Writing A Novel – The Speech I Gave Today

Today, I had the honor and privilege of being one of several faculty speakers sharing their passions at our Fall 2017 Faculty/Staff meeting at Stevenson University. Below you will find the speech I gave, which was about writing, being an author, and self-publishing.

After all, it is one of my passions…

Photo Credit: Chip Rouse

***  Writing A Novel  ***

I consider myself pretty lucky that I get the opportunity to do two things I love on a daily basis: teach and write. I’m a proud professor here at Stevenson University and also an independent author.

I’m an independent author and write novels for two main reasons: (1) because I believe it’s my duty to show my students that I actually practice what I preach and (2) because it’s an outlet for me and I simply love storytelling.

Since 2012, I’ve self-published three fiction books: Beneath the Mimosa Tree, Baseball Girl, and Inn Significant. I also co-authored one textbook on event planning along with my colleagues Chip Rouse and Leeanne Bell McManus which was published by Kendall-Hunt.

During my 13-year career working for the Baltimore Orioles, I was quite fortunate that my love of writing converged with my career where I served as the director of publishing, was the editor of Orioles magazine, and produced and edited the special book celebrating Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak record in 1995. It was fun to tell Cal’s story.

Which brings me to the question I have for all of you. How many of you have a story in your head or finish a book and think, I could write something better than that?

If you’ve ever had this thought, and if you have a vision and can live in a make-believe world (for fiction) or tell a true story with colorful details (for nonfiction), you can write a book, too.

Today, I’m excited to share my love of novel writing and offer some advice using my own experiences to those of you who have a story swirling inside of you.

#1: First, do write your story. Just begin. My first fiction book, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, started as a short story I wrote while getting my first master’s degree. A professor of mine suggested it should become a novel. It only took me twenty years to write that novel during my MFA program in 2009.

My advice?

Don’t wait 20 years to write your story. Begin now. Just start writing.

#2: Have fun with your characters. The question I’m asked most often at book talks is: How much of the character is you, your family, or your friends? (If you only knew). That’s top secret, but it IS amazing how your friends and family are on their best behavior when they know you are writing. A tip I suggest is to make a list of each of your characters and write down all the things about them: what they like, dislike, look like, say, their dreams, the good and bad of them, etc. It definitely helps when writing.

#3: Enjoy the creativity of writing. Have fun crafting the story, the setting, and plot. Some folks like to outline, and some take a more organic approach. Research the methodology of some of your favorite writers. It’s fascinating to see how one writer’s approach differs from another’s.

#4-When writing, don’t agonize over every word. Do that later during the editing phase, which many of you already know can take longer than you think. It takes me far longer to edit a novel than it does to actually write one.

#5-It may be easier to start with something more personal. For instance, an assignment I give students in my magazine writing class is to write a chapter of their own memoir. Several students have told me that keeping their family histories alive helped them learn to enjoy writing.

#6-Self-publishing takes grit, commitment, and imagination. So why do I choose to self-publish? Because I like owning every step of the process. It sharpens all of my skills: creativity, writing, storytelling, editing, design, and then, the most challenging of all, marketing. As an independent author, it’s all on you. There’s no one to blame and all decisions are yours. It’s fiercely competitive out there, and the odds of massive success are slim. You just have to manage your own expectations.

Some writers may choose to go the agent route or connect with a small press. Do be leery of small presses that want to take your money and have you pay for the start up of your book, sometimes in the neighborhood of $5,000. My start-up costs were minimal. I paid $100 each for the ISBN number for each of my books (a total of $300), then an additional $25 per book for expanded distribution through Amazon. All total it was $375, or $125 per book. That’s it.

#7-Enlist the help of others. When your novel is done, find beta readers who will offer feedback on your draft. Join a writer’s group, either in person or online. Design your own cover or get someone to help you. Ask trustworthy people you know to edit. Chip Rouse over here and my mother, a long-time English teacher, edited my novels. Enter independent author contests. Remember: the project is yours, so you can give to it as much or as little as you like.

#8-Connect with local libraries, media, and the community. They will be good first supporters. In June, I kicked off the summer reading program in Anne Arundel County with a book talk; over the last month, I’ve attended three book clubs for Inn Significant, my latest novel, and I just attended a book signing in Oxford, MD, where the book is set. Enjoy meeting people and networking.

#9-Set up a blog and get a base of readers. Write about your writing, and get personal with your readers. It’s the best way to begin.

And finally,

#10-Remember, writing books is your love and not the way you make your living. While I would love be on the New York Times Bestseller list (who wouldn’t?), there are thousands of us out there hoping for the same thing. I have to remind myself of why I do this sometimes. The other day when I was struggling with new and innovative ways to promote my book, a friend asked me this question: He said, Do you write to sell or do you write to tell a good story?

