Tag Archives: Books

Determining What to Write About

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One of the first and most important decisions for every writer is determining what to write about. Making this decision can feel overwhelming often because of long-held notions we have about what it means to be a writer. Many people believe that authors just have ideas that come to them or, worse yet, that authors are so intelligent that they are able to create something unique that has never been seen or thought of before.

In reality, neither scenario is entirely true. Most of the time, authors decide what to write about from examining their personal lives and interests or by examining the work of other authors and making parts of existing material into something new and different.

Writing about things you know and care about is important for several reasons. For one, it usually makes writing much easier: if you are writing from personal experiences, you can spend more energy on adding creative twists to a story that already exists.

Second, if you are writing about something you care about, you usually have a deeper sense of the subject and will have more information from which to write. Choosing topics or experiences that you care about will develop a sense of “you” which only you can create.

Here are some strategies for coming up with ideas for writing:

Make lists of topics or things that you are interested in—hobbies, issues, things, places

Draw a floor plan of your home and make a list of three memorable events that happened in each room

Make a list of problems that you have seen characters face in movies, TV shows, or books, and use one as the basis for your own story

Make a list of your most memorable experiences and determine which might be the basis for a piece of writing

Maintain a personal journal and collect thoughts and descriptions that might be used as the basis for a piece of writing

Think about “small moments” of life to expand and explore rather than creating large, involved stories Read and re-read the authors that you are fond of.

Look for places where you can pick up where they left off or think of how the story could be retold from a different character’s perspective

Take elements from an existing storyline from a book, movie, or play and work your own real-life or past experiences in to create a new story

Make a list of your favorite movies or books and look for patterns in the storylines or look for storylines that can be combined or changed

Read, read, read—all great authors are readers who constantly look for ideas from other authors For more information:

Developing Ideas for Writing (Prewriting): http://www.esc.edu/ESConline/Across_ESC/WritersComplex.nsf/3CC42A422514347A8525671D00 49F395/CE2B510E7D9975AE852569C3006ACCCC?OpenDocument

Originally published by NCTE (National Council Teachers of English) Date unknown

How to Start a Blog: A Step-by-Step Guide for Writers

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Good Morning, I’ve been on vacation in North Carolina and had an absolutely wonderful time visiting with my girlfriend.  Since it rained the entire time I was there, we stayed in the house, laughed, talked of old times, old friends and ate lots of good food. A better vacation couldn’t have been found anywhere.

This article is from “The Write Life” originally published in July. I liked the fact it gives step by step instructions which will help Newbies as well as Old Timers. Enjoy and have a blessed day.  Shirley

blog

So you want to start a blog?

If you’re a writer, it makes perfect sense: You can use a blog to serve as your author platform, market your book or find new freelance writing clients.

But where do you begin? Though you’ve got the writing part down, the rest of the process can be overwhelming. Hosting, themes and all that other techy stuff can stand in your way for years.

Well, today is the day that ends. We’re here to help you navigate every step of starting a blog, from choosing your domain name to publishing your first post.

Here’s how to start a blog as a writer:

1. Pick a domain name

First things first: Where are people going to find you online? As a writer, you are your brand, so we recommend using some variation of your name. To check availability, simply visit Bluehost and click on “new domain.”

If none of the obvious options are available, try tacking a “writer” onto the end of your name, as in susanshainwriter.com. You could also use a “.net” or “.biz” domain, but keep in mind that most people automatically type in “.com” before thinking of other endings.

You can, of course, opt for a creative blog name, but remember that your interests and target audience may change as the years go by. When I started blogging in 2012, I focused solely on adventure travel and named my blog Travel Junkette. Since then, I’ve expanded my niche and recently switched to susanshain.com — because my name won’t change, no matter what I’m blogging about. I wish I’d started out using my name as the domain, and would advise you not to make the same mistake I did.

Once you’ve settled on your domain (or domains, if you’re like a lot of us writerpreneurs!), don’t wait to buy it. Even if you’re not ready to start a blog right now, you don’t want to risk losing the domain you want.

Before you actually click “purchase,” though, you might want to read the next step; we’re going to tell you how to get your domain name for free.

2. Purchase a hosting package

Now that you’ve picked out your domain name, it’s time to choose a web host. Your hosting company does all the technical magic to make sure your site actually appears when people type your newly anointed domain name into their browser. In other words, it’s pretty important.

We use MediaTemple to host this blog, but it’s typically better for blogs with lots of traffic, so you probably don’t need that if you’re just starting out. For a new blog, try Bluehost. It’s used by top bloggers around the world and is known for its customer service and reliability. Bluehost’s basic hosting plan costs $3.95 per month — and as a bonus, the company throws in your domain name for free when you sign up.

Be sure to put your purchase (and all the purchases listed in this post) on a business credit card and keep those receipts; they are investments in your business and are therefore tax deductible.

3. Install WordPress

We’re almost through with the techy stuff, we promise! You have several different choices for blogging platforms, but we like WordPress best. Not only is it totally free, but it’s easy to learn, offers a wide variety of themes, and has an online community and lots of plugins that make blogging accessible to everybody.

You can read comprehensive instructions for installing WordPress on your new blog here. Once you’ve completed that, you can officially log into your blog and start making it look pretty.

