Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Niche Markets for Authors

I've been so busy dealing with life lately, most of my writing has been about challenges. I caught myself thinking the other day how nice if I were as rich and famous as Nora Roberts or J.K. Rowling, because life would be so much easier, but you know what? I wouldn't want their challenges or burdens. They each have earned a huge slice of the publishing pie which brings with it all the associated responsibilities and commitments, but what I really want is just a tiny slice of my own making. That's where small niche markets can provide a solid career, for me or any writer.

The variables for building a writing career are as different as the people writing. For example, I am a journalist at heart and love to write tight, informative articles relevant to modern society. Topics can range from creativity to health to gardening to government. So for me, creating a business where I can use those skills would be ideal. With the many tools available to writers today, like affordable self-publishing, e-books, and everything the Internet offers in the way of marketing, there is really no reason we can't build our own niche markets.

I'd like to explore this topic of smaller publishing markets a bit more in August, and we'll start by interviewing a friend and colleague, Khadijah Lacina, who has a self-published book of poetry for children written for her own very specific niche market - Islamic Americans. She and her husband own their own publishing company and have numerous texts in print. As well, she teaches a substantial online community of women students and supporters, a ready market for her books. I promise this interview will be fresh and fascinating.

Readers, please share with us any writing ideas you have to capitalize on a special skill or interest. If you decided to write a how-to book, what would it be about? Do you have a special talent that has worked its way into your fiction? Please leave us a comment!

Dani Greer is founding member of this blog. She spends her summer days with new writing and editing projects, waters acres of gardens, and often can be seen knitting yet another pair of socks. Visit her at News From Nowhere, Facebook, and Twitter.

Choosing the Right Word(s)

Sometimes we authors don't catch little mistakes in our books that can jerk a reader out of a story. That is one reason why books should really be professionally edited before being published, but sometimes even an editor does not catch everything.  For example, not too long ago I read the following in a published book, "He looked for the creak in his knees as he walked down the stairs."

Hmmm. How do you look for a sound? Maybe it's just me and I'm too literal minded, but that stopped me when I read it. I know writing is a creative endeavor and we can be clever with some word usage, but maybe we should not be mixing up words and coming out with a tossed salad.

Here are some other awkward or incorrect word usages that I hate to see in a finished book:
  • Each one worse than the next. That should be each one worse than the last. (Think about it.)
  • On accident. You can do something on purpose but not on accident.
  • He did good vs. He did well - Little Johnny plays soccer well. He is a good athlete. (Use well as an adverb, good as an adjective.)
  • Irregardless or regardless?  Regardless already means what most folks imply when they say irregardless. It means without regard. Using irregardless makes it a double negative.
    Another book I read not long ago had a sentence that caught me up short:

    "…who had been pacing agitated trails around the room." Does agitated work? I'm not sure. Maybe this is just literal-me being too picky again, but I have a hard time thinking of a trail being agitated. The trail left in carpeting by someone pacing is inanimate. It is the woman who is agitated.

    The following is something I heard on the nightly news, "A conveyer belt of storms is marching in." This was a meteorologist's attempt to cleverly describe a series of storms sweeping across the United States, and on one hand the description could almost work if you just focus on the image it creates. I could see a conveyer belt moving along, with storms lined up on it like bolts in a tool factory. But the more I looked at that mental image, the sillier it became. Was the odd use of the words worth it just to get people's attention?

    "She ran an irritated hand through her hair."

    My hands don't often get irritated, but I do, especially when I stumble over awkward word usage.

    On the other, less irritated hand, I do often find a little thing that is quite clever in word usage, and I thought I would end this on a positive note by sharing one.

    This is a quote from Getting Lucky by Bob Sanchez,  "You better start controlling that handle you keep flying off of." That may not be grammatically correct, but it is a nice way to flip a well-worn phrase. We are encouraged not to use clich├ęs in our writing, but sometimes one works if you just mix it up a bit.

    Do you find awkward word usage distruptive to your reading pleasure? Do I need to just get over it? (smile) How do you flip cliches to make them fresh?

    Maryann Miller
    is a novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent release is Boxes For Beds, an historical mystery available as an e-book. Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series. The first book, Open Season, is available as an e-book for all devices. To check out her editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. She tries her best not to disrupt the reading pleasure of those who pick up her books.

    Tuesday, July 30, 2013

    Busted!—Jane Hamilton Caught Using Setting as Character

    In some novels, setting can provide the beating heart of the story. It is to a writer's advantage to recognize this: a story that couldn’t just happen anywhere—that is specific to one location—is a story that will feel distinctive to the reader, whether that reader be agent, editor, or end consumer.

    In her novel, A Map of the World, Jane Hamilton offers up many great examples of how to bring a setting to life. It is the story of Alice, a Kansas farm wife overwhelmed by the demands of parenting—yet while charged with the additional task of watching her friend’s children, the youngest toddles off and drowns in their pond.

    Let’s look at several passages to see how Hamilton does it.

    In the opening, she ties the description of Alice's farmer-husband to his work setting:
    I had never said out loud a little joke I used to say to myself now and again: Everywhere that barn goes, Howard, you are sure to be close behind. 
    His was a musky smell, as if the source of a muddy river, the Nile or the Mississippi, began right in his armpits…. That morning there was alfalfa on his pillow and cow manure embedded in his tennis shoes and the cuffs of his coveralls that lay by the bed. 
    She evokes an unforgiving atmosphere:
    The last rain had come at the beginning of April and now, at the first of June, all but the hardiest mosquitos had left their papery skins on the grass. It was already seven o’clock in the morning, long past time to close the windows and doors, trap what was left of the night air, slightly cooler only by virtue of the dark. The dust on the gravel had just enough energy to drift a short distance and then collapse on the flower beds. The sun had a white cast, as if shade and shadow, any flicker of nuance, had been burned out by its own fierce center. There would be no late afternoon gold, no pale early morning yellow, no flaming orange at sunset. If the plants had vocal cords they would sing their holy dirges like slaves.
    (Did you see how she orients us by slipping in the season and time of day in that last passage? A technique to emulate!)

