Learn more. Earn more.

Learn more. Earn more.
Learn more. Earn more. "Required reading" for today's smart writer! As featured on: Pro Blogger, Men With Pens, Write to Done, Tiny Buddha, LifeHack, Technorati, Date My Pet, South 85 Literary Journal and other award-winning sites.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

How to Build a Reading Garden This Summer...

With warmer weather on the horizon, thoughts naturally "migrate" to outdoor activities and fun in the sun. And for those of us that enjoy the escape provided by a good book and nature's divinity, a Reading Garden holds happily-ever-after potential.

First, let me go on record here as admitting that I am not an "expert" on the subject. I actually stumbled upon it recently while doing some blog browsing and I was hooked on the concept.

You can read more here at Sweatpantsandcoffee.com: http://sweatpantsandcoffee.com/creative-lifestyles-create-outdoor-reading-garden/

and here: http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/special/spaces/reading-garden-design.htm


A reading garden is an extension of your living space that allows you to create a special nook outdoors to get lost between the pages of a good book or two, and enjoy the beauty and tranquility of nature.

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net


More and more these days, people are seeking to make their homes the ideal "sanctuary," due to the expense, inconvenience, and hassle of travel to distant lands and posh resorts.
"Stay-cations" are increasing in popularity.
And think about it... a Reading Garden is an opportunity to be creative, have fun, and increase the functionality of your backyard.  It need not be reserved just for barbeques!



A Reading Garden, much like an office space, should be a reflection of your personality, lifestyle, and spacial considerations.
Plan out your space and design beforehand. Depending upon your know-how and budget, the services of a professional landscaper might be warranted.  
 For a successful project, let's explore a few things of importance here.
  •  You'll want to choose furniture that is comfortable, attractive and weatherproof. A good sturdy table umbrella is a smart choice as well.
  •  If you don't have a "green thumb" or the desire to do a lot of maintenance or upkeep, opt for something simple like a bird bath, rock garden, and solar lights.
  • Make the most of your experience; have herbal teas, Citronella candles, and a set of head phones to block out surrounding noises on hand. 
  • Outdoor "pits" can also add warmth, interest and ambiance.

I'll let you know how mine develops in months to come. That is, if I'm not immersed in another project that tickles my fancy...

How about you? Do you have a reading garden? Would this be of interest? What books or "niceties" would yours include?


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Are You a "Successful" Blogger? 8 Metrics to Consider

Ralph Waldo Emerson defines success as: "To laugh often and much. To win the respect of intelligent people." And motivational speaker and author, Zig Ziglar contends that success "cannot be defined in one sentence."

Truth is, we all define it somewhat differently.  For some, success is merely a matter of achieving one's goals, no matter how basic.
But, when it comes to success in blogging...well, it gets a bit more tricky here.

In a "blog fog" about how to categorize YOUR blogging status?

Aside from boasting thousands of followers, or landing a book contract based upon your site, here are a few key metrics and criteria to consider, in no particular order:

1). Level of engagement 
How well is your work really resonating with your readership? Are people picking up what you're putting down?  Here's an example. I love the fact that not only do I get weekly comments on my regular posts, I also have people that read posts that I've written here several years back, and they take the time to drop me a line, ask a question, or share how much they enjoyed a particular piece. In a nutshell, that means that not only am I blessed to have people visit my site, they also take time to explore, read, and revisit archived earlier work. It helps to keep me motivated. Thanks, guys.

2). Continued growth
I can laugh now. But when I started out, things were pretty pitiful at Pen and Prosper, folks.
In the infancy of my blogging career, the only people that were "following" my work was my Avon lady, a few close friends, and maybe a random stalker or two. LOL
But, I kept going. 3 people turned into 12, 12 people became 30. 30 people became 100, 100 people became 200, 200 people became 300...get the idea here? Are you expanding in reach? Even if it's just a few new readers a month, are your numbers growing? If so, keep going. Success is knocking at your door.

3). Consistency
Blogging is fun, but truth be told, it's a lot of hard work. Hello? And I should know. In addition to blogging for business clients and authors, I have posted over 600 articles and interviews to date at Pen and Prosper. And I've never been away from my keyboard for more than a few weeks at a time, (for vacations, important projects, etc.).  If you can say the same, pat yourself on the back. You deserve it. That's success!
In fact, Neil Patel, branding expert and blogging strategist states that: "Consistency is more important than creativity."   