Still too techy for you? Try WordPress.com (as opposed to WordPress.org). It’s a cinch to set up, but won’t allow you as much control over your site’s design and functionality. If you choose to go this route, you can skip steps one and two of this post. Simply visit WordPress.com and click on “Create website.” Though the free default inserts wordpress.com into your domain (susanshain.wordpress.com), you can pay to use your own domain(susanshain.com).

4. Put up an “under construction” sign

While working on your blog’s appearance, you might want to put up an “under construction” or “coming soon” sign to greet visitors. You don’t want any potential clients or readers to Google your name and find a half-finished site. (And you may think you’re going to finish setting up your blog tomorrow — but we all know how badly writers procrastinate when there are no looming deadlines!)

To set up a little sign that says “under construction,” just download this plugin. You could even include a link to your Twitter or Facebook page so visitors have an alternate way of getting in touch with you. When you’re ready to share your blog with the world, simply deactivate and delete this plugin.

5. Choose a theme

Now we’re getting to the fun stuff! Your theme determines what your blog looks like, and you’ve got a lot of options to choose from. Yes, there’s a wide range of free themes, but if you’re serious about blogging, the customization and support offered by paid themes can’t be beat.

Here at The Write Life, we use Genesis, which is one of the most popular premium themes available. Another popular and flexible theme is Thesis. For my personal site, I use Elegant Themes, which has a wide selection of beautiful themes at a reasonable price. All of these themes come with unlimited support — essential when you’re starting a blog.

6. Create a header

If you truly want your blog to look professional, it’s worth getting a custom header. You can ask your favorite graphic designer or create something yourself with Canva.

My favorite option? Order one on Fiverr. I’ve had great luck getting headers and other graphics designed in this online marketplace, where thousands of people offer their services for $5 per gig.

7. Write your pages

Though you’re starting a blog and not a static website, you’ll still want a few pages that don’t change. (“Pages” are different from “posts,” which are the daily/weekly/monthly entries you publish on your blog.)

Here are some pages you may want to create:

About

The about page is frequently touted as one of the most-viewed pages on blogs, so don’t overlook it. Include a photo and brief bio, and explain why you’re blogging and why the reader should care. What makes you an expert? How can you help them?

Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through — blogging is a personal affair!

Contact

You want your readers to be able to get in touch with you, right? Then you’ll need a contact page.

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; just tell your readers how best to reach you. Avoid putting your full email address on here, as spambots could get ahold of it. To work around that, you can use a plugin, which we’ll link to below, or simply write something like “yourname AT yoursite DOT com.”

Portfolio

It’s your blog, so flaunt what you’ve got! Show your prospective clients and readers that you deserve their time and attention with examples of your past and present work. You can see examples of great writer portfolios here; personally, I love Sara Frandina’s.

Resources

Do you have a list of favorite writing tools? Or maybe books that have inspired you? Readers love resources pages, and for bloggers, they can also be a way to earn income from affiliate sales. Check out The Write Life’s resources page for inspiration.

Start here

You probably won’t need this at first, but a “start here” page is smart once you have a decent amount of content. It’s a great opportunity to express your mission and highlight your best work, so your readers can see the value of your blog without wading through months or years worth of posts.

Joanna Penn does a good job with hers, encouraging readers to download her ebook and then choose a topic that interests them.

Work with me

If you’re using your new blog to sell your writing services, this page is crucial. Be clear about how you can help people and how they can get in touch with you. You could even list packages of different services, like Sarah Von Bargen does on her site.

Once you’ve set up all your pages, make sure they’re easily accessible from the home page. If they’re not showing up, you may have to adjust your menus.

8. Install plugins

Plugins are great for everybody, but they’re especially useful for those of us who are less comfortable with the technical side of things but who’ve managed to set up a self-hosted blog. Think of them as apps for your blog; they’re free tools you can install to do a variety of things.

Though having lots of plugins can undermine the functionality and security of your blog, there are several we recommend everyone look into:

Better Click-to-Tweet: Encourage readers to share your content by including a click-to-tweet box within your posts; this plugin makes it easy.

Contact Form 7: If you want to avoid putting your email address on your contact page, use this contact form plugin, which is frequently updated and receives good reviews.

QuickieBar: Want to get readers to sign up for your free newsletter? Or want to announce the release of your latest book? This plugin allows you to create a banner for the top of your blog.

Mashshare: These “Mashable-style” share buttons are like the ones you see here on The Write Life. Another popular option is Digg Digg. It doesn’t matter which plugin you choose; it’s just essential you make social sharing easy for your readers.

WP Google Analytics: This plugin tracks the visitors to your site so you can see what people are interested in and how they’re finding you.

WP Super Cache: Another plugin that’s not sexy, but is important. Caching allows your blog to load faster — pleasing both your readers and Google.

Yoast SEO: This all-in-one SEO plugin helps you optimize your posts so you can get organic traffic from search engines.

9. Install widgets

If your blog has a sidebar, you might want to spruce it up with a few widgets, which are small boxes with different functions.

Here are some ideas:

About box

You’ve probably seen this on a lot of blogs; it’s a box in the upper right hand corner welcoming you to the site. Check out Jessica Lawlor’s blog for a simple — yet excellent — example.