    She introduces the all-important pond in a meaningful way:
    I often had the fanciful thought that the pond would save us; it would be the one thing that would postpone our deaths by scorching as the climate of our part of the world changed. 
    Later, as Alice runs toward the pond looking for Lizzy, Hamilton foreshadows the all-consuming focus that subsequent events will have on Alice's life:
    When I came to the clearing I couldn’t see past the single glaring point of sunlight, dancing on the water. 
    She gives a specific feel to the death of little Lizzy:
    I pulled her up and slung her over my shoulder, tripping through the water, screaming then, screaming for help. I didn’t know how to make enough noise, to be heard. I was shrieking with so much force I felt as if I might spit, and yet all the world was placid, still. The leaves in the trees hung limp like palsied hands…. Lizzy’s skin was rubbery, her face the gray of an old carp, her lips as dark as blueberries. Her wide, unblinking eyes were the color of mud. 
    A return visit to the pond late in the book, after the farm has been sold:
    I could see the pond, dull and still, in the distance. I leaned against an enormous burr oak and it came to me then, not only in my intellect, but also in my limbs, my blood, my skin: Lizzy wasn’t here in Prairie Center anymore. It was a comfort to feel the tree’s cold, spiny bark through my sweater, to feel my own fingers in my mouth. The grief, I knew, wasn’t really ever going to go away. I leaned there for a long time, feeling the sharpness, the weight of the thing that was Lizzy’s absence…. The water was motionless. It looked, through the trees, as if it was a large eye that would have been grateful for a lid, for sleep.
    In A Map of the World, the barn claimed her husband. The dust has energy. The sun is fierce. Plants have vocal cords. Nature reclaims a dead child. Grief takes on the sharpness of a burr oak; the pond longs for sleep.

    What do you think: could images like these make your novel distinctive, too? While many writers describe their settings as if through the lens of a camera, most fall short of evoking their settings as character.

    Challenge: Give it a try! From your work-in-progress, take a sentence and try rewriting to give your setting some personality of its own. This is a creative exercise so feel free to go over the top—you can always tone it down later—then please share!

    Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, an independent manuscript evaluation service. What she believes: 1. Editing forever changed the way she reads. 2. Well-crafted moments of brilliance help her forgive many other problems in a manuscript. 3. All writers have strengths and weaknesses—but why settle for weaknesses? 4. We can learn as much from what other authors do right as we can from what we do wrong. This is her series, "Busted!—An author caught doing something right." Connect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

    Monday, July 29, 2013

    Another Sense Makes Sense and Saves Cents

    I’ve been reading a discussion on an apparent lack of editing in traditionally published books. According to the comments, errors abound in at least some of the works that come out of the big houses. This is disturbing because a lot of us who choose to self-publish look to traditional publishing as a model. On the other hand, it opens a door of opportunity for us to leave our mark on the reading public. Whether we’re going for the hard-copy market or running headlong into the e-book age, we who self-pub can control the quality of our books and build a fan base that appreciates an error-free, great story.

    In the past, we’ve discussed the importance of self-editing as the first step on the road to publication. That importance is even more essential now as poor quality books seep into the marketplace from previously revered publishers. Typically, self-editing is accomplished by careful reading and rereading of our manuscripts to find errors. The downside of this method is we know the story so well that we tend to read what we think is there rather than what may actually be on the page (or monitor).

    The sense we employ in self-editing and proofing our work is sight, which, of course, is the obvious choice. However, we can at least double our effectiveness by adding another sense—sound. Recording our words, playing them back, and listening carefully provide an effective way to gauge flow and hear areas that need tweaking. An even better option is to have someone else record our words. Why? Another person will avoid the downside noted above by reading exactly what’s on the page because he or she doesn’t know the story. (Be sure to choose a good reader; one who stumbles through the reading will not give you an accurate depiction of the way your work will be perceived by your audience.) While this step may be time-consuming, it’s well worth the effort—even if you have to pay a modest fee for an outside reader to record your book. You will no doubt recoup your investment in the reduction of editing fees, as well as the cost of reprints after errors are discovered in your published book and in the reputation you will earn as an excellent writer.

    Have you ever recorded your manuscript—or had someone else record it? Do you use other means to eliminate mistakes and polish your story? How do you react when you read a book that’s filled with errors?

    Linda Lane and her editing team work with writers to translate mediocrity into excellence. The best story in the world will succumb to error-filled pages and miss out on the accolades and fans it should have if it is not polished to a high shine. Writing a book is an investment in time, effort, and money. Making it the best it can be only makes good sense. Visit her at

    Friday, July 26, 2013

    Need A Plot? Find It In Your Kitchen!

    What’s the laziest way to find a plot? Let it find you! It happened to me recently in my kitchen in central England. Believe it or not, this little story will help you find a plot at once.

    Courtesy of Wise Geek
    I found my wife inspecting a brochure about pet insurance. “We don’t have a pet, dear,” I reminded her gently.

    “Yes, we do. It’s you.” She pointed at my rheumy eyes, stubbly jowls and odorous bathrobe. “Look, just £49 a year will insure you against mange, dropsy and gout. If you fall ill, they’ll take you to a pet clinic and feed you with premier dog chow rich in vitamins. That’s a lot healthier than the slop you’d get at a hospital.”

    “Or here,” I murmured, inspecting my breakfast of carbonised fried eggs.

    “Isn’t that more humane than the default method favoured by the National Health Service of sticking an empty saline drip in your arm and pushing your trolley into a corridor?”

    “Well," I conceded "it’s certainly cheaper than paying £2900 a year for private medical insurance that will disallow any claim we’re likely to make”

    “Such as falling downstairs while intoxicated with marital bliss? Now all we have to do is decide what type of dog you are.”

    “How about a St Bernard? It carries its own alcohol at all times.” An idea struck me. I bounced a fried egg across the table. “But we must make this a joint policy.”

    “Of course. There’s a 10% saving! What kind of animal shall I be?”

    “That’s easy enough.” I looked at her. I picked up a steak knife. I applied it to my egg. “What do they call a female dog?”

    The 2Cs in a K method.

    Seriously, there’s a plot nugget there. It could be expanded into a short story, given further insults from the wife and forlorn responses from the dog (sorry, husband). Following the jargon of advertising folk, I have named this the ‘2 Cs in a K’ method of plot discovery. Just put two characters in a kitchen and slop around it in your bathrobe.

    Alternatively, keep your ears open at the local pub, gym or bistro and eavesdrop on other people’s anecdotes. Every good joke or yarn is a story waiting to be expanded.

    See how award-winning author J. A. Konrath makes this work. In his story The Big Guys, two friends go out in a boat. One is teaching the other how to fish for shark. He cuts up bits of fish and throws them in the sea as bait. ‘Chum slick,’ he mutters, cryptically.

    Then he picks up his friend and tosses him overboard as well.

