Sunday, October 27, 2013

Writing themes that appeal to Children

One of my son's favorite 4RV Books

by: Stephanie Burkhart

Children enjoy a good story. My son is 7 now and he's a very enthusiastic reader. His favorite stories are the Dr. Suess books. They're whimsical and appeal to his imagination. Other favorites include the Magic Tree House and Magic School Bus series.

Themes are the glue that help bring a story together, and when it comes to children's writing certain themes have a tendency to attract children. The books I mentioned above have an element of "magic" or "the unbelievable" which appeals to the imagination, but I noticed most of them have a theme that deals with facing adversity.

Other themes that appeal to children include:

Good vs Evil
Telling the Truth
Rags to Riches
Being Fair
Rooting for the Underdog.

When you're getting ready to write your story, take a moment to reflect: What's the theme? Is it strong enough to hold the story together? What will a young reader remember? Themes help to grow and develop your character and they give your plot a good, solid backbone.

Here's a challenge: Pick out your favorite children's book and share the theme with us. If you're a children's writer, what themes do you gravitate toward writing? Can you suggest any themes I haven't mentioned? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Author Bio: Stephanie Burkhart is a 911 dispatcher for LAPD. Her short story, "Made in America" placed 8th in the Mainstream/Literary category in the 82nd Writer's Digest Competition. She lives in Southern California and is a Den Leader for her son's Cub Scouts Den.

Her children's book, "The Giving Meadow" is published with 4RV Publishing. Caterpillar travels through a meadow learning to care and share with others.

"The Giving Meadow is a charming story about friendship, generosity, kindness, and support when changes occur which are out of our control." 5 Stars, Tami Dee, Reviewer. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Clothing wars

Clothing Wars

When my oldest was a baby, I bought him some very cute flowered quilted overalls. One pair was red with blue flowers, the other blue with red flowers. I loved then; Mike's father claimed they were girl's overalls.

"Mike is too young to care," I asserted.

"Well I'm not," J. mumbled.

I shrugged. We owned them, and anyway, I dressed Mike most mornings.  

Then there were the famous three pairs of footed pajamas. It was January and Mike had outgrown all of his PJs. New England in January is still pretty cold but you'd never know it by the merchandise in the stores. We finally found three pairs in Mike's size; two were pink, one was yellow.

"Pink is for girls," J. complained as I carried them towards the register.

"Tell me you're not planning to put back two of the only three pairs of footed pajamas in Mike's size in the entire Boston area," I fumed; I'd done a lot of looking. "And if you do, then you can hand wash them all by yourself."

"Well, all right," J agreed after considering for a full minute.

I have some very cute photos of Mike in his pink jammies which I still haven't shown to my daughter-in-law.

Mike started asserting himself when he was around 2 1/2. He had four pairs, of overalls, two royal blue, one red and one green. The royal blue were his favorite pair and his favorite shirt was an orange and navy striped rugby shirt. How do you explain to a child whose only color word is "red" that navy and orange stripes don't look that great with bright blue? I dropped him off at the baby sitter with the words, "Mike picked his own clothing today."

"I can see that," she replied, trying to hide a grin.

When my second son refused to wear his brother's hand-me-down footed pajamas,I called my sister for advice.

"Colin refuses to wear Mike's old pajamas. I looked but there really are no unfooted winter pajamas. What do I do?" I was desperate.

"Why don't you try sweat suits?" she suggested.

Colin happily wore sweat suits instead of winter pajamas for years. This was the first of many things I was unable to pass down. Colin also refused to wear overalls. He wanted jeans and little khakis instead. My thirds son did wear the footed pajamas but refused both the overalls and the pants. So again I called my sister.

"Chris won't wear Mike's old overalls and he doesn't like Colin's old jeans either. I'm at my wit's end."

"Maybe he wants something looser. Why don't you try Colin's old sweat suits?"

 Praise the day, it worked! Colin, of course, asked "Why is Chris wearing pajamas to school?" This led to a rather interesting conversation where I tried to convince Colin that sweat suits were regular clothing. He didn't buy it. Chris wore the sweats to preschool anyway.

Thankfully, they are now grown and get to do their own shopping.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

How to Create Headlines That Increase Website Traffic and Website Conversion Rates

By Karen Cioffi

Marketing research from shows that headlines are the most important factor if you are striving to increase website traffic and website conversion rates.