Social media icons

Make it easy for your readers to follow you on social media by including links to your profiles in the sidebar. Here’s a basic tutorial for adding custom social media icons.

Popular posts

Once you’ve been blogging for a while, you might want to highlight your most popular posts in the sidebar, which you can do with a basic text widget. We do this here on The Write Life so you can find our most popular content quickly and easily.

10. Purchase backup software

Don’t overlook this important step just because you don’t have content yet! It’s better to install this software early than to start blogging and not remember until it’s too late.

Free options exist, but I’ve never had good luck with them — and for something as important as my entire blog, I don’t mind paying a little extra. (It’s a business write-off, remember?!) Popular backup options include VaultPress,BackupBuddy and blogVault.

11. Start your email list

I know, I know — you haven’t even started blogging and I already want you to build an email list. Trust me; you’ll be so glad you did.

Alexis Grant, founder of The Write Life, agrees with me. “If I could go back and do one thing differently for my business, it would be starting a newsletterearlier,” she writes. “My email list is THAT important for my business, bringing traffic to my website, buys of my products and opportunities I never could’ve expected.”

Even if you don’t have anything to send, just start collecting email addresses. The best way to entice people to sign up is by offering a free ebook or resource. For great examples, check out The Write Life’s How to Land Your First Paying Client or Grant’s social media strategy checklist.

Our favorite email newsletter platform is Mailchimp. It’s intuitive, fun and free for up to 2,000 subscribers. There are lots of other tools you could choose, though; here are a few more options for building your email list.

Once you’ve created your list, entice your readers to subscribe by adding a subscription box to your sidebar, and maybe even installing a plugin likePopupAlly.

12. Write!

If you really want to start a blog, you’re going to need to… start blogging.

We recommend creating an editorial calendar — even if it’s just you blogging. It doesn’t have to be fancy; it can even be scribbled out in a notebook.

What’s important is that you plan your posts in advance, so you can keep track of your ideas and stick to a schedule. It’s also a chance to assess and tweak your content strategy. What do you want to write about? How will you draw the readers in?

Don’t forget you’re writing for the web, so your style should be different than if you were writing for print. Keep your tone conversational, use “you” phrases to speak to the reader and break up text with bullet points and sub-headers. Keep SEO in mind, but don’t make it the focus of your writing.

13. Promote, promote, promote

You’re almost there! Now that you’ve started writing, it’s time to get readers. And I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but for many writers, this is one of the most surprisingly time-consuming aspects of blogging. Though it’d be nice if we could just write (that’s what we love to do, right?), it’s nicer to have people actually reading your work.

One of the best ways to attract new readers is guest blogging on more popular blogs. To help you out, here are seven writing blogs that want your guest posts, plus seven more. (And don’t forget about guest posting for TWL!)

It’s also essential to interact with other bloggers. Share their content with your community, comment on their posts and support them when and where you can. Hopefully, they’ll return the favor!

Social media is another great way to get more traffic to your new blog. In addition to sharing your posts and networking with fellow bloggers, make sure you’re constantly trying to grow your author following on social media.

14. Get help if you need it

If you feel stuck at any point, don’t be afraid to invest in a course or ebook, like these ones:

Sometimes a little outside help is all the boost you need.

Other than that, creating a successful writing blog is about hard work and consistency. Keep posting helpful and engaging content, optimizing it for SEO and sharing it with your networks — and you’ll soon see your new blog start to blossom.

Congratulations, you’ve now officially started a blog as a writer. Guess it’s time to get writing!

Do you want to start a blog? What stood in your way until now?

Susan Shane

The 5 C’s of Writing a Great Thriller Novel

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Writing Project

This article by James Scott Bell was first published in the Writer’s Digest. I read it this morning on Books Go Social Authors Group ( https://www.facebook.com/groups/booksgosocialauthors/?fref=nf ) and thought it was worth sharing.  Even if were not writing a thriller we may want to add a touch into whatever we’re writing.  Enjoy.   Shirley

Remember when Tommy Lee Jones holds up the empty shackles in The Fugitive and says, “You know, we’re always fascinated when we find leg irons with no legs in ’em”? It makes me think of readers who pick up thrillers and find no thrills in them. Or at least not as many as there could be.

I’m not just talking about plot here. It’s possible to have guns and bombs and hit men and terrorists and black helicopters and still not have a novel that grips the reader in the gut.

For a healthy, fully functioning thriller, try some literary vitamin C. Dose your book with these five Cs and it will stand strong, chest out, ready to give your reader a run for the money.

  1. Complex Characterizations

The first place to fortify a thriller is its cast of characters. A critical mistake made here can undermine even the best story concept.

Is your protagonist all good? That’s boring. Instead, the thriller hero needs to struggle with issues inside as well as outside. She’s got to be a carrier of flaws as well as virtues. These roiling conflicts make her survival an open question.

When we first meet Detective Carol Starkey in Robert Crais’ Demolition Angel, she’s flicking her cigarette ash on the floor of a therapist’s office, “pissed off” because it’s been three years and her demons are still alive and well. Quite an introduction, especially for someone on the LAPD bomb detail. We know she has a short fuse. And we want to watch to see if it goes off.