    As the sharks gather, the friend gasps: ‘Pray, good buddy. Grant me this one boon before I die. What does “chum slick” mean?’

    The man smirks. ‘It’s the name we give hereabouts to someone who fools around with his best friend’s wife.’

    The melodrama of the climax is gloriously deflated by its punch line. The story is an extended joke.

    Take a joke off the shelf.

    If you’re shy about eavesdropping, take a joke or anecdote off the shelf and rework it. So you’re not writing humour? Every joke contains a victim. (One theory of humour is that a laugh is a form of aggression. Why else do we expose our canine teeth?)Present the story from the viewpoint of the victim and the joke becomes a tragedy, endowed with pathos. (Gogol’s sad masterpiece The Overcoat is like that.) Shift the pov to an onlooker, describe the same incident and you’ll have us smiling. In the late 17th century, James Howard presented "Romeo and Juliet" as both a tragedy and a comedy on alternate nights.

    Every joke is a little drama and every story is a structured drama.

    Perhaps that’s why I love my wife. (Truly.) Her dramas are legendary.

    Dr John Yeoman passed away in 2016. He held a PhD in Creative Writing, judged the Writers’ Village story competition and was a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. Prior to getting his doctorate degree, he spent 40 years as a commercial author and chairman of a major PR company. His Writers’ Village short story contest drew 1500 on-line entries each year from all over the world. Some of his blog posts are archived here, (however the writing class enrollment and downloads are no longer available).

    Thursday, July 25, 2013

    A Thrilling Experience

    Recently I returned from four days in New York City at the ThrillerFest conference, sponsored by the International Thriller Writers. While I don't think my books are thrillers in the true sense of the word, I've had them reviewed as such, and a lot of authors who don't write what I consider to be thrillers are members of the group and attend the conference, so I figured I'd give it a try. It's a very costly conference, and holding it in New York City adds even more to the price tag, but since I'd had some unexpected sales last year, I decided I ought to try it once. And, being able to take workshops from authors like John Sandford and Michael Connelly made it worth the price for me.

    So, what is a thriller? Years ago, when I looked up the definitions of mystery, suspense and thrillers, a mystery was defined as a story where the reader follows the detective as he solves the crime. The reader is one step behind the discovery, and can't know anything until the detective does. The Sherlock Holmes tales are good examples of classic mystery.

    A suspense, on the other hand, puts the reader one step ahead of the protagonist. Whereas in a mystery, a detective would have to solve the crime after it happens, in a suspense, it's more likely there's a crime to prevent. One thing that automatically shifts a mystery into suspense territory is using multiple points of view, including the killer's. In a suspense, the reader is privy to information before the protagonist. Think Hitchcock.

    The definition of a thriller that I discovered all those years ago was that a thriller is a suspense with consequences of global proportion. So, the story wouldn't be about someone to stop a "mere" serial killer, it would be along the lines of stopping someone from assassinating a world leader, throwing the planet into chaos. Or preventing a bioterrorist attack, or anything else that would result in a widespread disaster.

    Frankly, that definition of thriller kept me from reading them. I'm not into politics, or global disasters, and at heart, I'm a mystery lover. But when I saw more and more books labeled thrillers, and when I was going to conferences where these "thriller" authors were speaking, I did pick up a few books and discovered I didn't consider them thrillers at all. Suspense, yes, but more often than not, the books I read were centered around a protagonist and very "localized" rather than global.

    I mentioned this to Lee Child, asking him if he thought the publishers were tacking "thriller" onto what I'd consider good suspense books, and he smiled and said, "Do you want to know the difference between a suspense and a thriller? It's an extra zero on your advance."

    So, there it is. Thrillers now are defined as "fast-paced suspense novels" and it doesn't really matter if the world is going to be destroyed or if a small-town mayor gets poisoned. As long as the reader is kept turning pages, you can call the book a thriller. Of course, since any author's goal is to keep readers turning pages, one could argue that any book could be a thriller. Of course, that's an overstatement, and I think one still expects the suspense element to be there.

    What about you? Any books that didn't "match" your own definition of the genre? Do you think the publishers are labeling things to sell books rather than to define what the reader gets when he reads them?

    Terry Odell
    is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

    Wednesday, July 24, 2013

    Interpersonal Conflicts

    We've discussed external conflict scenes and antagonist conflict scenes. The third layer explores interpersonal conflicts which test the protagonist’s friendships, loyalties, and will to continue. Your verbal camera is focused on stage left. Interpersonal conflict scenes can involve the friends and foes interacting with the protagonist, love interest, antagonist, or each other.

    Friends and foes can be used in any combination of scenes that fit with your story line. There will be both positive and negative interchanges with these characters. This layer addresses subplots and side stories which should culminate before the climax, with everyone lined up and revealed to be on which side of the fight. Subplots should circle back to and intersect the external story problem. If they don’t, you should consider cutting them.

    Secondary characters should have an agenda and stakes. Their personal goals may be at odds with the protagonist’s or  antagonist’s goal. Their situation may intentionally or unintentionally complicate the overall story problem. If you change POV, you can express the friends' and foes' thoughts and feelings or show them taking actions the protagonist is unaware of. Interpersonal scenes require the most flexibility depending on the point of view you choose, the number of subplots, and the length of the story. It is easy to divide scenes among secondary characters.


    A) List ideas for events involving secondary characters that help or hinder the protagonist or antagonist.

    Continuing our meteor story, let’s say Jane is in love with Ted and wants to help him. Captain Curtis is in charge of the space shuttle. General Smith represents the military and controls the satellite. Bob is the ground crewman controlled by Ted. Jane works with Ted and Dick.

    1) Jane meets with Ted to declare her feelings before it is too late. He manipulates her into helping him without telling her the real reason.

    2) Jane meets with Dick and gives him erroneous data.

    3) General Smith argues that his satellite is too important to be used to adjust the meteor’s trajectory. It could cause more harm than good. They should blow it up.

    4) Bob tries to tinker with the satellite, but almost gets caught by Jane.

    5) General Smith relents and allows the satellite to be used.

    6) Captain Curtis balks at sending the laser to the space station.

    7) Captain Curtis appeals to his crew. Is anyone willing to go? Captain Curtis decides to go himself.

    8) Ted and Jane have a show down. Jane can’t believe Ted is so evil.

    9) Bob rats on Ted.

    10) Jane and Bob celebrate when the shuttle succeeds.

    11) General Smith tells Dick to stay. He is too valuable an asset to retire.

    B) List the side stories or subplots you wish to explore. How do they tie into, overlap, or intersect the overall story problem?