4). Awards
It's one thing for us to take pride in our blog work, most do. But, to be recognized by peers that you respect in the blogging community? Well, it doesn't get much better than that. I must admit that it was a pivotal point in my blogging career, when I received my first one, and it continues to humble and excite me each year, in receiving subsequent ones. ( A special thanks to the bloggers and organizations that have considered me worthy).  If you're seeking to elevate your exposure level, your online reputation, and your bottom line this year, the social proof provided by winning awards can be the ticket.
Fanstory.com offers monthly contests worth checking into.  

5). Comments from readers
Though opinions vary here, for me a blog without comments is not entirely "successful." Don't get me wrong, I don't always get boatloads of blog comments, but since a blog is intended to be an interactive medium, comments help to assess whether readers find you interesting, engaging, and personable. What do you think here? Does it matter for you?  I'd love to get your views on this one.

6). Social media shares
Sharing is caring. I'm always flattered and tickled pink when readers spotlight my work and spread it within their social media circles. Social shares are the equivalent of votes or virtual hugs. I appreciate those of you who help to promote Pen and Prosper. And I know who you are. :-)
Do you get a lot of Tweets from your Peeps?  If you do, it speaks well of you.

7). Links to your work from fellow bloggers
No man is a success alone. Links from other sites and bloggers help to expand our reach and enable us to achieve more in less time. Google your Blog's name and see what you can find. Typically, the more links and mentions, the better.

8). Business clients acquired through your blogging efforts
More and more folks are earning pay for their say. Are you one of them? If you're making money, and "winning friends and influencing people" you're definitely considered a "success" by most standards. If not, you may want to reconsider your blogging strategy and approach.

Traffic will come and go. Popularity may ebb and flow. But, when it comes to blogging, the
above-listed items are a solid way to view your efforts more objectively and to reach new success levels in the months to come.

Your turn...
Agree or disagree? Which number above do you most relate to, in terms of being a successful blogger? Which are you working on?  Do tell.

Image credit: Freedigitalphotos.net

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

5 Questions With Author & Blogger Karen Lange...

Can you tell readers a little about who you are and your background?

I’ve been a freelance writer for over ten years; I’m also an editor, author, blogger, and facilitator at the Coffeehouse for Writers. When not doing all the above, I also teach online writing classes for teens and do the bookkeeping for my husband’s and son’s carpentry business.

My articles have appeared in print and online for women’s, parenting, writing and other publications, and my latest projects include writing site content for a web design firm. A transplant from southern NJ, my husband and I live in the lovely north central Kentucky area. We are blessed with two sons, a daughter, a daughter in law, and a very handsome 8-year-old grandson.

What’s the best writing-related advice you’ve ever received?

When I began writing more seriously as an adult, a friend and writing mentor told me to “Call yourself a writer.” Although I did so timidly at first, her advice was spot on. The more I called and thought of myself as a writer, the more confident I became. This simple step lent courage and determination in those early years. It helped teach and motivate me to learn and grow, facilitating my first steps into the world of writing.

Why do you think writers should take writing classes?

No matter how much we know, there’s always something new to learn. Continued learning broadens horizons, and stretches and polishes skills. It also offers an opportunity to meet and interact with others, further enriching our writing and lives.

What’s your favorite creative, but non-writing activity?

I love to read. While it may not be viewed as a “creative” activity, I find it stimulates my mind, offering ideas and insight. Reading self help, inspirational, and educational material stretches me, offering encouragement and an opportunity to grow and reflect. Reading fiction holds entertainment value, which provides stress relief and much needed down time. These factors inspire and energize my creativity, making me a better person and writer.

How do you feel about blogging? Do you believe that all writers should?

Blogging is a great way to connect with writers and other creatives. It offers opportunities to improve skills, practice writing in various genres, and share thoughts with others. It can help build a platform, offering exposure in the writing and other communities. The social media potential is huge; you never know how far your post might spread through Twitter and other avenues. Blogging offers a means to showcase writing for potential clients, readers, publishers, agents, etc. While a writer doesn’t need to write a blog, I believe that doing so can provide valuable practice and visibility.

Thank you for inviting me to stop by for the interview!

Karen Lange is a freelance writer, editor, speaker, and blogger, an online writing instructor, and the author of Write for Life and Homeschool Co-ops 101. Her articles have been featured in women’s, writing, parenting, and other print and online publications. If she’s not reading and eating dark chocolate, she’s most likely hanging out with her grandson.
She teaches "Boot Camp for Writers!" at Coffeehouseforwriters.com.

Visit Karen at her blog, karenelange.blogspot.com.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Writer's Stress? Count the Ways You've Been Blessed

Not too long ago, I was feeling down and out. My singing the blues would rival Billie Holiday. It was a particularly tough week, where personal and professional setbacks and disappointments clouded my horizons and my perspective.

