Avoiding Distractions While Writing

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Fellow author Jeaninne Stokes and I recently corresponded about a common question: How do you keep from getting distracted by your writing while writing. Specifically, if you’re working on chapter three, how do you keep from going back and fixing something in chapter one without getting stuck in chapter one again?

Just so you know: I am not the queen of staying-on-track. However, I have devised a few tricks that keep me from getting completely derailed when I write.

1. Write description later – If I’m writing a restaurant scene and I have no idea what the restaurant looks like, but I know exactly what I want my characters to say to one another at their table conversation, I skip to the conversation because I don’t want to mess up my flow. I make myself a note in the text (see below) and then I come back through and describe the restaurant when I revise (which is AFTER I finish the entire first draft). By the time I start revisions, I probably will have gone out to a restaurant with my friends and thought, “Oh! This looks like the kind of place for that scene!” and then I’ll insert the description. One note: Now that I’m more conscious of using “character as setting” thanks to my critique buddy Lynne Gentry, I want to make sure to include details that add to the mood of the scene.

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2. Research small things later – If a character was born on a Tuesday in October of 1947, I may need to know an actual date so I’m going to have to look this up. But if I stop writing and skip on over to the internet to look up the 1947 calendar, there’s a good chance I’ll get distracted by a whole bunch of stuff that took place in 1947 and I really don’t need to be in the internet at that moment. So, I make myself a note within the text (like above) and come back to it later. The internet is probably my #1 distraction when it comes to writing. I try to stay off of it when I’m composing.

3. Keep a document called “Things to Fix Later” - While I’m working, I keep another word processing file open entitled “Things to Fix Later.” Every single book I’ve written has had such a file in its folder. In that file, I keep notes about what needs to change in a previous chapter now that something relevant has unfolded in a later chapter. Even if I have a pretty good outline, things still change as I write.  (Spoiler alert – the picture below is from my book The Start of a Good Thing.

Screen shot of my list of things to fix.

Screen shot of my list of things to fix.

When I go through the revision process, I fix these issues.

Okay, my fellow authors, that’s all I have to share for today. I hope these little hints will help you make your way to the final chapter! Please feel free to add to the conversation in the comments.

Be blessed :)

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First-Person or Third-Person?

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I had an interesting conversation this morning with fellow author Nigeria Lockley about whether to tackle a book in first- or third-person. Our conversation sparked some ideas worth sharing because this question comes up often in workshops and even in critique group. Of the 21 fiction books I have written, 11 are first-person and 10 are third-person narratives. I speak from this body of experience only and I do hope other writers will chime in on the comments.

My first book, Boaz Brown, came easily as a first-person novel because in many ways, I am LaShondra. We’re both educators, we both grew up in a Dallas suburb, we have the same church background and were raised in almost identical family structures. Couple that familiar background with the fact that I’ve been keeping a journal since the age of 12 and one can see how I found it fairly easy to sustain a first person book for 300+ pages.

Then came the challenge with my second novel, Divas of Damascus Road. It’s a book about several women in a family dealing with drama. I started off writing the book in first-person because that was my style, but I got about five chapters into it and realized the story wasn’t working. I called my publisher, Denise Stinson, and told her my dilemma. I felt like someone had turned on a light in my head when she said, “Why don’t you try changing it to third person and see how it sounds?” I ran with her suggestion and the book came to pass, but I confess: I didn’t like writing it as much because I didn’t feel as connected to the characters.

Since those experiences, I ask myself a few questions when it comes to deciding on point of view.

1. Who can tell the story best? If one very strong character has an excellent vantage point and has enough personality to tell the story, try first-person. Mama B is the kind of character who is very opinionated and has so many quirky little country, old-school sayings, no one call tell the story quite like she can. I don’t think she would want anyone else telling her story. I like the plots in her books, but (in my mind) it’s really all about being close to a godly woman like Mama B and seeing her relationship with God grow even at her age.