    C) List how each friend and foe enters and exits the story. How do they end up?

    D) If you already have a rough draft, look at each scene. Save a copy of your draft as “Interpersonal Conflict” and delete everything except the interpersonal scenes. Examine how each scene affects the overall story problem. Are they in a logical cause and effect order? If not, can you revise them so that they are? Which order would best serve your plot?

    E) Save a draft as each secondary character’s name. Delete everything but the scenes they appear in. What part did they play? Does it contribute to the story in a meaningful way? If not, consider cutting them.

    Next time, we will look at the final layer: Internal Conflict.

    For earlier posts in this series check out:

    Antagonist Conflict Scenes

    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 for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tuesday, July 23, 2013

    The Way Things Used to Be

    At my age, I often get hit by nostalgia. I remember the way things used to be. That can be good or bad, depending on my mood and what triggers a memory.

    I miss the people who are no longer with me. I remember past events, sometimes with joy, other times with sadness.

    Also, I remember when printed books were the norm and e-books were a fledgeling child, struggling to gain recognition. When my first two books, the mystery, Two Wrongs and romantic comedy, Girl of My Dreams, came out in e-book and print form through the publisher, Hard Shell Word Factory, I hardly paid much attention to the e-book editions.

    The major consensus of the reading public was a real book had to be on paper, which readers could smell and feel, and delight in seeing the cover and turning the pages.

    Well, in the past few years, that attitude has significantly changed. Multitudes of readers have gravitated toward e-books, instead of the printed format, and their numbers appear to be growing.

    E-books do have many advantages, some of which are: they're usually less expensive than their print counterparts, they don't kill trees, their fonts are adjustable, and they can be easily transported in high numbers without using much muscle or taking up much space.

    Concerning books, do I miss the way things used to be? In some ways, but mostly not. I keep a few printed reference books handy, but now find reading fiction on my Kindle more natural than picking up what was once called a "real" book. I still have scads of printed books taking up space in my house. I keep promising myself I'll read them one of these days, but keep putting off opening them up. It's so much easier to read on my Kindle.

    By the way, I did regain the rights to my first two books, and you guessed it, they're on Kindle, along with my others.

    What about you? Do you miss the way things used to be? Do you mourn the advent of e-books? Or, have you also been won over by the new trend?

    Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. For romantic comedy: Her Handyman & Girl of My Dreams. Thriller: Forever Young: Blessing or Curse.  Romantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two Wrongs. Twitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com Chick Lit Faves 

    Monday, July 22, 2013

    Scene and Sequel

    Two authors talk about the “scene and sequel” method of writing—Elizabeth Lyons in A Writer’s Guide to Fiction and Jack Bickham in Scene and Structure.

    These techniques are a bit different from what we normally think of. A simple definition for scene is “ACTION” or “CONFLICT.” A scene is a segment of story action, written moment-by-moment, without summary, presented onstage in the story “now.” It is not something that goes on inside a character’s head. It is physical. It could be put on the stage and acted out. Another word for it might be a “happening” and it advances the plot.

    The pattern of a scene (happening) is: 
    • Statement of goal
    • Introduction and development of conflict
    • Failure of the character to reach his goal, a tactical disaster.

    The Goal. A scene begins with the character walking into a situation with a clear-cut, specific goal, which appears immediately attainable. This is will move him one big step closer to attaining his major story goal.
     • Remember that stories and books often begin with a character jarred out of his sense of ease by some kind of disturbing development, a threaten to change the status quo.
    • The character then forms an intention or long-term goal to “make things right” again. For example: (Story goal) “I must be first to climb XXX mountain,” our hero Fred tells us. (Reader’s story question) Will Fred succeed in being first to climb the mountain?

    Omitting the goal or leaving it unclear is among the common scene-writing mistakes, per Lyon and Bickham. If you ask your reader to follow you into a setting for no clear reason at a particular time and then “stuff just happens,” the reader can’t gauge whether the responses fit the character’s intentions. Your scene needs to have a purpose.

    Using Fred and his goal to be the first to climb the mountain, perhaps his first step is to try to borrow money to equip his expedition. So he walks into the local bank and boldly states his goal: “Mr. Greenback, I want to be first to climb XXX Mountain. I need capital to fund my expedition. Therefore I’m here to convince you to lend me $75,000.”

    You can see his short-term goal clearly and that it relates to the long-term story goal and the story question. Now the reader forms a scene question: Will Fred get the loan? The scene question can’t be some vague, philosophical one such as “Are bankers nice?” or “What motivates people like Fred?” The question is specific, relates to a definite, immediate goal, and can be answered with a simple yes or no. We have a character, a story goal and a short-term goal.

    Next—conflict. Suppose Mr. Greenback says, “I love mountain climbing, and you seem like a nice young man. Sure, you can have $75,000.” There’s nothing standing in the way, the scene tension has collapsed before it even gets underway. Fred is relaxed and happy, the reader is relaxed—and loses interest in the story.

    Because readers love sweating bullets along with the character as he struggles for the upper hand, because they like living adventure vicariously, we want to build our scenes as big and believable as possible.

    The way to do this is to present each scene moment by moment, with no summary (because there is no summary in real life). Some scenes will be in dialogue, others will be in physical action, others a bit of both.

    Back to Fred at the bank. The reader forms a scene question and then is enthralled as he watches Fred and the banker argue, counterpunch, voice objections, answer the objections, etc. But all scenes must come to an end—we don’t want this argument in the bank to run 350 pages.

    So how should it end? With a tactical disaster—a setback in the quest for the story goal. The answer has to be No. Or it could be a “Yes, but”. As in, “OK, you can have your loan, but you must agree to pay 60 percent interest, you must deed your car to us and you must sell your mother’s house and put her in a nursing home so we can be assured you won‘t be messing around trying to help her when you’re supposed to be climbing that mountain.” Or it could be “No, you’re nuts, and furthermore, we are calling in the note you already owe us. Pay up or go to jail.”

    This kind of tension tightens reader tension, increases reader worry and builds reader sympathy for the character. So, the tactical disaster doesn’t have to be what we normally think of as “disaster”, like an earthquake, flood, or plane crash. This kind of disaster is an unanticipated but logical development that answers the scene question, relates to the conflict presented and sets the character back.

    Have you read a book recently that applied this technique?

    Next post on Aug. 5, I will address the Sequel portion of this equation.