In an experiment, in which various elements of a website were tweaked to determine which would have the greatest impact on conversion, having an effective headline was more important than changing elements of the landing page or shopping cart process. In fact, changing a headline generated 29 percent more leads. That’s close to one-third more leads.

Let me pause a moment though. For those of you who aren’t sure what the term ‘website conversion rates’ is, it’s the ratio of visitors to buyers on your site. So, if you have 100 visitors and only 1 person buys, you have a 1% conversion rate.

Okay, back on track.

While quality and informative content is a must, the headline is kind-of-like the magnet for your website. It’s what will attract the surfer/browser to stop, pay attention, follow what’s going on, and follow the process to opt-in or buy.

As a writer/marketer, you need to have your message focused on what the customer’s interests are. This is especially critical for the headline. You need to craft a headline that will (1) quickly grab a surfer or visitor’s attention and (2) clearly define the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) or the value. If the visitor knows what the benefits are, he’ll be more receptive to ‘following the yellow brick road’ you have in place for conversion.

To increase website traffic and conversion rates, the most effective headlines are ‘value-centric.’ This relates to number one and two above. You need to ‘hit’ the target customer’s interests and you need to convey the value of opting-in to your mailing list or buying what you’re offering. And, you need to let the visitor know just how significant the benefit/s will be.

An effective title might be: Get Paid to Guest Blog.

In five simple words you’re telling the reader what the benefit is and what’s involved.

“The Value Litmus Test,” an article at, explains that along with having the value front and center, you should also provide the ‘timeline.’ This is another factor that will help increase website traffic.

The timeline is the length of time it will take the customer to achieve the benefits. This may not always be applicable to your product or service, but when it is it’s important to include it.

Examples of this timeline strategy are:

Write an Ebook in 7 Days
Get Website Traffic in One Day
Lose 5 Pounds in 7 Days

Finally, the headline and offered value must be credible, in other words realistic and actually doable.

The example headlines/titles above each have a value proposition. They’re each promising a benefit and a specific timeline. The writer or marketer must be sure the promises/claims stated are realistic. But, even more than realistic, the value proposition must be believable. If the visitor wonders if it’s really possible, you’ve lost him.

So, breaking it all down, there are four elements to an effective headline that will increase a site’s traffic and conversion rates:

1. Grab the reader’s attention by focusing on his interests
2. Convey the value or benefit of what you’re offering
3. Provide a timeline, if applicable
4. Make sure the headline ‘promise’ is believable and doable

Add these elements to your headlines to generate and increase website traffic that will be receptive to your offers. It will also go a long way in boosting website conversion rates.

For more on writing and marketing, join Karen Cioffi and The Writing World for free weekly tips and guidance, plus updates on free webinars. Get access today and you’ll receive “How to Create an Optimized Website – 3 Essential Author Website Elements and 9 Must-Have Pages:”

Friday, October 18, 2013

Life on Hold awarded Children's Literary Classics Silver Seal

         4RV Publishing received notice that Life on Hold by Beverly Stowe McClure was awarded Children's Literary Classics' Silver Seal. All authors of children's and young adult books should seek this honor.

    Literary Classics, believes literature is a critical component in the development of young minds. Through well-crafted literature, they foster creative thinking, enhance word recognition, improve cognitive skills, and help achieve a greater understanding of people and the world around us. 

     Literary Classics provides book reviews for children's and young adult books.  They also offer an international book award program and endorse exceptional literature through their Literary Classics Seal of Approval (a gold seal and a silver seal per category). Life on Hold met the high standards and received the silver seal.

        Congratulations to Beverly, and she has more books in the works. 

           4RV now has two books with CLC Silver Seals: Life on Hold and Walking Through Walls by Karen Cioffi, illustrated by Aidana WillowRaven (who also created the cover for Life on Hold). Both books can be found on the 4RV Bookstore.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"Fun with English Words" Author Unknown

Image Copyright © 2013 Joan Y. Edwards
Image Copyright © 2013 Joan Y. Edwards

A friend sent me an email with this in it. I searched back as far as 2006 and the blog posts stated that the author was unknown. If you happen to know who the real author is, please let me know and I will gladly credit them. I hope this makes you smile from ear to ear.

Let’s face it – English is a crazy language.

Consider the syntax of one goose, 2 geese; one moose, 2 meese; one index, 2 indices!  If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth, beeth?  And explain how someone who says he’s “going to stay,” go and stay at the same time?