A string of events left me feeling stuck and frustrated. To make matters worse, the news of the untimely death of music icon, Prince, devastated me. I was a huge fan.

My usual “default” position of turning to comfort foods was no longer an option. I was already having trouble fitting into my skinny jeans, and, well… feared putting on additional pounds.

In an act of desperation, I decided to reframe my thoughts. To feel better, I made myself focus on my blessings, rather than my burdens. And you should too.


Far too often we become focused on the negative things that are woven into the everyday fabric of life (a bad boss, financial woes, family dysfunction, moral decay, violence around us), that we forget how blessed and fortunate we are. Not to mention, writers are typically sensitive souls.
We feel so deeply. True?

When I retrained my brain, and took the time to reflect, there were countless blessings I was able to recognize and embrace, in the midst of my rough patch:


Here is a short list of mine

Health blessings-- Not currently ill or on medication
Peace of mind blessings-- I’m not dealing with any grudges or unforgiveness in my heart.
Food & Shelter--There’s food in the cupboard and a roof over my head.
Relational blessings--I have friends and family that I love and who love me; I have self-love.
Simple pleasures blessings-- I know the joy of a good book, good music, good food, laughter, nature, bubble baths, herbal tea, personal freedom.
Spiritual blessings--I have a religious foundation and a relationship with God.             Creature comforts--An impressive candy stash, collection of diverse books, music, a big back yard for summer parties.
Creative gifts blessings--I am innovative and talented with expressing myself with words.
I love that I get to do what I love;sometimes helping other people to live better in the process. I love being part of the blogging community.
By the time I took inventory of my life, I felt much better. You should try it.
This “exercise” doesn’t require a gym membership, and there's no "heavy lifting" to strain you.

Go even further here. Why not keep a weekly “Blessings Journal” to capture and chronicle the many awesome things that may go unnoticed in your hurried state?
Referring back to it from time to time can help you move forward in positivity, grace and gratitude.

..And if you are blessed (like I am) to still be able to celebrate this "Mother's Day" with your mom, add that to the top of your list.

Happy Mother's Day to you and yours.
Have a wonderful weekend.

Thoughts? Do you keep a blessings journal?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Weekend Update-Resources, Courses and More!

Greetings, Readers!
As we bring closure to another week, I wanted to share a few resources, courses, and info of potential interest, to move you forward in your creative goals. Please share anything that you have going on in the comments section as well.

  • COFFEEHOUSE FOR WRITERS---Is slated to re-open its doors, the 1st week of May. Whether your goal is to start a Blog, finish a novel, pen your memoir, or make the transition to full-time freelancing, you'll find an array of affordable, quality online offerings. Since 1999, Coffeehouse for Writers has helped writers of all levels and genres to earn more and learn more. And here's a bonus: Pen and Prosper readers who register for classes by April 27th, can save $10.00 on one class, $20.00 on two or more classes total.  The site is still under construction, but early-bird registrations are being accepted. Act soon, as some classes limit the number of students accepted for each session.
Here's how to get in where you fit in.

1. Visit Coffeehouse for Writers and check out the line-up of fun, information-packed courses scheduled for our upcoming session.

2. Select your choices.

3. Send your PayPal payment to: Gemsjen@yahoo.com
deduct $10.00 or $20.00 (as applicable).

4. In the narrative indicate the title and starting date you would like. Since the classes are online, you can take them at your pace, in your place. It's flexible.  Easy peasy. If you have questions, feel free to connect with me at Gemsjen@yahoo.com.

  • WRITERS WEEKLY---Is seeking your success stories of around 400 words, on writing tips, marketing strategies, how you landed a client, a book deal, etc. payment is $40.00 upon acceptance. See details here: http://writersweekly.com/writersweekly-com-writers-guidelines
  • VERBOLATRY---Is sponsoring a fun contest that could have you laughing all the way to the bank.

Here's the 4-1-1:
Verbolatry Laugh-a-Riot Contest 2016*

Send us your funnies about writing, and win £100!
Entries are now being accepted for the Verbolatry Laugh-a-Riot
Contest. Humorous essays and cartoons about writing/publishing.
Deadline 31 August 2016. Two categories, free and paid, with cash
prizes and publication. Results announced October 2016. Sponsored by
Anam Cara Writer's and Artist's Retreat. Details at

  • THE WORK ONLINE BLOG---Accepts guest posts related to career advice for entrepreneurs and listicles on business and marketing. For more details, check out their guidelines below:

  • IT'S NOT TOO LATE TO CELEBRATE---National Poetry Month ends in another week, but there's still time to get in on the activities.  Why not post a poem on your blog? Or review a poetry book and post it on Amazon. You could even do a profile piece on your favorite poet and how his/her work has impacted you. Use your imagination here.