    A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

    Friday, July 19, 2013

    Ghosties and Ghoulies and Lang-Leggit Beasties

    It can be argued that a good Fantasy novel is defined as such according to the stature of the hero or heroine’s principle Adversary. To put it another way, every good story needs either a worthy monster (like Moby Dick) or a worthy villain (like Darth Vader), or some combination of the two. Leaving aside the issue of Fantasy Villains, I thought it would be fun to devote this month’s entry to Fantasy Monsters.

    Hydra by John Roberts of, via Flickr

    People love stories about monsters. All of us vividly remember the shivery thrill of telling ghost stories in the dark; or the squirmy suspense of watching an old Hammer Horror film on late-night TV ; or the nerve-shredding tension of looking on while Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss investigate the floating wreckage of a small boat.

    All over the world, time out of mind, myths, legends, and fairytales abound with monsters of all kinds. In Western Civilization, this material has been accessed by writers, century after century, to produce epics (Virgil’s Aeneid, the anonymous Beowulf), romances (the Arthurian cycles, Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso), Renaissance dramas (Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest) and Gothic novels (Shelley’s Frankenstein and Stoker’s Dracula). Writers of modern Fantasy are inheriting – and perpetuating - a rich tradition. But at a price.

    For a time, following the publication of The Lord of the Rings, Fantasy writers could – and did – apply to earlier source material for inspiration, especially with reference to magical creatures and non-human races, both good and evil. Since then, however, the elements of Fantasy literature (including monsters) have been widely popularized through films and games, with the result that Fantasy readers are now familiar to the point of ennui with Dark Lords, Witch-Queens, Demon-Masters, etc., along with their monster-minions. This means that currently-active Fantasy writers have to work harder than their literary forebears in order to impress.

    Where monsters are concerned, this often involves starting with the basic generic material, then introducing some creative variations that nobody else has thought about yet. Here are some questions to ask you in preparation for thinking outside the traditional box.

    1. Is my monster corporeal or incorporeal? (Shelob vs. the barrow-wites)

    If your monster is a beast shape-shifter, instead of turning him/her into a wolf, have him/her turn into something less conventional, like a coyote.

    2. Is my monster a unique individual, or is it a member of a species? (Sauron the Dark Lord vs. orcs)

    If the monster is a unique individual, jettison the Dark Lord persona in favor of something opposite: an Angel of Light, the sole survivor of the destruction of the previous Creation.

    3. Is my monster (a) merely bestial, (b) semi-sentient, (c) sentient within human parameters, or (d) superhuman? (Smaug the dragon, vs. the trees of Fangorn, vs. Gollum, vs. the Lord of the Nazgul)

    Here you’re on your own, but you get the idea.

    And finally: is your monster also your villain? Tune in next month.

    Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.

    Thursday, July 18, 2013

    Newsletter Basics

    When I started using a professional email service, I decided to use Vertical Response. Frankly, my decision was made because I got a newsletter from Michael Connelly, and he was using VR. I haven't used any other service, so I'm sharing what my experiences have been with a sample size of one.

    Things to consider when choosing an email service:

    1. Cost. Vertical Response has a "pay as you go" option which is perfect for someone like me, who has a relatively small number of subscribers and sends 4 newsletters a year.

    2. Ease of use. It's nice to have some basic templates. It's also nice when you can modify them, and even nicer when there's someone at the other end to help you out. I found all of these options very user-friendly. I can copy and paste from Word, create links, and add images. If you have a blog or website you maintain, you've got more than the skills you need.

    3. List maintenance. VR lets me create as many mailing lists as I want, and it will merge them into a "master list" since all I do is send my newsletter. However, if I want to see who signed up for my newsletter based on a promotion I did, I can look at the individual lists. Also, and for me this is a very nice feature, is that I don't have to worry about duplicates. When I add a batch of names (and there are step-by-step instructions for how to upload names), VR will kick out any duplicates.

    4. Tracking. VR provides detailed statistics about how many people open your newsletter, how many unsubscribe (which is an option you MUST include), bounces, clicks, and more. I think industry standard is an open rate of about 18%, so when I get reports of a 42% open rate, I've learned to think of it as 'above the standard' rather than "why doesn't everyone read my newsletter?"

    Things to consider when putting together a newsletter.

    1. Frequency. I "advertise" quarterly and don't betray my readers' trust by inundating their inboxes whenever I think I have something cool to say. Can you come up with suitable content for whatever schedule you decide?

    2. Content. I decided to cover specific topics in my newsletters. I begin with an introduction, usually telling my readers a little bit about what my life is like up in the mountains where I live. My other sections are:

    On the Writing Front. This is where I mention current books, new releases, etc.

    What's Up Next? What I'm working on now, or what I'm doing. In my last issue, I mentioned being excited about attending ThrillerFest and mentioned that I'm going to give away a box of books in conjunction with my Facebook page.

    In the Works. I'd mention what I'm working on, or what I'm planning to work on.

    Contests and Giveaways. Sadly, people want a reason to read your newsletter. I always have some sort of a contest or giveaway. Right now, my Booklover's Bench colleagues are joining me, so I have books from other authors to give away as well.

    One thing I try not to do is overload my content with "buy my book." I think readers like seeing the behind-the-scenes stuff. Also, I provide bonus content. My newsletter subscribers get exclusives, be they a contest they can enter only from the newsletter, or a peek at a new cover or extras from books.

    Back to the "Open Rate." Ways to increase the number of people who read your newsletter is to have an enticing subject line. I've learned that my earlier "Update from Terry Odell" wasn't getting me as many readers as "Update and Giveaway from Terry Odell." Getting that "this will be worth your time" wording into the subject line helps.

    I know some people include photo albums, recipes, puzzles and games. I tried those, but decided to keep things shorter (and easier). I already share photos and recipes on my blog, so people can find them there.

    What do you like/dislike in author newsletters?

    Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

    Wednesday, July 17, 2013

    4 Focused Blogging Tips

    I spoke last Saturday at the Lexicon Writers Conference, and one of the beauties of being asked to speak is the ability to attend other sessions. I learn a lot from other speakers, and man, did the session on blogging, given by Renee Groskreutz of Fun City Social Media, hit home!

    Boy, do I have work to do. Not only am I not blogging enough, but I’m doing a lot of things incorrectly. So, I thought this month I’d share four of her main tips.