2. Is this more about the plot or the character? While ultimately good fiction brings both into play, if the book is more about what happens than who’s telling it, try third-person. You can be in lots of different places and know what’s going on “Meanwhile, back at the farm.” Unlike Kendra Norman-Holmes who always keeps men at the forefront of her books, I have a really hard time writing male main characters. I don’t think like a man, so it’s hard for me to go first-person with a male character. Anyway, my first attempt at a male main character came with the book Stepping Down. It was an especially tough go for me since it was a full-length novel rather than a novella. While the main character, Mark, does undergo his character arc, the message of this book was paramount in my brain. There was also a sub-plot going on behind his Mark’s back that needed to be told through is wife’s eyes, so third-person was the only way I could make it work.

3. Would I want to read this story in first- or third- person? This is kind of a tricky question because I’ll read a well-written first-person book over a good third-person book any day, but I still have to ask myself the question because if I’m not careful, I’ll write what’s easiest for me rather than what works best for the book. I started off saying that first-person comes naturally for me, and it does. But first person is harder for me to sustain now that I’m writing books that aren’t about a character who’s basically me. The beauty of a third-person book is that I can skip on over to another setting and pick up drama from different characters and households. Because of this, writing third-person is faster for me. The mathematician in me has estimated that I write about 900 words an hour third-person, 600 words an hour first-person. Sometimes I feel like I’m cheating, taking the easy way out when I write third-person. (I know – I’m taking it too far, right?)

Here lately, I’ve been experimenting with using more than one POV–sparingly! I wanted to write No Weapon Formed (sequel to Boaz Brown) in first-person, but there was some stuff going on with Stelson that I didn’t want LaShondra to know about. And I didn’t want Stelson to give this big explanation speech near the end of the book –that always sounds cheesy to me. So I called my friend Lynne Gentry (who reads like a gazillion books a month) and asked her if it was “okay” to have a few chapters written from a secondary character’s POV in third-person. She said to me, “You’re self-published. You can do whatever you want.”

I was like, “Oh yeah! That’s right!”

At the time, I was also reading Tia McCollors’ Friday Night Love and saw that she’d switched POV and gone from first- to third-person a few times for the male’s perspective and I was like, “That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout!”

So there you have it.  If you can write first person and get into the character’s head, give it a shot. But if the plot, your style, or even your genre dictates otherwise, stick to third. I realize that this blog comes down to the a age-old advice to “do what works for you.” I can only add to that wisdom by suggesting that you try your hand at both and develop your skill in both so that you can use them as each book demands.

Happy Writing!

Writing as Revelation

MichelleStimpson_NoWeaponFormed_800pxNearly thirteen years ago, just a few days after our country was devastated by 9-11, I started writing a book about a woman who wanted to fall in love but couldn’t see past color. The connection between the tragedy and the romance was simply that I had a hard time processing the pictures of survivors, who were covered in gray ash, without the benefit of knowing their skin color. The Lord was not happy. He prompted me to explore my own prejudices because if I couldn’t pray for people without using racially-defining adjectives, I had a SERIOUS problem.

He was right, of course.

Writing Boaz Brown was life-changing because the main issue was one that had been brewing in my heart for as long as I could remember; an undercurrent of resentment that I didn’t even recognize as sin. But God. Starting with this book, He has changed my heart and given me spiritual eyes to see that prejudice has no place in the heart of a believer. Discernment – yes, but prejudice – no. And He has continued to prove His words to me over these 10+ years.

For years, people asked me if I was going to write a sequel and I would heartily reply, “No! They lived happily ever after, all right?” But then a funny thing started to happen last year: I missed LaShondra and Stelson. What were they up to? Did they have kids? How many? How had they grown? Did her father ever accept Stelson into the family? 

Aside from my curiosity, I wanted to explore issues of race within the context of the story. But something else emerged as I was writing–the issue of healing. Now, I don’t want to give the story away (insert smiley face), but these characters and their story has, once again, pushed me toward a deeper revelation of Christ’s declaration: It is finished (John 19:30). Jesus is finished. Whatever He is going to do has already been done once and for all.

Watching/writing LaShondra and Stelson face the issue that arose in their family turned the mirror on where I stood with my own health as well as my mother’s ongoing struggle in the aftermath of a stroke. Everything has been called into question. Do I receive the statistics that doctors and researchers throw out? Is my health really secure in Christ or does it depend on me? Can God undo the damage of a stroke, even if it has been two years? Does my mom need her old mind, or can she just receive the new mind Christ? Why does my confession waver? We sing songs like “He’s Able” and “There’s Nothing God Can’t Do” but do we really mean them? Sometimes, believers are the first to say, “Well, we just have to accept the facts…”

And just like before, I look forward to God revealing Himself through the scriptures as He did with these characters. He is a faithful teacher, a faithful keeper, and faithful to His word.

