Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Piggybacking

You'd have to be living underground not to have heard of the successful erotic book, Fifty Shades of Grey, now turned into a movie. You'd also have to be living in a cave not to have recognized countless spinoffs, which for the purposes of this blog, I'll call Fifty Shades of Whatever.

There's a saying that success breeds success, and apparently many are quick to jump on the bandwagon and piggyback on others' successes. Some do it with similar titles. Others, with books in a similar genre. When that happens, what was once unique becomes one of many.

Actually, doing so is nothing new. What author didn't receive advice to compare their manuscript with a better known author's, when submitting to an agent or editor? Even in the library, I often see flyers saying, "If you like so and so, try so and so's books. You might like them."

In a way, it's a good thing to identify your book through comparison, and perhaps gain fans of like taste.

In another way, it's hard to compare your book with someone else's and still remain unique. That's walking a thin line, especially if you're determined to also follow the "Write the book of your heart" advice received from other quarters.

At least we're luckier than in the past, when books had to absolutely be pigeonholed into certain categories. Nowadays, it's possible to combine genres to suit our fancy.

So, if you wanted to piggyback and also be original, I guess you could do a book called Fifty Window Shades, Which One's Best?

After all, it's not easy to pick window shade styles, colors, or even gauge the width and length correctly. Some, you can tear off yourself to get the desired specifications, others you can't. Some are utilitarian, others fancy. Some block the light, some don't. Some you can see through, some you can't. Getting the wrong shade could lead to all sorts of trouble.

Now it's your turn. Do you have any either practical or nonsensical ideas for piggybacking on popular books or authors?


Experience the diversity and versatility of Morgan Mandel. Romantic Comedies: Her Handyman, its sequel, A Perfect Angel, standalone reality show romance; Girl of My Dreams. Thriller: Forever Young: Blessing or Curse,its sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer CareerMystery:Two Wrongs.Short and Sweet  Romance:   Christmas Carol. Twitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com    Morgan Does Chick Lit.Com.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Social Media and Marketing: Does it Work?

We all hear how we HAVE to be on Twitter constantly, update our Facebook status often, post to Pinterest, etc., etc., etc. But do these social media sites sell books for us?

Marketing Maven Kristin Lamb has written several good posts about this subject. She writes the following in her blog:

Marketing, Social Media & Book Signings--Why NONE of These Directly Impact Book Sales

"In The Digital Age, we seem to find a lot of extremes. Either articles or blogs ranting how social media doesn’t sell books, it’s too hard, there are too many rules, whiiiiiiinnnnne. These folks might write books, maybe even great books, but I suppose they think readers will find them using telepathy. 

Or, there are those who worship the Oracle of Automation and the Lord of Algorithms. Instead of writing
MORE BOOKS, they tweet, FB, Instagram, buy flare, do blog tours, futz with the website, the cover, the algorithms…and then can later be witnessed crying in a corner with a pan of brownies and a half-finished bottle of rum.

Thus, I am here to bring some balance to The Force.

Social Media Was NEVER About Selling Books Directly—Who KNEW?

I’ve been saying this for about ten years, because the idea of using social circles for sales is NOT new. About ten years ago, I recognized that social media would soon be a vital tool for writers to be able to create a brand and a platform before the book was even finished. This would shift the power away from sole control of Big Publishing and give writers more freedom. But, I knew social media could not be used for direct sales successfully."

How? To read the rest of her blog, go to Kristen Lamb's Blog.




Shared by Heidi M. Thomas. A native Montanan, Heidi now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreamsis based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, and a non-fiction book Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women, have just been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Stepping Up Your Game

When a potential buyer thumbs through our novel in a “real” bookstore or peruses a sample of our e-book online, what does she see? What makes our printed pages (or e-book) stand out from all the others? A great cover garners instant attention. Name recognition helps. However, many of us aren’t well known; we haven’t developed a fan base. We need an equalizer.

Equalizer? How about graphics?