I write to tell a good story.

If you have a love of storytelling, then just do it. Tell your story. If you make 10 people happy or thousands, remember why you do it in the first place.

Stephanie

20841993_10155523297888954_3655226197486168242_nStephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

 

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My Obsession with Barn Weddings Continues

I designed our wedding invitations and had them printed to open like barn doors. This is a rendering of the barn where we held our wedding reception.

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DISCLAIMER: Please forgive the quality of the photos today. I took pictures through the plastic of our wedding albums. I love you all, but not enough to take them out of their sleeves and destroy my albums. The quality of the actual photographs is gorgeous. 🙂

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On November 1, 1997, my husband and I tied the knot in a small, quaint Methodist church in Arnold, Maryland (outside of Annapolis), and then held our reception in the Ulmstead Barn–a barn in my parents’ neighborhood. I’d always imagined having the reception there; there was something romantic and nostalgic about hosting our family and friends in a unique place that not everyone has access to (you can only rent the barn if you live in the neighborhood).

Asbury United Methodist Church…before the reception.

However, there was one problem: it was a functioning barn with horses on the ground floor, and on the top level, there were two rooms that could function as space for a reception. But that was it. We had to bring everything in to make it work. But I was up for the challenge, was an avid reader of Martha Stewart Weddings, and had an idea of how I could make it feel like the final scene in “White Christmas” (which my dad later told me the reception reminded him of that movie).

The barn had no air conditioning, and so we felt safe picking November 1. It rained and it was warm that day–not at all what we had expected. But nevertheless, it came together, albeit that we were all little toastier than we thought we would be.

I had visited a farm outside of York, PA, and picked all of my plants, pumpkins, gourdes, etc. which would be used as decorations for the event. My bridesmaids and I lined the stairs in bacopa plants and white lights. We strung white lights throughout the room, decorated the fireplace with fall colors, and put white linens on every table. People’s placecards were mini-pumpkins with their names on them as they entered the barn on the main level. It definitely had the feel of a rustic, fall, quaint barn wedding, and many of my huband’s relatives who were used to big, extravagant weddings in hotels in New Jersey said it was the most intimate and sweet wedding reception they had attended.

I took it as a great compliment.

The ground level of the barn where you entered through the double doors. You had to go up to the second floor to the reception rooms. We decorated the stairs and entryway with all of the fresh plants from the farm and gave them all away at the end of the night.
The cake cutting in the cocktail/dancing side of the barn.
This was the dinner side of the barn. Tables were set up with white twinkle lights and Italian food was served.
This was where we held the cocktail hour and dancing; the two rooms were connected by double doors that we left open for flow.

Today, with Pinterest and Instagram, two social media platforms that didn’t exist back then (I was tearing things out of magazines and Googling, but there wasn’t anything like those!), people can get all kinds of amazing ideas for weddings. And barn weddings seem to be quite popular. My cousin Lizzy also was married and had her reception in a barn. It was stunning.

As I have begun to draft a sequel to Inn Significant and am playing around with the idea of a barn on the site of the Inn which will hold weddings and parties, I have done a lot of research on barns and barn weddings via Pinterest and the Internet. Also having written a textbook on Event Planning (Event Planning: Communicating Theory & Practice published by Kendall-Hunt) with my colleagues and friends Chip and Leeanne, I have a lot of experience in event planning from my days working at the Baltimore Orioles doing large-scale event planning, along with masterminding my own wedding from start to finish, I think I may be able to bring realistic touches to my novel.

And so, I continue to be obsessed with barn weddings. You see, it doesn’t go away just because my own wedding happened almost 20 years ago. And now I can take that love and roll it into fictional storytelling and make it exactly how I want it.

It’s good to be a writer. 🙂

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Decorated the outside for the wedding.

Some of my current favorite barn venues for weddings include these three…

The White Sparrow Barn, Texas
Long Ridge Farm, Kentucky
The Rustic Barn at Prairie Gardens, WI

Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

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On the Road to Event Planning

CamdenYards
Beautiful Camden Yards, where I planned many an event. Photo credit: Stephanie Verni

This week, my colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus, Chip Rouse, and I received page proofs of our textbook entitled “Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice” which is being published by Kendall Hunt. The year plus of work on this book has been interesting for me, to say the least. As someone who was trained in academia later in life, having worked in the field of public relations, community relations, and publications first, writing a textbook required a whole different set of skills than does writing fiction. And yet both endeavors are rewarding.

TextbookI wanted to take a moment to thank Leeanne and Chip for working with me on this project. I had not written a textbook before, and so there was definitely a learning curve for me, particularly with regard to research. Nonetheless, I persevered, and I can’t think of a better pair to work with, particularly with regard to event planning.