I pray that No Weapon Formed, like it’s prequel, will be a blessing to you. Please feel free to share books that have touched your life in the comments section.

And I’d like to pose the question to my fellow Christian authors, too: How has writing been a blessing to you? Has God ever changed your heart because of something to wrote?

What Now? (A Random Post about Possibilities)

This weekend, I had an opportunity to visit with my grandmother and several family members. I got into a side conversation with someone about how to best utilize the talents and gifts God has given us. Now, I know plenty of people who have no idea what their talent/gift/purpose is. The answer to that question lies in the One who created each and every one of us.

But this family member of mine and I were talking through another dilemma: What if you believe that you have MANY gifts and talents? How can you possibly exercise all of them in one lifetime? Do you concentrate on one for a decade and neglect the other ones? Do you try to combine them? Do you pick the one that seems to be most in demand? As we talked, she listed the many things she’s good at: cooking, decorating, speaking, party-planning, organizing, interior decorating, project management, sales. I listed mine as well: writing, all-things-techy, speaking, teaching, consulting, instructional staff development, and most recently book cover design. Some of these skills we’ve gone to school to master, most have come from practical experience and God-given understanding.

So, what are we to do when we have been blessed with minds that operate well in various capacities? I mean, I was a secondary education major and my two teaching fields were exact opposites: English and math. Though I enjoy creating things, according to my 20+ year old SAT scores, I’m actually better at quantitative tasks. The score report analysis actually recommended a career in engineering. Go figure!

Alas, I have no actual solution to this very humbling but sometimes frustrating dilemma. I only know that I’ve tried to chase talents down and give them a try until they don’t bug me anymore; until I actually say, “Okay, I tried that and I liked it for a while but I don’t want to do that anymore.”

I can hardly breathe without writing, so that’s a given. Honestly, it’s amazing that I have enough attention span to write novels because all these other things keep my mind reeling with ideas. On one hand, these ideas cause me to face each day like it’s full of fresh opportunities. But on the other hand, they probably waste time. Still, I reason that if I weren’t busy thinking creatively, I’d probably just be watching “Gilligan’s Island” reruns on TV anyway. Gilligan and his crew will still be on the island the next time I tune in, so I haven’t missed much.

Here’s what I do know: I want to spend my days honoring God. I want to arrive in heaven completely poured out in service to Him. I don’t want to live my life wondering what might have been if I had tried this or that. Not everything, of course. I’m asking God for discernment because I know sometimes even a good idea is just a cleverly-disguised distraction. (Can I get an amen?) 

Anyway, I’m going to sleep now. Tomorrow is a brand new day. I watched hours of youtube videos today, learning how to create podcasts so that I can finally obey the call to teach regularly. In 3-5 business days, I should receive my special podcasting microphone (woo hoo!) and I’ll be off on another adventure. I hope you’ll join me :)

Now that I’m thinking about it, perhaps this is the life of Christ. A life that is full of service, full of people to reach, new roads to travel, new challenges, never a dull day in Him.

I’d like to encourage you as I encourage myself in this post: God knows exactly how He made us and the capacities He placed in each of His children. Let’s trust Him to open the doors that need to be opened and shut the ones that seem interesting/promising but are only time-stealing dead ends. Yes, let’s trust His Spirit to nudge us because Jesus said He would (John 16:13). His ability to keep us is far greater than our ability to get off track. After all, He is the one who gave us all these gifts. He is willing to show you and I what to do with them, how He wants to be glorified in them. And He is able.

I hope you’ll chime in on this sideline discussion. Have you ever struggled with the idea that you’re not sure which avenue to pursue first? How do you cope?  How do you know when something is NOT for you?

Giving an Old Book New Life

In the past few months, I’ve been chatting with authors who have recently acquired the rights to their older, traditionally published books. Now they’d like to get the ebook versions up and running again. Below are some of the questions/issues that we’ve worked through. Happy re-publishing!