Most hard-copy books are printed with black ink on a cream or white background. Line art can be very effective, and a grayscale graphic can be surprisingly detailed in printed books. E-books, on the other hand, can be full color.

Are you captivated by a gorgeous sunset? A turbulent sea? Ducklings paddling after their mother in a pond? An elderly couple holding hands? As the cliché says, a picture is worth a thousand words. Just as a stunning cover may inspire us to pick up a book, well-placed graphics in the interior may incite us to buy the book.  

Look at two scenes below — with and without graphics. Do the graphics enhance or clarify the scenes in your mind? How do they help to tell the story?

Martha Hanson walked into the noisy classroom. Ninth grade boys and girls huddled in small pods, some whispering, some laughing, some tossing books and papers into the air and letting them fall to the floor. Miniskirts and shorts showed too much leg, and pants belted below the derrière rather than at the waist made her cringe. Fourteen years ago she’d left her position in a parochial school to raise her family. Her husband’s death had forced her back into the workplace. Public school wasn’t where she’d ever expected to teach.

The third time she tapped her ruler against the desktop, some students began to turn her way. “Find a seat, please.” Adjusting her glasses, she struggled to be heard above the din.

A roomful of mostly fair-haired adolescents looked in her direction, at least momentarily. A Hispanic girl and three Asian boys rounded out the group. She took a deep breath and opened her mouth to speak.

***

Harry Samson left the college campus and began the ten-block trek to his apartment. The fresh air always invigorated him after a day of teaching. Following his recovery from a football injury, he’d returned to his alma mater to get his Ph.D. and stayed when a position unexpectedly opened up. At the end of this term he’d have tenure. Not that job security was everything, but positions in his field weren’t as easy to come by as they’d once been.

He stopped to light his pipe and leisurely crossed the street. Halfway home, he heard a noise in the alley. A quick glance made him want to run the other way. An old man, a derelict most likely, lay on the pavement. Two strapping young hoodlums took turns kicking him. The man curled into a fetal position and cried out. With each blow, the cries grew weaker.

Conflicting thoughts stampeded through his mind. What can I do? I’m only one person, but I can’t just walk away. It hasn’t been that many years since I was a star on the football field. I stay in shape. I lift weights…

He stepped out of sight, put in a quick call to 911, and returned to the alley entrance. Drawing himself up to his full six feet, he limped toward the bullies.

***

Now let’s add graphics to the same scenes and see how they might enhance reader interest and understanding.

by Shannon Parish
www.illustratingyou.com
Martha Hanson walked into the noisy classroom. Ninth grade boys and girls huddled in small pods, some whispering, some laughing, some tossing books and papers into the air and letting them fall to the floor. Miniskirts and shorts showed too much leg, and pants belted below the derrière rather than at the waist made her cringe. Fourteen years ago she’d left her position in a parochial school to raise her family. Her husband’s death had forced her back into the workplace. Public school wasn’t where she’d ever expected to teach.

The third time she tapped her ruler against the desktop, some students began to turn her way. “Find a seat, please.” Adjusting her glasses, she struggled to be heard above the din.

A roomful of mostly fair-haired adolescents looked in her direction, at least momentarily. A Hispanic girl and three Asian boys rounded out the group. She took a deep breath and opened her mouth to speak.

***

by Shannon Parish
www.illustratingyou.com
Harry Samson left the college campus and began the ten-block trek to his apartment. The fresh air always invigorated him after a day of teaching. Following a football injury, he’d returned to his alma mater to get his Ph.D. and stayed when a position unexpectedly opened up. At the end of this term he’d have tenure. Not that job security was everything, but positions in his field weren’t as easy to come by as they’d once been.

He stopped to light his pipe and leisurely crossed the street. Halfway home, he heard a noise in the alley. A quick glance made him want to run the other way. An old man, a derelict most likely, lay on the pavement. Two strapping young hoodlums took turns kicking him. The man curled into a fetal position and cried out. With each blow, the cries grew weaker.