    1. The blog title draws in your reader. That’s a no-brainer, right? But a few tips helped me a lot:
    • Make it either humorous, numerical, or use alliteration. See above. I overdid this a bit here, just to make the point!
    • Search keywords for your title before writing the post; the ones that come up first are those being searched most at the time. Search engines will pick them up much more readily.
    • Be as redundant as possible. In other words, do a long series with the same catchwords in the title. If you’ve done your keyword search, search engines will pick it up more and more.
    2. Always use an image (I know Maryann Miller will be proud!).
    • I’ve balked at this because, well, it’s a pain in the butt. But studies have shown readers are much more likely to read a blog that has an image.
    • Put that image up front. Readers are more likely to begin reading text under the image, so make sure they can see it as soon as possible.
    3. Use a lot of bullet points and white space.
    • Readers are daunted by long blocks of text. As authors (and especially those of us who began in the newspaper business), we know this. Note to self: I’m guilty of getting carried away with what I’m saying, and just ramble on.
    • Readers love bullet points. Of course, I explain this to my writers of nonfiction every single day. And have utilized it in my own nonfiction. But did I think about it while blogging? You know the answer! And of course, I’ve overdone it here, to again make that point.
    4. Blog more often.


    Okay, now that I have that out of my system, I do understand the need for this. We all do. But I had no idea the impact, nor did I have the tools to manage it. A few good ones:
    • Identify 4-5 categories, under which you can reasonably write a host of posts. Plan these out.
    • Write series posts. Another no-brainer, right? So why don’t I do that? Now and then I do, such a series on Viewpoint, another on Structure and the Novel. But then, of course, I don’t finish them! Busted again.
    • Here’s the tip that really phoned home for me! How many followers do you have on your blog? A few? A couple dozen? Studies have shown that for your first 1-50 blog posts, you’ll have a few followers. This might go up to dozens as your blog numbers rise. But there’s sort of a hundredth-monkey syndrome (my take) that causes your blog to take off, logarithmically. And that’s your one-hundredth blog post. The folks at Fun City don’t know why, but this is apparently an irrefutable fact.
    Renee provided many more wonderful tips, but I have to stay within her 400-600 word limit, so I must stop.

    What techniques do you use to pull more readers to your blog?

    Award-winning author and editor Susan Mary Malone has five traditionally-published books to her credit (fiction and nonfiction) and many published short stories. A freelance editor, forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers. You can see more about her, and what authors say about working with her, at:

    Tuesday, July 16, 2013

    This Book Is Dedicated to…You’re Kidding, Right?

    Hello, dearies. I’m so glad you stopped by. I have a pitcher of fresh tea in the refrigerator to cool us off on this hot day, so make yourselves comfortable. I’ll get out the glasses, ice, and sugar; and I just sliced a lemon.

    Speaking of lemons, I must share with you something that leaves a really sour taste in my mouth. The AP Stylebook has recently been reissued in celebration of its 60th birthday. The updated 500-page volume boasts 90-plus changes and additions, yet it fails to validate the need for a mandatory Oxford comma in a series – as has been determined by the Chicago Manual of Style. Proponents on both sides of this ongoing debate concerning whether to use that vital comma cite arguments to support their positions, but some of them simply don’t make grammatical sense when it comes to the issues of clarity and consistency. What’s the Oxford comma? you may wonder. It’s that comma before the coordinating conjunction that separates a series from its last element.

    At, you will find an interesting discussion on the pros and cons on this topic. I want to tell you that I have reviewed the arguments on both sides, and I’ve found nothing to persuade me that the comma is unnecessary. Let’s take a look at some structures similar to those presented.

    Henry walked to the market with his grandparents, Amy Brown, and George Durant.

    Henry walked to the market with his grandparents, Amy Brown and George Durant.

    Does the second sentence, without the comma, say the same thing as the first? No. The first sentence says Henry was accompanied by at least four people: his grandparents, Amy, and George. The second sentence clearly states that Amy and George are his grandparents, so there are just two people besides Henry. Yet both sentences are grammatically correct. Which one is correct? That depends on what the writer means.

    Then we get to the classic example that has appeared numerous times in debates on the Oxford comma. Tell me, dearies, which one do you think is correct?

    This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand, and God.

    This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.

    After a good chuckle, we can see the problem here. Unless the writer’s parents are Ayn Rand and God (a most unlikely situation), we need the Oxford comma – as used in the first sentence.

    Sometimes, clarity and accuracy require us to rethink a sentence that seems to need this comma – or perhaps make a change. Consider these examples:

    The fabric comes in red, blue, green, yellow, and orange stripes.

    The fabric comes in red, blue, green, yellow and orange stripes.

    What does the first sentence say? It implies the fabric comes in four solids and one striped pattern. The second sentence, however, seems to say the fabric comes in three solids and one yellow and orange striped pattern. Which is correct? You can’t tell, but they're not the same.

    Finally, we need to be consistent; otherwise, our readers will think that we sit on a grammatical fence, one leg dangling on either side. Or they’ll be sure our editor was sleeping on the job. Neither case will earn us kudos in the excellence department.

    What do you think, dearies? Is it better to use the Oxford comma, which is correct in all cases? Go for the style that credits us with being parented by Ayn Rand and God? Or limp along on two opinions that appear to our readers to be typos or bad editing? May I get you some more tea? I can slice another lemon.

    Photo courtesy of Darrick Bartholomew

    When time and schedule permit, the Style Maven relaxes on her porch with a mid-morning cup of tea and her favorite book, the Chicago Manual of Style. Other times, her alter ego busies herself knitting doggie vests and sundry other pretties. Do stop by and say hello to her at The Procraftinator.

    Saturday, July 13, 2013

    From Changing of the Hats to Changing of the Guard – Part 2

    S. K. Randolph began her transition into her new job as full-time author while she still worked as Director of Dance at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire. Her day job provided a steady income as well as a model of success. She transferred that model—the value of working with the right team—to her new job as a writer. As noted in Part 1 of her guest post, she delegated jobs that fell outside her experience to those whose expertise qualified them as vital team members, emulating on a small scale the role played for decades by big publishing houses in seeking success for their writers. (Above on the right is the cover for Encounters, a companion short for The Unfolding Trilogy.)

    The arts have been part of my life all my life. My career began in ballet. By the time I retired in 2010, I had moved through the ranks from dancer to award-winning choreographer. One of the biggest lessons I learned: it does not matter how talented you are or how good you are. Succeeding—even with a top-notch team—is about timing, being at the right place at the right time and knowing, once the door opens, the right moment to walk through. 