1. How can I get my book out of a .pdf file and into a Word file? The only way I know to unlock a .pdf file (and keep the integrity) is with AdobePro. You can download a free 30-day trial (no credit card required) and then use it to unlock the file and convert it to Word. This will help retain the formatting of the original file.

2. I have a physical copy of my book, but I don’t have the final, edited version in digital format. How can I get it? Here are some suggestions:

A) You can ask your publisher for the file. If they send it to you in .pdf, use the info. given in question #1 above. However, I have to tell you that many publishers will not send that final, edited file back to you.

B) You can use Microsoft Office’s Document Imaging Software (which is probably already in your computer – yaay!) but it’s not perfect and it’s very tedious. You have to scan each page as an image and then the computer translates. But, if you’ve got several extra hours on your hands, this is a great tool. Click here to find out how to use the OCR software.

C) You can use BookBaby.com’s Scanning Service and they will do the scanning and converting for you. The estimate for a 200-page book is less than $30. In either case (B or C) you’ll need to re-read and edit, but this is far better than trying to re-type your book.

3. Can I use my old book cover? Your publisher probably owns the cover, so I’m gonna say “no.” Get your own cover designed or you can try to negotiate with your previous publisher to buy the copyright to your old cover if you’re in love with it.

4. I don’t want to do all this technical stuff. Who can do it for me? There are people/companies who format and upload books for authors. You can do a google search, or you can just use BookBaby.com or a similar company (I’m not an affiliate for them–although maybe I should be now, huh).  All I’ll say is this: don’t pay more than a hundred dollars or so, and don’t give away your royalties. It’ not that serious. If they’re good, they’re probably putting in about 90 minutes of work – not worth giving away years and years worth of royalties.

5. How will my ebook be different from my print book? Here are some components you’ll want to be sure to update or add in your ebook version:

A) A description of your book on the first page – people are downloading books so quickly, they don’t even remember why they bought the books. So, having a description to remind them of why they ordered it in the first place will help them start reading when they get the time.

B) Links – You’ll want to add active links in the interior of your ebook. You can link up to your website, your social networking pages, your email signup page, a page where they can review your book, and the online sales pages for other titles you have available. You may also wish to have a linked table of contents. If you don’t know how to do this, you can download the free Building Your Book for Kindle title. It gives the basics of how to prepare a manuscript for Kindle.

C) There will be no page numbers in the ebook version.

6. What do I do about the publication date? On the copyright page, list both years (i.e. © 2003, 2014) and you may also want to write something to the effect that this is a re-released version on the description page. Kindle is going to list your publication date as the actual date you upload this newer version. This may or may not be an issue, but I do like to let readers know.

7. What about all of my reviews from the older version? My reviews have transferred over with my older titles (Boaz Brown and Divas of Damascus Road). If yours don’t, I’d contact Kindle and the other online publishers via email. They want the ebooks to sell, too, and the reviews will help reach this goal. They can make this happen.

8. Some online retailers still have my book up for sale, but I don’t want them to compete with me. I want them to remove their listings of my books. How can I make this happen? Contact them via email, send them the copy of the reversion letter, and let them know they need to take it down.

9. I’m still getting small royalty checks from the old books even though my publisher hasn’t had the rights for more than a year. How is this possible? Well, actually, this is my question. LOL! Anybody got an answer?

 

 

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So, I had to si…

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So, I had to sit there and allow a mistake that I knew was gon’ come back to kick Son’s rear end. Every once in a while, parents have to do that. The only comfort I had was knowin’ God has to make this same decision every day with His children. Some of us just be beggin’ to learn the hard way.

Here is one of my favorite lines from Mama B: A Time to Mend, the fourth book in the Mama B series. I hope you all will enjoy her wisdom and wit! Thanks so much for sharing how much these books bless you!

Proponophobia: Fear of Being Published

Okay, I think that’s a real word derived from authentic Latin roots (propono = publish; phobia = fear). If proponophobia wasn’t a real word before, it certainly needs to be added to the English dictionary now because it is definitely a real fear for many, including myself from time to time.