Conflicting thoughts stampeded through his mind. What can I do? I’m only one person, but I can’t just walk away. It hasn’t been that many years since I was a star on the football field. I stay in shape. I lift weights…

He stepped out of sight, put in a quick call to 911, and returned to the alley entrance. Drawing himself up to his full six feet, he limped toward the bullies.

***

Do these graphics enhance the scenes for you? How could you incorporate illustrations into your books? To step up your game, you can insert graphics above chapter headings, at chapter endings (line art can be especially effective here), or with a text wrap, as shown above.

Graphics reprinted with permission.
ShannonParish.com

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at DenverEditor.com.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

First Steps: Situation or Story?

I've heard a lot of great ideas for stories from people over the years. The problem? They describe a situation, not a story.

Writer: "This girl is in this really unhappy relationship. I mean the guy is an obvious psycho, but she just can't leave him."

Me: "So it's a woman in peril story. She has to escape the psycho boyfriend?"

Writer: "No. It isn't that kind of story."

Me: "So what kind of story is it?"

Writer: "It's about abusive relationships."

Me: "So what does your character do about it? What makes her realize the danger? How does she get away?"

Writer: "She can't leave. That's the point. Women get trapped in these things and they can't get out. There's no one that really helps them."

Me: "True. So what happens in this story?"

Writer: "This woman lives with his horrible guy. And he does (fill in list of awful things)."

Me: "And she learns to fight back?"

Writer: "No, no. She can't fight back or he'll kill her."

While all of this may be true, and the author could highlight this plight in a nonfiction article, this isn't a story with structure.

For it to become a story, the main character trapped in a hellish situation becomes the hero by finding a way out. A catalyst comes along that makes the situation untenable enough that she is forced to take action. It could be a literary story. It could be a thriller, or even a police procedural.

But, until the character defines a goal, makes a decision or takes action, and faces obstacles, it's just a situation. The story could have a down ending. The woman could try and fail and try again and end up dead. Not too many readers would love the ending, but it would be a realistic cautionary tale. The struggle for safety is the story.

A situation is Dick being in an unhappy marriage. The story begins when something comes along to make him want to leave it or fix it.

A situation is Sally hating her job. The story begins when she is fired, competing for a promotion, or finds the courage to start her own company.

A situation is Jane being betrayed by a friend. The story begins when Jane decides to do something about it: get revenge, confront and heal, or make her friend see the error of her ways in a misguided fashion.

A story goal with obstacles and responses are the gears that power narrative. You can write pages and pages of anecdotes that, while entertaining, do nothing to propel the story forward.

If you can't identify a central conflict and resolution of your plot, you could be illustrating a situation and that is how you lose readers.

Every chapter should include conflict represented by obstacles and responses. Every chapter should show characters moving toward or away from the goal until they reach the final outcome.

There's nothing worse than turning pages and wondering what the whole point of a chapter was. If I have to go back and reread it, looking for a point, the book goes in the "to be burned" pile.

As you go through your first draft, make sure each scene pulls its weight. Don't waste the reader's precious time, or you might find your book in ashes, your name blackened in the process.

To learn more about obstacles and responses, check out Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict.






Diana Hurwitz
 is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

When Characters Cross Ethical Lines


Up until my once monthly blog for The Blood Red Pencil, I had resisted blogging. I never thought I had anything to say that others hadn’t said better. I was wrong. Every writer has her own experiences to impart, her own twists on writing, whether it be genre-crossing, plot variations, or unusual characterizations. Mine is a little of all three, but mostly the latter, and because I’m self-published, no one can tell me I can’t write a character the way I want to. Readers can, of course, choose not read my books, but I hope they do.

It’s easy to write good, moral characters that readers root for to overcome adversity or to find his or her love or to get the bad guy. But what about those characters pushed into circumstances that make them do illegal or unethical acts? Even murder. Some crime fiction writers tread that line, and I love when they do. Crime is dirty and messy. Writers of the genre know that, and they expect a little line crossing. I do, but how much will a reader accept before slamming the book closed? How far can a writer push her characters without offending reader sensibilities?