    Waiting for that “right moment” works for me because I know from experience that it spells success. My team continues to work on that aspect; and by the time it happens, I’ll have a body of work to hold up and be proud of. Meanwhile, like choreography and digital art, writing feeds my creative soul. It is my drug of choice. I write because I must…because I love it. The characters who dance in my head beg to be seen and heard; their stories demand to be told. My words give them dimension and voice. (Above on the left is the Wood Tiffet Sabine – a graphic created to open a chapter.)

    Finding the tools that keep me focused, vital, and creative is a must. First comes a place conducive to creativity. I need a quiet, uncluttered environment. For me, this is a boat anchored in a small cove outside Sitka, Alaska. Within its peaceful confines, I can disappear into another world for as long my characters hold me there.

    Writing tools are also a must. The fewer distractions the better to keep me focused and engaged. I use a MacBook with a writing application called iA Writer. Simple, straightforward, easy to use, and with no bells and whistles, it serves for writing and nothing else. A second desktop on my computer functions as my author’s desktop—no e-mail, no Facebook. I can access the Internet for research, and that’s it.

    Ongoing inspiration helps me stay on task. The most tedious part of my process is the interior layout of the book. This takes time away from writing. To keep my interest alive and my creative juices flowing, I write the companion short stories while designing the interior. Twenty-five to thirty pages in length, these stories add depth to the main books and help me, as well as my readers, to better understand my world and my characters. They also keep me in the “writing place” so I don’t lose the edge gained by writing every day. (Above on the right is the raven Karrew – much more than he seems. Each book brings him closer to himself.)

    Finally, I learned years ago never to give up on myself, my talent, or my dream. It would be easy to look at early sales and quit—to decide I’m not good enough so why bother. But as I mentioned in Part 1, I’m in this for the long haul. 

    Bottom line: being in control of my art and captain of my team works for me. I love wearing the hats that fit my talents and changing the guard to address those areas where I fall short. That rejection letter—the one with the challenge mentioned in Part 1— has proven to be an undisguised blessing. Will I ever be “discovered” by the masses? All it takes is one reader who loves what he/she's reading to bring my worlds and characters to life, one reader who spreads the word about the magic of The Unfolding Trilogy and companion short stories. This is the key to open the door to success at just the right moment for me to walk through.

    We’re all different. What kind of writing environment and tools work for you? How do you stay focused? What inspires you to keep writing and not give up when it seems that you will never see your book in print or earn any money to validate the hours, months, or years you labored to produce it? What does success mean to you?

    S.K. Randolph grew up in Bermuda. Her artist mother encouraged her to try painting, but Sharon chose to channel her creative talents into ballet. Her dance career spanned forty years and took her all the way from performer to award-winning choreographer. After two decades as Director of Dance at Interlochen Center for the Arts in northern Michigan and then at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, she retired in 2010 to write and to create digital art. To find her books, The DiMensioner's Revenge, The ConDra's Fire, and companion short stories that accompany them, and to learn more about her work, visit or

    Friday, July 12, 2013

    From Changing of the Hats to Changing of the Guard - Part 1

    The challenge of becoming a successful author is faced daily by thousands of aspiring writers. Most come from different backgrounds, different jobs, different circumstances. Yet their writing and marketing commonalities provide the basis for sharing models that may inspire others to create their own models for success. Former dance instructor and award-winning choreographer S. K. Randolph, author of two fantasy novels and several “shorts,” shares the ups and downs of her experience, beginning with the early stages, in this two-part guest post.

    The long work day was over. My dancers had equated themselves particularly well in their rehearsals for the Spring Dance Concert, and I hummed to myself as I entered the campus post office to pick up my mail. The small, round building, an ice house in its former life, bustled with teenaged students. Their giggling exuberance made me smile. The letter the postman put in my hand made my stomach tighten.

    Hurrying across the street to the dorm where I lived in a faculty apartment, I let myself hope. I arrived in my living room, dropped my bag on the couch, shed my director’s hat, and sat down. As had happened twenty-plus times before, its return address made my heart quicken. The contents of the letter made it sink. A single, typed paragraph politely informed me that my manuscript had been rejected. The one unique feature of this letter was an added handwritten postscript telling me that I should not think that self-publishing would get me anywhere. The disappointment was momentary. The challenge was clear.

    That was January 2008. Now, five years later, I am an Indie Writer with my own publishing company and website. I have published two novels and five Companion Short Stories that bring depth, dimension, and backstory to my characters. Great, unsolicited reviews are popping up on Amazon. The third book is in process, and three more completed “shorts” await the proper time to upload them. In addition to writing, I do all my own graphics—covers, chapter headings, maps, etc. Samples of chapter headings included here depict characters from The Unfolding series, based on “photoshopped” pictures of former students. (Written parental permissions were obtained.) I also do the book layout in InDesign. Those who work with me will attest that I am a perfectionist; yet even we perfectionists need to
    “perfect” our skills, retire most of our hats, and yield to the changing of the guard— delegating essential elements to appropriate professionals. (Depiction on the upper left is Yaro, the Pentharian. On the right is Yugo, the DeoNyte.)

    Early in the process, I realized I could not wear all the hats required to write and to publish if I wanted to be a successful author. Too many responsibilities cut sharply into my writing time and interfered with my concentration. It was time to change the guard by bringing in fresh troops to handle vital areas that lay outside my fields of expertise.
    • I needed help with the publishing, marketing, website, and social media.
    • I needed more eyes than my own on each part of the project.
    • In other words, I needed a team—not a big one, but a good one.

    My team consists of my editor and writing coach, my CEO/Marketing Manager/IT guy/webmaster, and a group of beta readers who love to be in on the ground floor. I use family and friends and anyone who promises to be critical and straightforward. My editor is paid a fee. No one else is on salary because I don’t have that kind of a budget, but everyone is focused on supporting me and what I'm doing because I am in this for the long haul.

    Be sure to watch for Part 2, which addresses tools, talent, and perseverance—required attributes to make it through that long haul, author’s hat firmly in place and the guard marching loyally behind.

    What has been your journey to where you are now? Have you mapped future travels down the road of success? If so in either case, please share your experiences.

    S.K. Randolph
    grew up on the island of Bermuda. Although her mother, a well-known artist, encouraged her and her sisters to try painting, Sharon chose to channel her creative talents into ballet. Her career in dance spanned forty years and took her from performing to teaching, choreographing, and directing. In 2010, after two decades as Director of Dance at Interlochen Center for the Arts in northern Michigan and then at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, she retired to write and to create digital art. To find her books, The DiMensioner's Revenge and The ConDra's Fire and Companion Short Stories that accompany them, visit

    Thursday, July 11, 2013

    Marketing and Publicity

    What's the difference between "marketing" and "publicity"?

