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Showing posts from July, 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 affordab

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 pla

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.  ~and~ His was a musky smell, as if the source of a muddy r

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

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 priva

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

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 inten

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 ha

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

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

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 wan

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 keyw

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 60 th 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 M

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 Encounter s, 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-

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

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, alu

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 i

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 ev