Brainstorm a list of at least 10 inner demons your hero has to fight. Ten. Get creative. Then choose the best one. Work that demon into your hero’s backstory, and show how it is affecting him in the present—and could hinder him even further in the future. Give him actions that demonstrate the flaw.

Move on to the rest of your cast. Avoid the “stock character” trap, which can be especially perilous in this genre—e.g., the cold, buttoned-down FBI agent; the police detective with a drinking problem. Here’s a good habit: Reject the first image you come up with when creating a character. Entertain several possibilities, always looking for a fresh take.

Then, give each character a point of potential conflict with your hero as well as with the other characters—especially those who are allies. Look for ways friends can become enemies or betrayers. Short of that, create more arguments.

To help you add complexity, make a character grid like this:

Mary                        Steve                  Cody                     Brenda                Julio

Mary

x

Steve                            x

Cody                                               x

Brenda                                                              x

Julio                                                                                   x

Now, fill in the blank boxes with possible relationships, secrets and areas of conflict. For example:

Mary     Steve

Mary

Hates him because he abused her sister

Steve     Knows that Mary had a child by Julio

If possible connections are eluding you, try running this exercise for each of your main characters: The police come to the character’s residence with a search warrant. In his closet is something he does not want anyone to find, ever.

What is it?

What does this reveal about the inner life of the character? Use the secrets and passions you discover to add another point of conflict within the cast.

Standout thrillers need complexity and webs of conflict, so that every page hums with tension.

  1. Confrontation

I call the main action of a novel the confrontation. This is where the hero and antagonist battle over the high stakes a thriller demands.

When it comes to the antagonist, writers can easily make the opposite of the “all-good protagonist” mistake: They make their bad guy all bad. Worse, they make him all bad because he’s crazy.

More interesting confrontations come from a villain who is justified in what he does.

You mean, in doing evil things?

Yes, that’s exactly what I mean—in his own mind, that is. How much more chilling is the bad guy who has a strong argument for his actions, or who even engenders a bit of sympathy? The crosscurrents of emotion this will create in your readers will deepen your thriller in ways that virtually no other technique can accomplish. The trick is not to overdo it—if you stack the deck against your villain, readers will feel manipulated.

Start by giving your antagonist just as rich a backstory as your hero. What hopes and dreams did he have? How were they dashed? What life-altering hurt did he suffer? Who betrayed him? How did all of this affect him over the course of his life?

Write out a closing argument for him. If he were in court, arguing to a jury about why he did the things he did in the novel, what would he say? Make it as persuasive as possible:

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my name is Hannibal Lecter. You’ve heard a lot of lurid tales about me from the prosecutor. Now you will hear my side of the story. You will hear about a world that is better off without some people being in it. And you will hear about the conditions I endured inside the horror of a place called the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane …”

It can feel a bit disturbing to try to understand someone you might hate in real life. Good. You are a writer. You go where angels fear to tread.

Now take all of that material and use it to strengthen the antagonist’s position in the story. A stronger confrontation can only result.

  1. Careening

There’s nothing like a stunning twist or shock to keep readers flipping, clicking or swiping pages. Part of the fun for readers is thinking a story is going one way, and getting taken completely by surprise.

Harlan Coben is one of the reigning kings of the art of surprise. “I’ve rarely met a twist I didn’t like,” he has said. His method, if it can be called that, is to write himself “into a lot of corners” and see how things work out.

That’s one way to go. Forcing your writer’s mind to deal with conundrums is a great practice.

But there is another way. Pause after every scene and ask yourself: “What would a reader expect to happen next?” Create a list of at least three directions the story might take.

Then discard those three and do something different. I call this unanticipation.

Another method is the old Raymond Chandler advice: When things slow down, bring in a man with a gun. It doesn’t have to be an actual man with an actual gun, of course. It can be anything that bursts into a scene and shakes things up. Here’s the key: Get your imagination to give you the surprise without justification.

Make a quick list of at least 10 things that just pop into your mind. For example:

  1. A woman runs in screaming.
  2. The lights go out.
  3. A car crashes through the wall.
  4. Heart attack.
  5. SWAT team outside.
  6. Marching band outside.
  7. TV announcer mentions character’s name.
  8. A baby cries (what baby?).
  9. Blood drips down the wall.
  10. Justin Bieber comes in with a gun.

Some things on your list will seem silly. That’s OK. Don’t judge. Look back and find the most original item, and only then find a reason for it. In this case, No. 8 creates the most interest for me. I have no idea where that came from or what it means. But I can make it mean something.

And so can you.

  1. Coronary

The best thrillers stab the heart, throughout. They do it by getting readers to experience the emotions of the scenes.

How can you do that? First, by experiencing them yourself. Sense memory is a technique used by many serious actors. Here’s how it works: You concentrate on recalling an emotional moment in your life, and recreate each of the senses in your memory (sight, smell, touch, sound, etc.) until you begin to feel the emotion again. And you will. The actor transfers that to her role; the writer, to the page.

When I was getting to the heart of one of my own thrillers-in-progress, a story of two brothers, I needed to feel what the younger one was experiencing when the bad guys came. I recalled a time when I was 6 or 7, and some bullies were holding me hostage on a hill. Terrified, I finally made a break for home and sobbed to my big brother about what had happened. He left me at the house.

I never saw those bullies in our neighborhood again.

