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Showing posts from June, 2013

Hot Fun in the Summertime

It's been unbearably hot in my stretch of the middle for the past week. I find it difficult to write when the temperatures soar into the nineties. Somehow my mind just doesn't engage with the words floating somewhere within. Images, yes, and feelings. I can sit in the garden and let my mind wander, watch the bees work a flower, and contemplate the sex lives of squash blossoms. Good thing romance isn't my genre! Could I come up with something worth writing? Forget it. I can barely concentrate enough to take notes. Now reading is another matter. I find myself doing more of that, in any spot offering some shade, and always with a glass of iced lemon water. Summertime and a book just seem to go together for me - perhaps a habit from childhood? It's a good thing, too, because my stack of  "must-reads" is towering, even though I use a first-fifty rule when perusing books for reviews and acquisitions. What does "first-fifty" mean exactly? Simply

Have You Heard of This Publisher?

Recently an author emailed me to find out if I’d heard anything about a publisher called knowonder! – she planned to submit a story I had declined though I really loved her work. I’d never heard of knowonder! but poked around the Internet a bit to get a feel for them. After researching and giving the author feedback, I decided my process was worth a blog post. Here’s my vetting approach and something any author looking for a publisher can do to get a feel for a company before submitting. Google the company name. In this day and age they should have a website as well as links to their social networking sites like Twitter , Pinterest ,   Facebook , and a blog . How do those sites look? Have they been around long? Are they active? They should give a solid and consistent impression across platforms. Next look for a submissions page , and read every line closely. Knowonder! has a very concise submissions page, explicitly outlining what they seek. Their focus is read-aloud

Reviews - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

For many years it was understood that reviews could make or break a theatre production, a movie, or a book. Broadway producers would chew their fingernails to nubs while waiting for the first critics to respond after opening night, as did film producers. Authors, editors and agents, would wait for those reviews from Publisher's Weekly , The New York Times , Kirkus , and other trade magazines to launch a book onto the best-seller list. Today, the whole arena of reviews has been expanded. With the Internet and Amazon and other online retail bookstores, has come a whole wave of reader reviews, fan reviews, and author reviews that aren't always on the same professional level. They can range from something close to what I like to call a real review to gushing to snarky. A real review gives a short synopsis of the story, then has comments as to what worked well in terms of the writing and what the reviewer enjoyed the most. If there are minor problems, those are pointed out with

How To Romance Your Readers - And Sell More Stories

Here’s a fabulous tip for making sure your readers love your stories and want to read more. But first, let me ask you a question. As fiction writers, do we always write about ourselves? Our character may be a mafia don, nun, pearl fisherman or - in a sci-fi novel - a thinking blob of mud but, however we camouflage ourselves, it’s us. Isn’t it? First-time novelists notoriously write their autobiography behind a very thin disguise. When they’re into their tenth novel and the best-seller lists they’re still doing it, albeit with more skill. When Patricia Cornwell presents her medical examiner Dr Kay Scarpetta as a chip of ice - all business, no humour - we see Cornwell herself. We may admire her craft work as an author but we wouldn’t invite her to dinner. But when Kathy Reichs gives us Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist in a comparable job, we warm to her feistiness, fallibility and dry wit. We’d just love to go to Reichs’s barbecue. If the author is just like us, o

Eliciting Details

I enjoy interviewing my ghostwriting clients to gather the material necessary to write their books. People say such surprising things, especially if you tell them, as I do, to be a blabbermouth and just say anything that pops into their heads. I tell them not to worry about wasting my time, I want to hear it all, even the dumb off-topic stuff. Interviews can go off in unforeseen directions, and some of the most colorful passages in books come from off-the-cuff remarks or the spontaneous, “Oh, that reminds me of a story …” Nevertheless, I can’t just ask general, open-ended questions like “What was that like?” or “Describe your grandmother.” Because most people are not blabbermouths and general questions often give them a bad case of brain freeze. I will get answers like, “It was nice,” or “She was sweet.” I must ask specific questions designed to elicit details. For instance, if I’m ghostwriting a memoir, I don’t ask my client the question, “What were you doing in 1985?” (Cou

Magical Mechanics in Fantasy Fiction

Years ago, while playing Dungeons and Dragons , my character acquired a Magic Ring – without the user manual. The results of using it were randomly generated by the Games Master using percentile dice. One time, I unleashed a stream of butterflies into the face of an attacking ogre. Another time, my character metamorphed into a griffon and clawed a party of orcs to ribbons. Within the game, the random magic was Great Fun. But does the same “anything goes” principle apply to magic in Fantasy fiction? If only! Unfortunately, one of the distinctions between a good Fantasy novel and a not-so-good one has a lot to do with the mechanics of magic . This phrase may seem like a contradiction in terms; but in fact, magic in Fantasy works best when the writer takes time to figure out How the Magic Works. Here are some considerations: What’s the source of the magic in your world? (I.e., are your magic-users dealing with forces or entities ?) Is the magic natural (involving imper

