago Manual of Style is an extremely helpful tool to have around during the editing process (the 16th edition is the most recent), and I also recommend taking a look at Joel Friedlander's 10 Things You Need to Know About Self-Publishing. Although the former is an investment, the latter is available as a free pdf.

And now, here are five steps to take before publishing your novel. Don't rush, avoid those tempting shortcuts, and make sure you do these in order!

1. Take a break
You've just spent a lot of time with your novel, and it's hard to edit a manuscript with your eyes glazed over. Let it sit for a week--or four-- while you take care of all those things you neglected while writing. Clean the house, spend time with family and friends, or work on a different writing project. Just don't touch this one.

2. Self edit
Before you have others look at your manuscript, edit it yourself. This may involve some extensive rewriting, especially when you're working with a first draft. Get the story where you want it and edit for structure, flow, and mechanics. Take a break between drafts (see above) so that you can tackle each one with fresh eyes. And yes, you should go through several drafts!

3. Developmental edit
If you can, hire a professional developmental editor. This person will help you further polish your story, catching plot holes and other things you may have missed. If money is tight, you can look for editors just getting their foot in the door who are willing to look at your manuscript for very cheap or perhaps even for free.

You can also send your manuscript to beta readers, though I recommend doing this in addition to--and not in lieu of--developmental editing. Have the professional editor look at it first, make the necessary changes, and then hand it off to a team of beta readers.

4. Copyedit
A copyeditor will check your manuscript for proper style, mechanics, and, depending on the level of copyedit, organization and presentation. Again, hire an experienced professional if at all possible, but know that you can find an amateur to do the work more cheaply if you need to.

5. Proofread
This is the absolute final step before your book is published. If you make any changes after the proofread, you risk introducing more errors that will most likely end up in the published version, so please make all changes before sending your final draft to a proofreader!

Also, make sure your book is in the proper format--check spacing, alignment, paragraph formatting, chapter headings, etc. Have all elements of the book laid out exactly how you want them to be published, from front matter to back matter, and then send the whole thing to a professional proofreader.

And then, publish your book.

From the Editor's Desk {Tip of the Week}
editing your novel

After writing a novel comes editing. After typing "the end," start with self-editing, and finish with professional proofreading. For all the steps in-between, read the list in the blog post above. :)

Need an editor? Check out www.serenaedits.com.
I offer copyediting and proofreading services for everything from blogs to books!


I refuse {poetry thursday}

This winter I refuse to be unhappy.
I refuse to sit inside, wrapped in melancholy,
longing desperately to be Somewhere Else
while all around me beauty
waits to be noticed, acknowledged:
snowflakes falling silently,
glorious dust from heaven piling softly
on the ground, clinging to branches,
sliding--zip!--off the roof
as if to carry my human filth away;
boots critch-crunch through quiet woods,
accepting the sap lines' invitation
to solve their tangled maze,
breaking the rules--perhaps there are none, here--
by ducking under and stepping over,
stopping to wonder at a felled tree
whose white-capped, tumble-down pieces
could be cushioned stools or
a long-forgotten ruin,
then turn, look up the hill:
Is it possible I live
in a canvas castle in the woods?