When I wrote the scenes with the younger brother, I focused on feeling those moments again, and transferred those emotions to the page.

They’re going to kill Chuck and they’re going to do the same thing to me. That’s why they have me tied up and they put another thing in my mouth and they won’t let me talk. … They hit me. I’m in the back of some truck. They’re taking me somewhere. I hope they take me where Chuck is. If they do anything to Chuck I will bite them. I will do anything I can to hurt them. Maybe I’m going to die but I will not die until I hurt them because of what they’re going to do to Chuck.

Another way to tap into your character’s heartbeat is the run-on sentence. Interview the character at the height of an emotion. Write down his reaction for at least 200 words without using a period. Then explore that text to find gems of emotional description. You might actually use some of it, as Horace McCoy did in his 1938 noir thriller, I Should Have Stayed Home:

All Dorothy’s fault, I thought, cursing her in my mind with all the dirty words I could think of, all the filthy ones I could remember the kids in my old gang used to yell at white women as they passed through the neighborhood on their way to work in the whore houses, these are what you are, Dorothy, turning off Vine on to the boulevard, feeling awful and alone, even worse than that time my dog was killed by the Dixie Flyer, but telling myself in a very faint voice that even like this I was better off than the fellows I grew up with back in Georgia who were married and had kids and regular jobs and regular salaries and were doing the same old thing in the same old way and would go on doing it forever.

  1. Communication

The original storytellers spun thrillers. When heroes went out into the dark world to confront monsters and demons and great beasts, the tribe vicariously lived the tale. But there was something more—they learned how to fight, act courageously and survive.

The first thrillers carried a message and helped bring a local community together.

Readers still seek that kind of story. So you ought to spend some time asking yourself what your thriller is really about. Does it offer hope for justice? Does it end with justice denied?

In short, what will the reader take away from your book?

Many aspiring thriller writers, perhaps seeing the genre as action-driven, avoid thinking about theme (or meaning, or premise). They prefer to let the characters duke it out, and leave it at that. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, as long as you realize that you will be saying something. Why not be intentional about it?

Here’s an exercise I call “The Dickens” (named for Charles and his time-traveling story A Christmas Carol): Go forward in time 20 years after your story ends. Your lead character is now 20 years older and has had time to reflect on all that happened in the story you told. You’re now a reporter, and you track down the character and ask, “Looking back at everything that happened to you, why do you think you had to go through that? What life lesson did you learn that you can pass on to the rest of us?”

Let the character answer in a free-form way, for as long as possible, until you sense that it’s right.

Now use all your skills to demonstrate that lesson at the end of the story itself, without necessarily using words. Give us Clarice Starling sleeping at last, the lambs of her nightmares silenced. Or Harry Bosch in Lost Light, holding for the first time the hands of the daughter he never knew he had.

Those are the moments that will take your thriller from entertaining to unforgettable.

Here’s to the health of your thrillers.

—By James Scott Bell

Tips for Writing Amazon Reviews

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 This is books scramble. Many books to scatter under sky.wordsAmazon-Logo-300x109

What if a car manufacturer was to drop off a brand new car to a person’s home, completely at random, and explain they had 24 hours to drive the car? Afterward, they would take the car to another home at random and do the same thing, and repeat for three months. They only asked that the home owners/drivers would write a review of the automobile. What do you think would happen?

I suspect most of the drivers would do exactly what they should. They would write intelligent and informative reviews about how it handled, how it drove, gas mileage, the comfort, the power, the sound system, etc.

But there would be some drivers who would abuse this privilege. It’s human nature. Some wouldn’t even drive the car. Some would complain about everything from the visors to the texture of the floor mats. Some would complain about the color of the free car they were provided. Some would get drunk, drive 100 mph, wreck the car, and then write a bad review.

Power to the people is a wonderful concept, but total unadulterated power to the masses will always result in an unreliable representation of the truth. It’s as simple as pride or ego. It’s the same reason we have few real cable news anchors anymore, because the anchors consider themselves the star instead of the subjects of the stories they report.

And that sums up Amazon reader reviews. While most are very helpful, many are just people exercising their basic nature to be useless. So here are some tips.

TIP ONE
If you haven’t read the book, don’t leave a review. I actually read a one-star review recently that read, “I couldn’t get this stupid book to download.” That is a problem to be solved between you and tech support, not to use the review section to vent.

TIP TWO
Reviews should include something about the story. Fake example: “Set in the Civil War era with war looming, a young couple from the South tries to start a new life.” Too many reviews, however, are so generic they could apply to any book written. Actual example: “The plot was weak. The story dragged on.” When I read reviews like this one, I’m not sure the reviewer actually read the book and would direct them to TIP ONE.

TIP THREE
After you give potential readers a little insight into the plot, you can add your personal thoughts. Fake example: “I thought the premise was unique and the writing solid. I saw the ending coming a mile away though.” Personal thoughts should be about the story, not the reader. Actual example: “I hate dystopian novels.” Which begs the question: why are you reading and reviewing a dystopian novel?

TIP FOUR
A five-star review should be for a book that has everything: good writing, good editing, and a story that makes you want to read it again and tell your friends about. Some people are too generous, which is generally not a bad trait to have in life. But I’ve looked at all the reviews of some reviewers to find that they’ve given a five-star review to all 30 books they’ve read. And while it’s very polite, it doesn’t serve the purpose for potential new readers. Seriously, nobody could be that lucky.