Setting the Pace

On my own blog on Monday , I started talking about pacing. As I mentioned then, although you can find entire books devoted to various aspects of the writing craft, an entire book on pacing is hard to find. The only one I discovered was about writing fast-paced action, and since pacing doesn't necessarily mean "high action," the topic is something one has to dig around for. As I touched upon on Monday, the pace of your novel has to be 'right' for the genre, and the pace shouldn't be the same throughout. Each scene has its own pacing requirements. Today, I'll talk about ways to control pace. Much of this information comes from workshops I've taken from Deb Courtney and Kelley Anderson. Courtney suggests paying attention to your own physiological reactions when you're writing a high-tension scene. What is your heart rate doing? Your breathing? Your writing should mimic these responses with short sentences, be they narrative or dialogue. In an ac

Finding Your Audience

I’m puzzled this month.  And I can’t seem to get a handle on these numbers, so I’m writing this as a question to you all: How do you find your readers? Not just seen by the masses, but in this new world of a gazillion books on the market, what’re the best ways to find the right audience for your book?   I recently read a PW statistic that absolutely boggled my mind. It stated that in 2012, half a million e-books came out.  In 2013, that number is estimated to be one million. The projection for 2014? Fifteen million e-books. Fifteen million? I mean, we all know that in this digital (and cheap) age, the perception is that anyone can write/publish a book. And, obviously, millions do! We also know that the vast writing majority hasn’t honed the craft, not put in the blood, sweat, and tears that the bloggers and reader/writers here have. We all know what goes into a great or even good book, and we know that we’re now in the rare minority of writers who still strive to produce that e

To Cap or Not to Cap: That Is the Question

Photo by Chumsdock, Ah, dearies, it’s so good to see you again. I must be on my way shortly to meet the girls for tea, but I do want to tell you about an experience I had over the weekend. Your Style Maven’s still shaking her head over this one. Let’s begin at the beginning. I stopped at a bookstore to pick up a new novel by one of my favorite authors. I’ve wanted to read it ever since it came out, and it was my great fortune to acquire the last copy on the shelf. While on my way to pay for it, I stopped to peek at an enticingly-colored flyer on the bulletin board, announcing the upcoming release of a new novel by another favorite writer. I gasped. My heart fluttered. I blinked and looked again to be sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me—they do that sometimes, you know. This time they saw what they saw. Above the image of the positively captivating cover, the words in the title jumped out at me, all seven of them. Now seven is a perfectly nice number, but only

The Stigma

People don’t want to admit they hire ghostwriters. There is a stigma attached to using a ghostwriter, and we might as well admit it. Why should this be? Whether they can write well or not, people think they should be able to write. We are funny about writing. We think everyone can write – after all, we learned how in first grade! Reading and writing are a big part of what makes us “civilized.” One of the correlating lessons that we learned, at the tender age of four or five, was that we must do our own work. Never, ever, copy someone else. We are all capable of learning the skill of writing. A first grader can write a simple story. A fourth grader can write a book report. By the time we get to high school, we have learned to research and do reports on complex subjects. We have learned grammar and spelling and sentence construction. We have read some great works of Literature. We know what makes a book good. So now we are adults and should be able to write a book

Social Media Marketing: Here to Stay or Gone Tomorrow?

An article I recently read caused the writer in me to ponder the future of book marketing via social media. The piece might be a downer to some or a challenge to others. Or perhaps it expresses the view of one person who tapped into a sea of stats and turned his findings into an op-ed designed to dampen the dreams of writers in search of book sales. Or it may be a well-thought-out evaluation that reflects the proverbial handwriting on the wall. For me it’s a challenge — I love challenges — but check it out for yourself here . The book-publishing world has plunged from the ranks of standardized, regulated industries into a free-for-all. Anybody can jump into the foray and grasp at its elusive straws. Rules don't exist within its vague boundaries, logical organization has left the building, and the proverbial needle in a haystack looks like a sure find beside the unrealized hopes of myriad writers. Credibility takes a back seat to gimmicks, schemes, and outright lies. Or so the art

POV: 1 or 2?