If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?  If a teacher’s students can be taught, can a preacher’s congregation be praught?  Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?  Ship by truck and send cargo by ship?  Have noses that run and feet that smell?

There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple.  English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France.  We take English for granted.  But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand works very slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

Why is it that writers write and teachers teach but grocers don’t groce?  Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend?  If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy be opposites?  One has to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which a building can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out, and in which an alarm goes off by going on.
English was invented by people not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race which, of course, is not a race at all.  That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible!

You think English is easy?? I think a retired English teacher was bored…This took a lot of work to put together.

The following sentences contain homographs – words that are spelled the same, but have more than one meaning.  These are also heteronyms – homographs that are spelled the same, have more than one meaning, and are also pronounced differently.

Can you read these sentences with heteronyms correctly the first time? 

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
2) The farm was used to produce produce.
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4) We must polish the Polish furniture.
5) He could lead if he would get the lead-out.
6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
8. A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
10) I did not object to the object.
11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
13) They were too close to the door to close it.
14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
Now wasn’t that fun? We all need a good laugh.  I posted this hoping to add a few giggles and laughs your way. Happy writing!

Never Give Up!
Joan Y. Edwards

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Home Decorate Your Editing Style

By Suzanne Y. Cordatos

Whenever an editor or critique partner suggests that cutting a major scene would improve your work, do you chop it with a smile? Is that chunk of writing one of your favorite babies? How long does it take you to craft such a great scene? Hours? Days? Months? When asked to cut the cord, did you expend a lot of energy defending your little bundle of exposition?

Step back. Take a deep breath. Do something different. Let’s re-decorate a room, shall we?

Pick a room in need of attention. Mine is the basement. It recently got walls, floors, a bathroom, bedroom and rec room space, all in need of a color scheme, fixtures, accessories, lighting, flooring, carpet, etc. Okay! Overwhelmed yet? With no idea how to pull together a color scheme, I hunted for a rug, pillow, or curtains for inspiration. I finally found a bolt of fabric that incorporated all my favorite colors and, when the space was finished, would be perfect to make into coordinated curtains. 

The patterned fabric worked well. It became easy and fun to choose colors for walls, trim, flooring and accessories. However, when the space was finished I no longer wanted to use that fabric for curtains. The finished spaces, with the wonderfully coordinated color scheme, needed something simpler at the windows. The pattern didn’t work as I thought. 

Was it a mistake to buy the fabric? No. It served its purpose well, helping me make decorating selections. Its purpose changed, however, as the project developed and changed. Perhaps much like your scene that needs to be (face it) chopped. 

Writing out that scene maybe helped you understand the bigger theme, or perhaps it helped you better understand your character’s motivations. Writing it out was valuable time spent, but maybe it is time to cut the scene from its current crib. Perhaps it has already served its purpose.

How do you recognize when a scene isn't working and you need to give it up? Writers spend a lot of time trying to force a favorite scene to work rather than cut it completely and start over with a new approach. I keep a file called "extra scenes" so when I delete it from a work-in-progress I feel it isn't gone "forever." Any other suggestions?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Book Marketing Using SEO Marketing

By Karen Cioffi

As an author and book marketer, you may be wondering what SEO is. Well, it’s simply an acronym that stands for ‘search engine optimization.’

According to, “Just about every Webmaster wants his or her site to appear in the top listings of all the major search engines.” SEO is the means to accomplish this.

SEO marketing is the strategies or techniques used to create visibility and website ranking within the search engines, such as Google and Bing. And, even with Google’s latest update, the Penguin’s SHARING factor, these strategies are still effective, and needed.

Sidetracking just a moment, Google’s latest update takes the ‘social’ element of blog posting to the next level. Along with your SEO tweaks, your content must be SHAREABLE.

Content that others find valuable enough to share, whether informative or entertaining, is what will help get a higher ranking with the search engine.

Okay, back on track now.

Every online marketing strategy includes promotion, and SEO marketing is a promotional tool under the marketing umbrella. The marketing umbrella covers the creation or manufacturing of a product or service, research and development (R&D), distribution, and any other elements needed to get a product from creation to the consumer. Promotion creates visibility, which in turn leads website traffic and customers.

Utilizing online promotion means you will be using the internet and search engines. SEO marketing is the process of getting the search engines to find and rank your website and your content. You obviously want a high ranking so when a searcher (potential customer) types in a search term (keyword), your site may be one of those on that first search engine results page (SERP), or at least within the first few pages.