TIP FIVE
If a book is well-written and well-edited, it should never get less than a three-star review. Just because you were not able to tell what the story was about from the book description, or if the story didn’t appeal to you as much as other books, is no reason to give a professional book a one or two-star review. That’s just petty. Stories are subjective, and just because it didn’t appeal to you doesn’t mean it won’t appeal to someone else. Explain in your review why you didn’t like the story. That’s what reviews are for.

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Although I find it extremely improbable, if a book has no redeeming qualities whatsoever and the writing is full of errors and typos, then and only then is a one-star review proper. But usually even badly written books have decent ideas. But this is a powerful tool — use it wisely, Grasshopper.

Thank goodness the majority of readers are very bright. Heck, that’s why they read, or vice versa. When they read one-star reviews that are poorly written, do not actually mention any details of the storyline, and just appear as immature rantings, they take them as such.

So let’s sum up. Reviews are about books and for readers; they’re not about you the reviewer for you the reviewer. If it’s in your character to need attention, don’t write useless reviews, start a blog. Or better yet, become a cable news anchor.

Rushing and Muddying Your POV

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We All Get There

We All Get There

Before we get into the meat of the blog of just wanted to say that I hope all of my Christian family and friends had a wonderful Christmas and have a great New Year. As I say every year, “its hard to believe that 2015 is here.” The time we have been given passes very quickly. When you’re young it drags and you know you will be young forever, but that is just a smoke screen. When you get past 30 the time starts increasing at a rapid rate. Before you know it the majority of your life is behind you and Christmas seems like it happens every two weeks.  Enjoy your life and make it mean something to someone or a lot of someones.

Now onto the blog.  If there’s one issue writing students worry about more than any other, it’s point of View. What is it? they ask.  Am I doing it right? Am I in omniscient of third? Should I be in omniscient or third? Many times the confusion over point of view overwhelms the writer.  The key thing to keep in mind is that choosing the right point of view will help you tell your story.  That’s all.  No one will come out and arrest you if you got it wrong.  You’re just likely to confuse the reader.

Consider the differences between these two paragraphs. In the first: Cinderella longed to go to the ball.  She dreamed of finding true love because no one ever loved her.  She looked at the rose bush in front of her, inhaled its delicate bouquet, and hoped that someday she would hold a bouquet like this when she married.

In the second: Cinderella wanted to go to the ball.  Prince Charming hoped he would meet her there.  She put on a dress.  He wanted to find some slippers. There was a pumpkin in the window.

In the first example, (which I hope you think is better), we’re seeing the world through Cinderella’s eyes.  We’re identifying with her.  In the second example, we don’t know whom we’re rooting for: Cinderella, Prince Charming or the pumpkin.  Finding the right POV helps helps the reader understand what the story is about.

We all want to be done. We all want to see our book in stores, our story in the magazine, our screenplay made into a movie.  Oh, and we’d like the money, too.  Ten thousand dollars would be nice. Right now.

One of the very first things I did as a writer, when I had written no more than three paragraphs of my first story was look through a reference book for places that might publish it.  My list had more words in it than my story. And I’m, embarrassed to say that the minute I finished the first draft, I sent the story out.  To 20 places. Each of them rejected me with a form letter. I actually called up Redbook to ask why there was a problem, and I believe I got someone in the circulation department.

Unfortunately, some things can’t be rushed.  You have to take time with your story;  writing a first draft isn’t enough.  You need to go through a couple of drafts.  You need to deepen the character, intensify plot, tighten the dialogue, and flesh out descriptions.  You need to proofread. You need to take enough time to do it right.

Many, many writers they that if they get good enough idea on the page and send it out, some insightful editor or agent will read it, recognize its inner value, take the writer under her wing, and fix it for her.  This worked for Thomas Wolfe, but I don’t think you can count on it as a career path.  Although there are lovely agents and editors out there, they are not really looking for extra work.  They want you to finish the job yourself.

There are however some things you can do to give your ego a boost before you’re ready to send that story out.  Try joining a writing community.  A positive critique can make you feel great.  You can also try writing some shorter work, which may be easier to get our quickly.  Seeing your name in print on a flash fiction piece may give you the boost you need to finish that novel.  Read literary journals and consider volunteering.  some of the smaller ones need people to help read submissions.  Sighing up can be a fun way to become part of the literary world.

What Does A Publisher Do? Part 4

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publisher Here is the last installment in this blog series. I hope I have provided information that you can understand and use as needed.

Marketing departments issue all kinds of catalogs to promote books—ones you see and ones you won’t unless you’re a librarian or a bookseller. The trade catalog is a publisher’s principal tool for making sales to bookstores. Like countries that have only two seasons, wet and dry, most of scholarly publishing divides its year in half. (Some larger houses now issue three catalogs; their weather is more complicated.) Publishers with two trade catalogs bring out one per season. The fall season usually begins in September and continues through the winter. The spring season begins in February or March, and continues through the summer. Books to be announced in a catalog must be securely in place at the publishing house up to a year ahead. The book you hope to have published in September will be announced in a catalog printed the previous spring; the copy for your book will be written during the winter. It isn’t uncommon for a house to expect the manuscript to be delivered and through its review and revision process a year prior to publication date. Certain kinds of books can’t be well published in certain months. Scholarly publishers avoid launching serious trade books in December, since the outstanding study of world famine won’t compete with holiday fare (unsold copies will be returned to the publisher before the tinsel is swept away). It’s most desirable to stock textbooks by January or February, since teachers will need to see examination copies in the spring to order texts for fall classes.