If you’re one of those people who has completed a manuscript but you have not taken the next steps to get it published (namely editing and/or submitting to a publisher), you may be suffering from proponophobia.

In an effort to help you battle this chronic problem, I’d like to dispel a few myths that perpetuate proponophobia.

1. It needs to be perfect first. The reality is: Your book may not ever be perfect in your eyes. There is always a line that could have been better, and you will most definitely see the weaknesses in your previous works as you become a more experienced writer. Writing is art. Art mimics life, and life is far from perfect.

2. What if people don’t like it? There will be people who don’t like your books for reasons beyond your control. Expecting everyone to like your work is like expecting everyone to prefer the same flavor sno-cone or enjoy listening to the same singer.

I recently met a music teacher who loathes Michael Bolton. I yelled, “Really?? Who doesn’t like Michael Bolton?!”Two more teachers chimed in saying they didn’t like Bolton’s distinctive, rugged tone, either. I was appalled! When I left the session, I Googled “can’t stand Michael Bolton” and was surprised to find almost 6,000 results!My goodness! What is the world coming to?! Someone had even gone so far as to make an “I can’t stand Michael Bolton” Facebook page! (For the record, the page only has one “like”.)

My point is that some people will like your work, some people won’t. Be okay with that. Don’t let the possibility that people may even hate your book rob you of the opportunity to reach those who may love what you’ve written.

3. What if my book is really terrible, I just haven’t realized it and everyone who says it’s great (including my editor) is either lying or doesn’t really know what good writing is? This is possible, though not likely if you’ve used a reputable editor. A good editor will say to you, “This isn’t ready for publication, and here’s why.” Then again, good editors rejected some of today’s bestselling novels.

Ultimately, the readers will decide if your book is satisfying enough to recommend it to their friends and family.  Until you publish your book, the readers cannot make this decision.

I know. It sounds intimidating. Welcome to the world of published authors…unless you’re putting off shoving your work out there.

FREE on Kindle Today to help you move forward with your publishing endeavors:

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Four Churchy Sayings that are Blocking Your Blessing!

If we disagree about the bulk of this article, let’s agree on one thing: Jesus, the Son of the only wise and living God, is Lord.  Can I get an amen?

All right. Now that we’re on the same page, I’d like to start off this year by giving my fellow believers some serious food for prayer. A friend of mine and I were talking about the songs and clichés we’ve heard all of our lives in church. At first, they seemed funny and harmless, but the more we discussed the topic, the more revelation God began to shed in our hearts about the tiny words that make all the difference in what believers experience.

I don’t want to major on the minors with this blog post. I am simply asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate for each individual reader what He wants everyone to know. (He’s really good at that, by the way!) The Bible says that our words are powerful (Proverbs 18:21). The Holy Spirit can teach us to be careful with them.

 That said, here are four sayings (even “singings”) that were probably coined with great intentions, yet warrant investigation.

 1. “When the praises go up, blessings come down.” Like anyone who loves to praise God, I count it beautiful to hear the people of God praise His name. I can only imagine the glorious roar we will shout at the return of our King!

However, When I’m standing with the congregation and a well-meaning but  perhaps discouraged worship leader instructs me to praise God so I can get my blessing, I just want to run up, grab the microphone and shout, “NOOOOOO! Praise Him because He is good! Praise Him because His mercy is everlasting! Praise Him for Jesus! Let all God’s people praise His Holy Name!”

Here’s the deal: God is infinitely brilliant. He cannot be manipulated. He knows when we are praising Him because He is worthy versus when we are simply moving our lips because we want something back. Jesus said that worship coming from the wrong motivation is “in vain” (Matthew 15:9). We’re not doing people (or God) any favors by urging them to shout over the blessing instead of the One who blesses.

It is not our job to police other people’s motives. God knows the heart (Luke 16:15). Let’s praise Him for who He is, not to try to trick Him into blessing us—as if that were even possible!

2. “Your breakthrough is around the corner/on the way/in the oven”. I understand that there are promises and manifestations which have not yet been perceived in the physical realm by our natural eyes. But there’s something extremely dangerous about convincing people that we’re waiting on God to do something. If we’re still waiting on the breakthrough, who was Jesus?