Those of you who know me (or have ever attended any parties I’ve thrown) probably know this was something that was a no-brainer. How could I pass up the opportunity to write about something I love doing? I’ve been called “The Cruise Director” for years by my good friends who know I am an organizer and social coordinator. During my time at the Orioles, I was blessed to have worked on several event committees that planned events for both Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards. Leeanne brings a tremendous amount of scholarly expertise to the table, as she has already published two textbooks and helped plan the Eastern Communication Association conference in Baltimore in 2010 (and she is about to do it again in 2016); Chip has been the department chair at Stevenson for years and also works a secondary job at a local country club during the summers planning events. The three of us brought different aspects of event planning to the table, and I’m excited about this textbook and what it potentially offers students.

Likewise, I would like to thank personally my dear friends from the community who work for a variety of organizations and handle aspects of event planning. These folks were willing to help out and write case studies for each of the chapters. Stacey Haines, Julie Wagner, Kristen Schultz, Roz Healy, and Charles Steinberg—thank you for allowing us to hear and to learn from your own experiences with event planning. Additionally, a big thank you goes to Kendall Hunt for publishing our book.

And so now we wait for the finished product to emerge. I can’t wait.

Just wrapped up two years of coordinating social events at our pool. Jen and I had a good time together as co-chairs, along with Kelly (not pictured).
Just wrapped up two years of coordinating social events at our pool. Jen and I had a good time together as co-chairs, along with Kelly (not pictured). Pictured here are a group of our co-horts, relaxed and chilling.

Friday Fodder | It’s Been a Good Week

AwardCertificateHonorable Mention Award | Readers’ Favorite 2015

Whenever something you’ve written garners a little recognition, it’s a good thing. Getting another nod from Readers’ Favorite made my week, as Baseball Girl was a project I worked on for three years. Seeing it earn an award in the category of Sports Fiction made me happy, too. Moreover, I’m blessed to have so many friends and family supporters who not only encourage me to write, but also share the news and are genuinely pleased for me. When you sweat over a project for as long as I did (and for some people even longer), when you pour your blood, sweat, and tears into it, and when you make other sacrifices to complete the project, there’s a quiet satisfaction that comes from it. Receiving recognition just makes it that much sweeter.

For those of you who are toiling with writing and aren’t sure if you can see it through to fruition, here’s my advice: stay the course. You may come up against some criticism or naysayers, but ultimately, it’s your work. If you believe in it, give it all you’ve got. Massage it, play with it, rework it, edit it, and then, do something with it. Whether you send your book out to agents and publishers or decide to tackle publishing on your own, you have the final say. And no one can take that away from you.

Teaching Sports Communication

It’s only Week Two, but I’m thoroughly enjoying teaching a new course in Sports Communication. At Stevenson University, the Business Communication faculty takes turns rotating the 400-level Special Topics courses that we offer. In the past, I have taught special topics courses in both Advertising (which became part of our curriculum) and Local Travel Writing (which was so much fun). This year, in both fall and spring semesters, I have the wonderful job of getting to talk about my life in baseball at the Orioles and not feel badly about it. We’re not just talking baseball in there, however; so far, we have covered sports communication in general and how communication is the integral part of sports; jobs in sports communication and how to network; and we just started talking about the history of sports, from journalism’s early Pioneer Period up through muckraking, the Penny Press, and new journalism. When you get to mention names like William Randolph Hearst and Babe Ruth in the same breath, you know you’re teaching a course that will offer a lot of meaning to these students of communication.

Plus, in what other course can view a YouTube video of Cal Ripken’s 2131 history-making evening during the 20th anniversary week, show the 18-minute standing ovation, and watch your students get a few chills as they experience for the first time what that incredible moment was all about?

EventPlanning The Postcard & Other Short Stories & Poetry & An Event Planning Textbook

ThePostcardCoverYou’re going to have to give me a little pass on The Postcard project. I know I said it would be ready by late summer, but it’s not going to be ready until right before the holidays. There is good reason for this delay, however. My colleagues and I—Dr. Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse—have been incredibly busy putting the finishing touches on our textbook that will be published later this year by Kendall-Hunt. Our textbook is entitled Event Planning: Communicating Theory & Practice. We began writing it in July of 2014 and finished editing our last chapter about a month ago. We are presently working on the Instructor’s Edition, and have a deadline of next weekend. People have asked me if I’ve enjoyed the process. I’ll admit–this is one of the most arduous projects I’ve been associated with to date (I’m not a trained researcher). However, it’s been incredibly rewarding. I can’t wait to see the textbook and hold it in my hands. We are all very proud of our work, and hope future students will enjoy reading about event planning and communication’s role in it.

As for The Postcard, I will begin the final editing process once the textbook is put to bed.

Thanks, as always, for your support and for following my writing endeavors.