Another explanation of SEO marketing:

It is basically the steps you take to have Google, Bing, and other search engines find, index, and put your website on one of their first SERPs whenever people use ‘your keyword’ to search for something.

In essence, SEO marketing is kind of a popularity contest.
When you use effective keywords within your website (title and meta tags) and in informative posting content, Google and the other search engines will find, index, and rank you. This allows you to be picked up and shown on the search engines’ results pages for specific search terms. When a ‘searcher’ finds your link on the SERP and clicks on it, you get a link to your site. The more inbound links to your site – relevant to your keywords or not - the more Google and other search engines ‘like you’ and consider you an authority.

Going a bit further, getting links from other sites with the same keywords in their links that you have in yours, is much better. This is considered as a higher ‘ranking vote’ by Google and establishes your site as having more authority. The more ‘link votes’ you get, the more Google will perceive your site as valuable and give you a higher authoritative ranking.

To be found and ranked by Google, you need to add effective and relevant keywords to your site and content. To do this, you’ll need to do a bit of research. You can type a keyword in the Google search box or the Amazon search box and see what keywords they bring up. This will give you an idea if your keyword is effective.

Using relevant and effective keywords is essential in SEO marketing.

What strategies do you use to find effective keywords as part of your book marketing efforts?

Image copyright 2013 Karen Cioffi

Need help with your author online platform? Need to boost visibility and traffic to your site? Check out WOW! Women on Writing’s 6 week e-class:Create and Build Your Author Online Platform

And, for more writing and marketing tips visit

Friday, October 4, 2013


We get an idea for a story.

Perhaps, we know something about the main character and what goes wrong in their lives.

            (Obviously, something goes wrong, or there wouldn’t be a story)

Maybe, we can imagine a hint of how that character’s problem is solved. Perhaps not.


A character with a problem needing resolution might give us a short story, but a full-length novel or even a novella, that doesn’t make. At some point we have to fill 200, 300, 400 pages of what writers like to call sagging middle.


This post won't work for some. True pantsers hate plotting in any form, but for those who need some direction, here’s my solution, my suggestion, my system.


On a blank sheet of paper, draw this silly looking diagram that I fondly call my amoeba.

Thee "amoeba" for my one published novel, "Victoria and the Ghost."

Write the working title at the top, the main character’s name to the top left along with what it is that they want. Then, I write on the top right the antagonist’s name and what they want. In a romance, this would be the spot for the hero’s name. On my drawing, I could’ve put the ghost, or any one of Victoria’s friends. I chose her dad because he’s who Victoria blames for all her trouble. At the middle top, write why the main character can’t have what they want. What’s stopping them?


At the #1 tip of the amoeba, write where the story starts, the "inciting incident," as some call it. This may be all we have when we begin, but we can add as we write and as we decide what happens next, or we can write suggestions at each tip of the amoeba and aim for that. Either can work. It depends on how we prefer to plot. We all plot at some point, or we can’t write a book.


Tips for Picking Up Sagging Middles

  1. Give the protagonist a new complication to reaching her goal

2,    Give the protagonist an extra problem to solve separate from the main goal

  1. Give a secondary character a problem to solve.
     4. Make a list of things that could thwart the protagonist from getting their goal. Usually the items
        at the bottom of your list will be most interesting. We start with obvious problems.
     5. Ask the question; what would my main character never do? Then, have him/her do it. This
        could start a whole new plot twist.

A quote that points us in the right direction when trying to come up with new plot twists comes from Nancy Kress  in her book Beginnings, Middles, & Ends.


       “The forces developed in the middle must emerge naturally out of the characters and situations introduced at the beginning.”


This comes back to what your main character wants, and why he/she can’t have it.


As I add plot twists to the swerves of my amoeba design, I realize something that helps me. While I’m writing my novel, and I reach plot twist number 3, I’m halfway around the amoeba which means halfway through the book. This is a guide. If I’ve reached this point and my word count is 20K, but I’m writing a novel of 60K, I’ve got a problem. This clues me to the fact that I need to develop plot twist #2 more, or I’ve added plot twist #3 too quickly.


I hope my simple suggested way of plotting helps.

Let me know if you have other ideas on how to help sagging middles or think up new plot twists. I’d love to hear from you. I always need help.