In actuality, we received our breakthrough 2014 years ago when Christ died, rose again, and made a spectacle of the enemy! Teaching people that we are still waiting on God to do something else before we are victorious has put countless Christians in carrot-on-a-stick mode, always waiting for God to do something really big. Meanwhile, we’re in this “wilderness season” or “birthing” stance. While we wait, we get into this self-righteous frenzy, wondering what else we need to do to get ourselves ready, make ourselves good enough, or put ourselves “in position” for God to do this miraculous thing. We’re buying all these tapes and CDs – 10 Steps to Getting Rid of Sin, 7 Ways to Wash Your Robe. Again I ask: If this great miracle will come at the end of me straightening myself out and pulling myself together, what was the purpose of Jesus?

Jesus told us to believe that we “have received” what we ask for (Mark 11:24). We don’t need to pitch a perpetual tent in God’s great waiting room. By His love, the big miracle has already taken place! Rejoice in Christ and receive His finished work!

3. “God won’t put more on you than you can bear.” This phrase has been spoken at funerals and hospitals by many a well-meaning believer who wanted to encourage and strengthen a brothers or sister in Christ. However, a closer look at the scriptures actually reveals quite the opposite.

First of all, 1 Corinthians 10:13 says that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear—not hurt or sorrowful beyond what we can handle. Big difference.

Secondly, a Spirit-filled believers can know that his/her tribulation is beyond what they can bear. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:8 that he and other disciples were pressed above their own strength so much that they hated life! But in the next verses, Paul explains that God, who raised Christ from the dead, delivered them.

The beauty of a life lived in Christ is that we, too, can know what it means to lean completely on Him as our strength. Now, instead of telling people that they are strong enough to make it through, we can agree with them that they aren’t—and we can walk with them to the One who is!

4. “This-that-or-the-other is blocking your blessing!” My hunch is that you may have started reading this article to find out what you might be doing wrongly that’s causing God to withhold something from you. Or maybe you want to know how you can “get in position” in order to receive from Him.

Here is the secret: Believe on Jesus Christ!

There is nothing stronger than His blood! Sin is broken, He has saved you, and you are free to live in Him! If Ephesians 1:3 is true, then you have already received all the spiritual blessings through Christ. If Ephesians 1:3 is not true, then nothing else in His word is true, either. Period. Sounds rough, but the Word is not true-ish (Matthew 5:18). Either we are waiting for another Calvary or it is finished. Believers agree with Christ: It is finished (Luke 19:30).

If there is anyone waiting on anything, it is Him waiting on us to truly believe and receive the life of Christ! You may be thinking: But Michelle, if a person isn’t living right, isn’t spiritually mature, hasn’t fully surrendered, doesn’t have a giving heart, etc., they are blocking their blessing!

I submit to you that people don’t grow or surrender or do anything they don’t actually believe in first. Everything, including our very salvation, hinges on faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Who lives in us now. After that, He is faithful to sanctify us and present us blameless before Himself (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24) – and notice Who actually performs the sanctifying in that verse!

May God continue to reveal who you are in Him and who He is in you!

_____________

If you’d like to examine more cliches that oppose the Word, download “Uncommon Sense: 30 Truths to Radically Renew Your Mind in Christ” – FREE on Kindle through January 6, 2014!!!

From 3.4 Schedule Online Promos

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There are a gazillion websites that help authors promote books. Why would bloggers and companies help you promote books? Because they are affiliates of the retailers. They get paid every time someone clicks through a link on their blog/email and goes to a website to buy a book. For example, Jose is a blogger. He hosts a website called ‘Jose’s Bargain Books’. Every day, he posts information about books that are on sale. Some readers visit his site daily, several thousand get emails from him about the books on sale. When those readers see a book they like, they click Jose’s link and find themselves at the Amazon sales page for the book. Jose will get a percentage (usually anywhere from 1%-4%) of whatever the reader spends at Amazon, whether they buy the recommended book or not. Jose gets a ‘finder’s fee’ just for sending the person to Amazon—even if they get to Amazon and decide to buy a toaster instead! This is called affiliate marketing, and it is how Amazon became Amazon.

The 21-Day Publishing Plan: From First Draft to First Sale in Three Weeks or Less

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