What if you don’t like the characters in a book? 2014’s bestselling novel has a husband and wife, that from reading writer blogs and reviews, almost every reader disliked. (Full disclosure: I have not read the book.) So what was it that made the book soar to the top of the charts and remain there to this day? Excellent writing, of course. The mystery, surely. But I believe what kept them reading was a perverse fascination with the unpleasant characters, characters so unlike themselves, that they had to keep turning the pages to see what happens. Kudos to any author who can inspire not only love for a book, but also hate. Would that I could.

Every one of my books has a character that treads an ethical line somewhere in the story. My work-in-progress, Indiscretion, has a thief as a main character and a woman who commits adultery. I’m sure both characters will turn off some readers, but many will persevere to find out the dynamic that caused them to take the path they took and what happens to them in the end. My protagonist in Hooked is a call girl, and the main character in Mind Games, book one of my psychic suspense series, spent more than half her life conning audience participants in her psychic act. A character in Threads enlists a dozen good people, cops and lawyers and doctors, to commit felonies, and they all do it, if not willingly, then for believing it is ultimately the right thing to do. A cop in one of my books (won’t say which one) murders someone in cold blood.

How does a writer create questionable characters so readers root for them in spite of their ethical lapses or downright crimes? Good question. The goal of a thriller is to put characters in situations that force them to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do in order to save the world or a loved one or themselves in the face of evil. Then as bad as it gets for them, writers must make it worse. In romance novel, the old chestnut of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins back girl is tried and true and meets the same requirement as the thriller, only differently.

There are always extenuating circumstances that put my protagonists in questionable situations. Okay, so becoming a call girl might not be one of those professions readers will understand or forgive, no matter what drove her into the life. Writing characters like her and my psychic can be risky, but I want readers to question their own moral code and wonder what they would have done in similar situations.
Polly Iyer is the author of six novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and two books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games and Goddess of the Moon. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Go From What You Know



Hello again, dearies! The ugly sweaters and paper party hats are packed away, and we’re all back at our desks and ready to buckle down and do some fine writing.

I must admit, I’m not entirely focused on my own task; there’s a chocolate apricot cheesecake in the oven, and it’s not at all easy to ignore such a thing.

With a new year comes a host of new resolutions, most of them related to fresh starts and big changes. I am generally underwhelmed by the process, and tend to adhere to old habits. I still enjoy far too much coffee, I have a favorite shawl for chilly nights, and (my apologies) I simply adore that pair of well-worn jeans in the dresser.

Writing can be much the same, and that’s where style comes from. A standard, be it personal or professional. There are basic rules which one must follow, such as never divide a single-syllable word, or never wear a floral shirt with plaid pants. Once we’ve got the foundation set in place, we can go from what we know to what we like.

House style may fall in line with the CMOS, or it may veer off on a tangent. Some places prefer all the things, rather than all of the things, for example. If you’ve ever worked with a publishing company with their own house style, you’ve no doubt had some interesting conversations.

The next time you are considering a publisher, do a bit of research. Look at some of the titles in their catalogue. How does the editing style compare to yours? Are they very similar, or are there glaring differences? Do they seem to prefer established rules, such as from the CMOS, or do they favor a more bohemian style?

Dear, me. The oven timer is beeping, and my coffee cup is empty. I’m off to the kitchen for now, but I’ll be back next month. In the meantime, try a little experiment. Write a bite-sized short story, perhaps one hundred words or so, and use a completely different style than you are familiar with. Write a second version using your typical style. What do you notice? Share your findings (and a line or two from your stories, if you like) in the comments section. It’s not quite warm enough to get out of the house, but it’s always fine enough to think outside the box.