Have a blog? Share the news with your devotees. To marketing and publicity also falls the task of arranging author tours. If an author tour conjures up images of red carpets, limousines, and chilled champagne, think again. A scholarly author on tour may be staying in friends’ guest rooms, speaking in near-empty bookstores, and certainly wondering if there aren’t easier ways of selling books. And yet most authors are delighted by the request to make appearances. After all, it means that the publisher thinks this is a book that can reach beyond a core readership.

An author tour can take various forms. Two weeks of travel, flights from city to city, an author appearance every day, twice a day if possible. The phone-in radio show in the morning, the mall bookstore in the afternoon, the campus speaking engagement just before dinner, a quick stop to sign a pile of copies at the campus bookstore, where your book has the prime window display. All this takes the author’s time, and can cost the publisher a tidy sum. At the other end of the scale, the tour might be rather less elaborate. (Do you know anyone in Chicago who could put you up? Do you mind driving there?) If you are publishing a book with a very small house, there may simply not be a budget for any sort of touring. Many scholars overcome the limitations of their publishers’ budgets by using their own speaking engagements as book promotion opportunities. If you’re going to give a lecture anyway, contact your publisher well in advance to see if a book event might be scheduled around it.
The cheapest way to promote a book is to have the author pitch it to a willing audience. Lecturing at the community center on images of aging in Western art? Your publisher can easily run off a simple promotional flier with order form attached, ship you a stack of them, and have you place them strategically at your lecture venue. Medium-size and larger academic houses will usually select one or more authors in a season for special promotion. Publishers often make their choice on the basis of three factors:

the book can sell in quantity in bookstores;
the book can be reviewed in newspapers, not simply journals;
the author is presentable.
Some books can be successful without ever selling a single copy in a bookstore. These are textbooks—if you’ve written one, don’t expect to tour. Your publisher will send you on tour only if bookstores think you’ll draw a crowd. If bookstores are behind you, chances are your book has enough appeal to garner reviews in the media.

“Will I be getting a party?” asks an author breathlessly, having just turned in his overdue manuscript on the history of childhood illnesses. Publishers throw parties reluctantly. Parties make authors feel good—to which your publisher won’t object—but the publishing business is primarily about getting books sold. Unless you can deliver the movers and shakers of the media, or of your academic discipline, your publisher’s marketing budget is better spent on advertising and direct mail than on renting a restaurant for catered snacks and dancing. Of course, it might be nice to have a little do for your close friends on campus. Think warm white wine in plastic cups in the faculty lounge. Next question.

Your publisher may budget anywhere from fifty to several hundred “free and review” copies of your book. These are copies on which you will receive no royalties because they’ll be given away or used in promotion.

Books are given away to people who may review the book or in other ways do the book some good. A publisher with a book hot off the presses will want to get it as quickly as possible into the hands of the most powerful people in the field. The publisher who has just brought out a book on the ethical treatment of animals may want Peter Singer, for example, to have a copy as early as possible, in the hopes that Professor Singer will (a) like the book and spread the word; and (b) respond eagerly if a book review editor contacts him about reviewing it.

It’s important to remember that book reviews are assigned by book review editors (at newspapers, at magazines, at journals). Since almost anyone could plausibly be a book reviewer, publishers have become hard-nosed about sending out review copies to unknown persons. Your publisher will have an A-list of preferred review sites, and will automatically get copies of your book to the people at these publications and organizations. If your best friend Louise wants to review the book but isn’t a book reviewer, don’t be insulted if your publisher won’t send her a free copy. Louise should try contacting a journal where she might review the book. Chances are your publisher has already put that journal on the A-list and a copy of your book is waiting, alongside hundreds of others, in the office of the journal’s book review editor. If not, have that journal send your publisher a request—on letterhead

Remember that promotional copies are not about promoting you. Or about your promotion at State U. Don’t expect your publisher to send a copy of your book to your dean or to Betty who typed the manuscript. These are your responsibilities. Your contract will stipulate a number of copies given to you at no cost. Beyond that, you’ll be expected to pay for further copies of your own book. (But at least you’ll get an author’s discount.)

Take a look at my new YouTube video and let me know what you think about it. Have a blessed day.

What Does a Publisher Do? Part 2

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Hello All, below you will find part two that goes along with last weeks post. The Chicago Press has done an excellent job in explaining exactly what is an Editor and his/her job.

publisherMay I Speak with an Editor?
In a publishing house, an editor may do a number of things. An acquisitions editor is the person with whom you’ll first come into contact, since this is the person with the primary responsibility to recommend projects for publication consideration. Some houses call this position sponsoring editor or commissioning editor.

Beyond that, your acquiring editor (the person you will quickly come to call “my editor”) may line edit your book. Even if this doesn’t get a thorough line editing, the acquiring editor will need to make decisions about your manuscript that can include cutting big chunks out, insisting you rethink parts, or requiring you to add something you’ve never thought of before.