  • PEN AND PROSPER---Will be on a brief break until May 9th. Join me when I return, for more opportunities to learn more, earn more, and enhance your writing life! 

Have a great week ahead, folks.


Friday, April 22, 2016

A Tribute to Music Legend Prince...

Needless to say, this was not the post intended for today. In fact, the situation really shouldn't exist. And yet, here we are. Left with such loss. A void that time will never heal.
I was a HUGE fan of music legend, Prince. His music served as the backdrop to a lot of good times,  happy celebrations, and creative release.
I penned this poem last night in his honor. I hope you dig it.
                                           4 PRINCE...
He left the party early,
In purple wings and glitter,
Causing time to stand still,
Like 1999...
Then the music stopped
For all of us,
Leaving hearts
Of purple tears,
Purple Rain
Purple Rain...
(C) 2016 Jennifer Brown Banks
May you rest in peace.
And celebrate a new "cross-over" status in your transition.
From a forever fan, with love.
Any prince fans out there...? What's your favorite Prince song? 
Please share your thoughts and memories in the comments.
Image credit: Nikola

Monday, April 18, 2016

Could a Crisis Cripple Your Freelance Business?

Survival tips for Today's Savvy Entrepreneur
After waiting about a month for a client to pay me on a (5 day net) creative project, the check came in the mail. I did the “happy dance” ‘til I was dizzy!
Getting paid would allow me to catch up on some of my obligations as I was already struggling in a struggling economy.

I began to figure out my bills and hope for a few left over dollars to do a
mini-splurge at the local thrift store.
My joy was short-lived.

Before the ink could dry on the check, the client contacted me. She asked me not to cash it, because the funds would not “officially” be available for another week due to an unanticipated emergency. Needless to say, I was shocked and a little rattled.

Mind you, the check was already late, and based upon my income projections, I promised to pay several of my vendors. Her not honoring her word prevented me from honoring mine. And...well, you get the point.

A few weeks before that, a publisher with whom I had enjoyed a long-term business relationship, came down with a bad bout of the flu; as a result, he extended his apologies for not being able to issue checks because he was bed-ridden for two weeks.

Life happens.
That goes without saying. But just because you’re a “small” business owner doesn’t mean you should operate “small time” in the way you conduct your business or handle crisis management. In fact, you should be more
prepared for mishaps due to fewer resources. The buck stops with you!

Not providing for “the worst case scenario” can cause irreparable damage and affect your ability to compete with larger businesses; ultimately costing you in terms of client confidence and bottom line objectives.

After all, folks figure if you can’t handle your business challenges, why should they trust you with theirs? Which I'm sure you'd agree is a valid point.

Whether you manage a staff of one or 101, here are a few business practices you should employ to cover your assets and protect your bottom line.


Do you have a back up if your files are destroyed on your hard drive? Systems and people in place if you become ill or need to take a vacation? Are your records well kept if someone needs to temporarily assume your duties, or establish a paper trail of your activities? Could your business recover if you lost a key client? Could you independently update your site if your "tech guy" took a walk? These are all points to consider in your strategic planning. Always have a plan B.

"Save for a rainy day” has become more than a cliché; in today’s economic climate it’s as crucial as a commandment! Experts differ in the exact amount an “emergency fund” constitutes---some say the equivalent of three months salary, others advise six months. Apply it to your individual lifestyle and circumstances, then act accordingly. Today.

Hire competent contractors and staff and give them the training and resources to act independently in resolving small issues. It can help them to develop personally and professionally, and improve the efficiency of your organization. Funds tight? Hire an intern.

Don’t perceive all your peers as a competitive threat. Seek out owners with whom you have a compatible work ethic and similar visions and values, and find ways to enhance each other. This can be accomplished through online groups or networking associations dedicated to your particular field or trade. LinkeDin is a good starting point. 

Many small blog owners and freelance operations go to great lengths to overcome perception issues and convey a professional image. They invest in elaborate web sites, purchase fancy business cards, and go the whole nine yards to recruit clients and impress associates. But all these measures can be in vain if they establish a reputation of repeatedly not honoring their word-- whether it’s to a client, a vendor, a business partner, or employee. Never over promise and under deliver. Don’t say one thing and do another. Always strive to keep your end of the bargain because ultimately your livelihood affects others.

Trust me on this one. Missing files and missing payment records can cause your sanity to go M.I.A., waste valuable time, and hinder your future progress.

Follow these six savvy tips and you’ll successfully navigate the various “obstacle courses” that come with operating your freelance business, and you’ll breathe easier too.

Thoughts? Other recommendations here?