In the book you're working on, do you tell the story from one Point of View or two? One POV is usually the norm. Most of the books I read are told by one protagonist or lead character. We're inside her or his head. We know what she thinks, what he sees, what she experiences, likes, hates. S/he can't hide thoughts from the readers because we are in the head of the lead character. This is the kind of books I write. But I'm now planning on having two lead characters. Two Points of View. The reader will be in the heads, see the thoughts, know the plans, fears, intentions, hopes of two characters. Two opposite characters. I have the one POV version of the book written. The reader identifies with the lead character, lives in the head of that character. Now I'm going to tear the book apart, let the reader see not only the protagonist's thoughts but those of the antagonist. Two heads. Two heads with different goals, plans, hopes. Two opposites. One will live. On

Writing Tips From the Funny Papers

I always get an extra chuckle out of a comic strip that speaks to me as a writer. Some of the messages are a little hard to take, though. Consider this first one. From B.C . Wiley, sitting under a tree with Clumsy Clark, is opening a box and says, "A gift from my agent." He reads a note he finds in the box, "Some writers are appreciated even more when they have passed on from this earth." Clumsy says, "That's sweet. What's in the box?" Wiley opens it, "A Noose." Oops, maybe it's a good thing not to have an agent.   Now some wacky definitions from   Wiley's Dictionary.  Perfect pitch: Best-selling roofing tar Counterrevolution: The invention of Formica This one is from Peanuts : Charlie Brown has just finished writing a new story and is reading it to Snoopy. When he finishes, Snoopy shakes his hand. In the last panel Charlie Brown says,   "I guess he didn't like it. That was his 'g

An Original Way to Make Any Story Plausible

To enjoy a story, we need to feel that the author's world is - within its own logic - plausible; and for a story, howsoever fantastical, to be plausible it must be grounded in the reader's world. Does that sound provocative? Let me explain. A sci-fi tale may consist improbably of a dialogue between sentient sunbeams. But at least we're familiar with dialogue and sunbeams. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is plausible (within its own logic), not solely because it's built on familiar epic myths, but because its weird characters are - arguably - human beings endowed with the properties of household pets. We know what they are. Within a story, we have to detect aspects of our own world. We know what that is. Otherwise, we just won't understand the story. Plausibility in fiction is the detection of familiarity. How can we give our stories that reader-engaging tenor of plausibility - or familiarity - even if our plots or characters are very weird indeed?

Learning about Self through the Act of Writing

Use the creative process … to get to know yourself better . -Catie Curtis When we discuss writing, we often talk about the preparation needed to gear us up to write; the important aspects of writing, such as character, plot, dialogue, and scene development; the need to be a good self-editor and to find an even better professional editor; the ins and outs of writing sparkling queries and synopses for agents and publishers; and the ins and outs of going the self-publishing route. In short, we focus on the writing, submitting, and publishing of stories, which is good. We need to talk about these things. We don’t, however, talk much about what we learn about ourselves in the act of writing. And that’s just as important. We are the vessels in which stories flow. If we’re not checking on ourselves, our connection(s) to what we write; our common threads, themes that can be seen within our works; and how what we write might even change us, we may find ourselves churning out the same story w

Countdown to Book 9: Why an ARC?

Traditional publishers often create a small print run of Advance Reader Copies , or ARCs, in advance of the version it will print for commercial distribution. This edition is clearly marked as an uncorrected copy so that it won’t be confused with the final product. The print above my name:  "Uncorrected Advance Copy • Not for  Sale" But it feels so much like a book—and mine have arrived! Oh, to hold this book in my hand. ARCs are typically made available 3-6 months before publication, often on the longer side for a debut author. The Art of Falling is still seven months out, but Sourcebooks wanted to have copies ready for Book Expo America (BEA) last weekend, since it’s the largest industry trade show in North America. For today’s self-publishers, who are able to finish a manuscript one week, format it the next, and have it for sale online soon thereafter, creating an ARC may simply seem like a way to add considerable time and expense to the book launch process.

External Conflict Scenes

External Conflict scenes are your verbal camera at its widest angle and it is focused on the entire stage. External conflicts test the protagonist’s courage, nerves, and determination. They are high tension scenes that focus on the question of whether the overall story goal will be achieved. They are the main actions and reactions that provide the turning points and lead directly to and include the climax of the story. External scenes show the characters caught up in the situation of your premise such as: boy meets girl, the volcano erupts, aliens invade the town, a body has been found, they are all forced to go to a wedding or reunion, or the wagon train heads out for the wild west. They do not address the subplots unless and until the subplot collides with the main plot at the climax.  They introduce the protagonist, the inciting event, the story goal, the prize for reaching the goal, and the cost for not reaching the story goal (stakes). They show him developing and at