If this weren’t confusing enough, many publishing houses establish rankings within their organizations that assign different job titles to acquisitions editors at different salary or seniority levels. Some houses have adopted rankings for editors that mirror the academic distinctions of assistant, associate, and full professor. You may find yourself reading a letter from an assistant or associate editor, or perhaps someone whose title is simply editor. Don’t be distracted by this. The person who has expressed interest in your work is the first person with whom you want to bond, whether or not she has been promoted to the highest ranking at her press. Obviously, there can be advantages to working directly with a very senior editor. But if you find yourself chatting with the associate editor for politics don’t sit there wishing you could meet the real politics editor—it’s likely you already have.

A manuscript editor or copy editor will be responsible for correcting style and punctuation, and may raise questions about clarity and intention. Sometimes a piece of writing will be subject to only the lightest cosmetic adjustments, while other times the manuscript will be substantially reworked. Once, manuscript editors were housed in a publisher’s offices, but increasingly manuscript editors work freelance, and are managed by someone in-house. The manuscript editor will be the person responsible for querying anything unclear or missing from your text. You, however, who are responsible for the final version of your book.

A developmental editor isn’t an acquiring editor, but may be assigned to an important project, lending the author or volume editor crucial assistance. Developmental editors are common at textbook houses, but are rare in other branches of book publishing. Sometimes development means taking a chaotic project and organizing it, while in other cases development might mean taking on myriad details (such as permissions and illustrations) for a complex volume initiated by the press itself. Authors who have heard about developmental editors sometimes wonder aloud why the press can’t provide one to help them through the last rewrite. But a developmental editor’s time is precious, and those work hours will be committed only to projects for which the publisher sees the possibility of significant return.

You might also work with someone described as a line editor. A line editor is someone who, as the title suggests, combs through a manuscript line by line, not only reading for sense but listening for rhythm and euphony as well. You might even get some fact-checking thrown in. Though line editor and manuscript editor are closely related job titles, a “line edit” is frequently reserved for trade books. Line editing is expensive.

A managing editor usually oversees copy (or manuscript) editors, and sometimes supervises further elements of the production process. Managing editors manage not only the copyediting process, but much of the scheduling your book will require. Increasingly this means that the managing editor must juggle the schedules of freelance copy editors, proofreaders, and indexers while keeping an eye on the printing schedule. The managing editor will likely not manage the acquisitions editors, however.

Diane Baker to Brian Aherne, playing a high-powered trade editor in The Best of Everything: “Oh, no wonder you’re an editor! You know so much about people!” Different kinds of editors perform different functions. All, however, are grouped under the editorial umbrella of a publishing house, which embraces two functions: acquisition, or signing books up; and manuscript development, or making them better. Some acquiring editors spend all their time “editing a list”—that is, bringing in projects—and no time developing or enhancing the author’s words. A specialized monograph publisher may operate this way. More commonly, acquiring editors both bring in projects and, perhaps selectively, spend time on detailed shaping and rewriting. On the other hand, a developmental editor may spend all of her time on shaping a manuscript, and have no acquisitions responsibilities at all.

Dobyns Chronicles

The Time is Here…..

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I’m so excited and can’t keep my old heart from jumping up and down. I finally have my book of short stories on Amazon. It’s called, “Shirley’s Shorts and Flashes”. You can read just about any genre you want with these stories. I started working on them a couple of years ago.

One thing I’m very pleased about is using Afaheem Solutions to do the drawings before every chapter. Those pictures set the story off and give you little hints what it’s about. It was fun to see what concepts he would come up with in a short period of time. If I wanted something changed he would do it immediately.

I think my favorite of the stories is Forever Love based on a true event from my life. If you like paranormal, love and tragedy all wrapped up in a neat package, you will like this story.

Take a look at it and let me know what you think about the book.  Blessings to all.        Shirley

Attention Writers: Flash Fiction Contest

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I thought we could have some fun writing a Flash Fiction story of no more than 400 words around the topic of July 4th.  It can be any genre you wish, any topic, but keep it clean.  All entries must be submitted by June 30th to shirley_mclain@yahoo.com. The winner will be announced on July 3rd.  The prize is two ebooks of your choice from Amazon.

Please submit title and author of the books you would like as well as the address where you want them sent.  The story I posted called Angie’s Secret is for a flash fiction contest. You can read it and then try to do better.

Here is a YouTube video that explains flash fiction a little further. I hope you enjoy it. I look forward to reading what you come up with.  Happy writing.

To do, or Not To Do, that is the question??????

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It finally came and I was so excited to see it.  When I opened it and saw all the marks I panicked. Being in the middle of unpacking 200 boxes from my move, I now have my book to edit. As much as I love my book, I don’t want to even start on it yet. It’s sad because I have been chomping at the bit for almost three months to get it back from the editor. Dobyns Chronicles was and is a work of love. It’s a story based in the 1800’s about my great-grandfather. I called it a historical fiction but it has a lot of truth threaded throughout the story.

How do I even begin. I think I’m going to leave it alone for awhile so I can finish unpacking boxes. That way I won’t have  things hanging over my head.  What ideas do you have for me, about getting started on what seems like a daunting task to me right now?