Keep writing, keep reaching, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

The Style Maven, in an attempt to ward off the winter blues, has been in talks to choose the perfect kitchen paint color. She spends most of her day curled up on the floor, weeping over samples and threatening to cover the ceiling with polka-dots.You can read about her other adventures on The Procraftinator page.

Coming Off the Sidelines


In September of 2011, I wrote a post for the Blood RedPencil about my 20-year haiku practice and how it fueled me, nurtured me, inspired me, and helped me realize that I am indeed an artist. Last year I wrote a series of blog posts for the excellent and helpful website Assisted Self Publishing about my trek through the wilds of self-publishing with the result of this 20-year haiku practice. The following is an excerpt from one of those posts:  

Twenty years ago I did not know that a haiku practice would change my life, but it did. At the time I worked for the marketing department of a large technology company, and tried to pacify my lifelong dreams of being a “real” writer by writing “on the side.” One evening while on a business trip and staying in a nondescript hotel, I was reading a book about writing I had brought from home. I have since forgotten the author and title of this book; the only thing I remember was that the author suggested would-be writers might try to write just one thing per day, no matter how small. Even a three-line haiku would be enough, the author said, to prove you were a real writer, a real artist.

“I can do that,” I thought. Even though I was a single mom with a demanding job, surely I could manage seventeen measly syllables each day. So I determined I would try. I wanted to fulfill the dream I’d had since childhood. I wanted to lay claim to that powerful statement, I am an artist.

It worked – boy did it work. Five years after I began writing my one haiku a day I left my corporate job and became a full-time freelance writer, writing not only haiku, but many books of fiction and non-fiction, blogs and articles – both for me and for others as a ghostwriter. And despite my – and my family and friends’ – fears of poverty, this is what I am still doing today.

But until recently I thought of my haiku practice as “just for me” and had no plans to put my haiku out into the world, although I often shared one on my blog. The conventional wisdom is that poetry does not sell, so what would be the point? Then I began to wonder if my children would find my disorganized haiku files after I was gone, and maybe they’d like to preserve them as a family keepsake. Perhaps I should make it a little easier for them.

Most writers want to be remembered (we’re all Shakespeare-wannabes) so this seductive idea took root in my mind. And maybe the conventional wisdom was wrong. Even if it wasn’t, even if my haiku did not sell, so what? The reason I wrote haiku was not for money or admiration. It was because I am an artist and this art form is beautiful.

That brings me to this new project, the Haiku Books of Days. When you write one haiku a day for twenty years you end up with a lot of haiku – like over seven thousand of them. Of course not all of them are good haiku – some are pretty bad. (However, many are excellent.) But what was I going to do with seven thousand haiku?

The Haiku Book of Days is the answer. I reviewed my seven thousand haiku and winnowed out the bad ones, then the mediocre ones, then the almost-really-good ones (that was hard), and ended up with more than 2500 haiku that I thought were my best. Now, these haiku are not always upbeat or inspirational. Some are full of sadness and grief, some are angry. Some are funny. Some are just puzzled by the contradictions of life.

As I sorted the haiku, I took note of the broad themes that recurred often, and eventually came up with seven. Therefore the Haiku Book of Days series consists of seven books, each book containing 366 haiku, one for each day of the year (including February 29) organized into eight seasons. Each book’s haiku reflects a different theme. The books, all of which are now available online in both print and e-book versions, are:


My vision for this series is that readers can read just one of the books, or all of them, or some of them, in any order. They can read one haiku a day, or a bunch of them whenever they want. However they are read, I hope readers enjoy and ponder them.
 
My hope is that these books might inspire others to write their own haiku. I know from my own experience how powerful a haiku practice can be. I also hope aspiring haiku-writers will visit my blog, www.FromTheCompost.com  – especially on Fridays, since that is the day I dedicate the blog to haiku, asking my readers to play a game of Haiku Friday with me.

In the seventeen syllables of one of my daily haiku:

come when you are called

on the sidelines of your life


nothing will happen

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit Primary-Sources.com.

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