    This can be confusing. Am I marketing my book? Or am I publicizing it?

    To differentiate the two, let's go back to basics. Marketing your book is two-fold. First of all, it means figuring out who and what your audience is. In other words, you need to define your audience. Who is going to read this book; why would it appeal to them; and how do I reach them? The second part of marketing is coming up with a plan to sell your book to those readers and to sell books as fast as you can.

    Your marketing plan is something you think about long before you finish writing the book. As you write, you can jot down notes in a marketing notebook. 

    This is not to say you don't think about publicity as you write. Publicity, however, means getting your book (and you) mentioned in as many media forms and as often as possible. Newspaper, book reviews, TV, radio, church bulletins, blogs, ezines, websites, alumni magazines, and so on.

    Marketing and publicity are words that are sometimes used interchangeably. And, of course, when you publicize your book and yourself, you're marketing your book. But if you can try to keep the basics in mind when you're using the two words, you'll understand more of what your publisher's marketing person is saying to you.

    And speaking of the marketing department, you can't depend on them (or her/him) to do all of your marketing. You need to be prepared to do it yourself. So, develop your own marketing plan and media/VIP contact list.

    Helen Ginger
    is an author, blogger, and the Coordinator of Story Circle Network's Editorial Services and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Angel Sometimes, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Dismembering the Past, is due out in 2013.

    Wednesday, July 10, 2013

    Email Newsletters : Frequency and Content

    Yesterday we looked at some of the reasons you might want to consider building a mailing list and starting an email newsletter. Today we’ll cover the frequency and content questions that arose from Dani’s introductory post.

    How Often Should You Send a Newsletter?

    Susan Wittig Albert has a long-standing weekly newsletter, as does Angela Hoy of WritersWeekly and Hope Clark of Funds for Writers. Our own Terry Odell told us she sends her newsletter out quarterly, which she has found to be sufficient (and Terry will tell us more about her strategies and the email service she uses on the 18th). However, Terry blogs daily, so she already has the element of predictability and reliability with which to draw her readers.

    Sending a newsletter weekly is a good strategy. You can become part of your reader’s weekly habits. For example, she knows your email pitches up in her inbox on the same day she goes to the gym and it’s ideal for a quick read while she finishes her coffee.

    An infrequent newsletter is risky because someone may forget they signed up for your mailing list and hit the spam button. Even a month is a long time in our high-speed high-tech lifestyles.

    What to Write About

    If you’re not blogging to a regular, predictable schedule, a newsletter is an excellent way to let your readers know there’s something at your site for them to read.

    If you blog daily or a few times a week, your newsletter could function as a weekly wrap up, and I would suggest this option to someone like Terry, if she wanted to increase the frequency of her mailings. Not every reader has the time to read their favourite blogs every day, but receiving a list of headlines with the introduction or a summary and the links means they won’t miss the topics they’re really interested in.

    Another option is to pick a theme and list all your old blog posts on that theme. This is a great way to get eyeballs on your older content without resorting to reruns. Neither of these options require that you write any additional content for your newsletter.

    Susan Wittig Albert also pointed out that she recycles her newsletter content knowing that new subscribers have joined and older subscribers would have forgotten the articles from several years ago. Jeri Westerson told us she writes articles of interest for her newsletters (historical in her case) that relate to her books, and this is a great way to make more use of your research material.

    A Word of Caution

    To wrap up this post, I want to draw your attention to the CAN-SPAM Act regarding Email Marketing. It’s a legal requirement in the US to comply with these obligations, but even authors outside the US should know about and follow the CAN-SPAM conditions of business. Most email- and autoresponder management services have these requirements built in to their features, notably the “double opt-in” setup, and providing unsubscribe links and a snail-mail address in each email sent. The latter may cause you some reservation due to privacy issues. Most people choose to pay for a Post Office box, but I have also seen authors using their agents’ business addresses in a “care of” capacity at the end of their newsletters.

    Elle Carter Neal
    is currently building up her own email mailing list (again) after mistakenly believing email correspondence would die out. Elle is the author of the teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. Visit her Writer's Workdesk for more writing-related articles.

    Tuesday, July 9, 2013

    The Author, the Mailing List, and the Wide World of Email

    At the start of the month, Dani posted about electronic newsletters and generated some great discussion in the comments. So, today I’d like to address some of the questions that came up—the “why” of mailing lists and newsletters. Tomorrow I’ll be back with more ideas on strategy, content, and frequency.

    Why Do You Want, or Need, a Mailing List?

    A mailing list is a valuable commodity and is evidence of a platform. If your statistics are good, you can use them in query letters to agents and publishers. If you’re an indie author, you can sell or trade advertising in your newsletters (never sell access to your actual mailing list, though). And that’s before you’ve even begun using it to market your own books. According to email marketing still generates more sales than other online communication options.

    Why not...?
    - Blogging, Instead of Email?

    A blog is an excellent platform to build, but you have little to no control over whether a first-time reader will ever return to your blog. Even if he enjoyed your post, he might click a few links, read a couple more articles, and forget about you. But if you manage to convince that reader to sign up for your newsletter you can land your best headlines right in his inbox and bring him back to your blog until he’s a regular.

    - RSS, Instead of Email?

    Some people do sign up for RSS feeds and use either a reader or their email account to read blog posts. But it hasn’t taken off as well as it might have and many people still don’t know how to set one up or how to sign up for a feed. And, while some syndication systems do allow you to access the names and email addresses of your readers, you cannot use those contact details without skirting a very fine line.

    - Social Networking, Instead of Email?

    If you have a thousand friends on Facebook or a large Twitter following, you might be wondering why you can’t just use these platforms to communicate with your fans. Again the problem is that you don’t have any control over whether your friends and followers actually check in to their social networks, or whether they have filters to keep the noise down to only their IRL friends and family. Most people do check their email, though.

    Yes, but, you may say, email can filtered, too. Disposable email addresses might never be checked. And that’s true, and a good reason that social networking works well in chorus with email newsletters and a blog.

    The other issue with social networking is fickleness. Remember MySpace? The names and addresses in your mailing list database are under your control, not Facebook’s. You can back it up, and if your mailing company goes under, you can move your database to another one. If half your Twitter followers decide to move to Pinterest instead, you have to move with them or risk losing them—if you have no other means to connect with them.

    And that’s where your mailing list comes in.

    Elle Carter Neal is currently building up her own email mailing list (again) after mistakenly believing email correspondence would die out. Elle is the author of the teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin.