books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, April 26, 2015

New Hope for the Dead: Fiction Rehab And The Magic Of The Makeover

by Ruth Harris


Every writer has (at least) one—

  • The trunk book
  • The published bestseller to which the rights have reverted but which is showing its age
  • The half-finished book, the abandoned book, the book—published or not—that fizzled
  • The manuscript languishing on a hard drive or gathering dust under your bed
  • The aargh draft aka the first draft from hell
  • The outline/proposal no agent or editor on this planet or any other would take a chance on

They're the orphans, the misfires, the unloved and the unappreciated—and they're hopeless. But are they?

  • You're stuck on a plot point and don't know how to get unstuck
  • The characters bore you—and you created them
  • The background or setting no longer seems relevant or even interesting
  • You signed a contract for another book
  • The concept—boy wizard—feels overdone
  • The setting, the cold war, seems passé
  • The PG version of 50 Shades you started with high hopes and a burst of energy, now has you wondering: what was I thinking?

The makeover, defined


Beloved by magazines and TV, a makeover usually means a "new look" or at least a bit of refreshing. It might entail a new shade of lipstick, a new hair style or a new gym routine. Applies to books, too.

Sometimes a few small changes—a new title, a zippy cover, a name change for the main character, some zany new incidents for a cozy—can add up to a big difference and a new life.

Rx for more serious problems: Rehab


Rehab is a bigger deal than the mere makeover. Rehab usually implies the major changes needed to make the trip back from a setback: booze, drugs, athletic injuries. We're talking AA, drug counseling and Tommy John surgery to get the patient (or the book) back on the right track.

Ebooks have revolutionized book publishing in almost every area from editing, marketing, distribution, to pricing—and in one more but much less often discussed way. Unlike the hardcover or paperback of the TradPubbed past, today's novel isn't set in stone. In fact, the digital novel is almost infinitely malleable, the shape-shifter par excellence.

These days a lot of writers aren't writing for an editor, a publisher, or to meet a deadline. We're writing on our own schedules to reach thousands and maybe millions of readers—and we have more than one opportunity to reach them.

When I reread Decades, an international bestseller for me in hardcover (Simon & Schuster) and paperback (NAL), I still liked the structure and the story—a traditional marriage torn apart by an adulterous affair and the women who must confront the cultural convulsions of the mid-Twentieth Century. Told from the points of view of three women—wife, mistress, daughter—the story and theme seemed as relevant as ever but the book felt too long and the pace too slow.

To refresh Decades, I kept the bones of the story but cut over 20,000 words, deleted, tightened and/or combined scenes, and refocused the portrait of the daughter, a rebellious child of the 'Sixties in conflict with her parents. I relaunched the refreshed edition and, with a boost from a BookBub promo, Decades went to #1 in the Kindle store and #1 in Women's Fiction.

Three Authors Refresh their Books


As authors revert rights to previously published books, they are taking the opportunity to refresh them for digital editions. Self-publishing also allows for reviving manuscripts that didn't fit the needs of traditional publishing. Anne R. Allen, Consuelo Saah Baehr and Harriet Smart share their experiences.

Anne R. Allen


"I had an 'unpublishable' literary novel that languished in my files for decades. It explored the myth of mid-century America as a 'Golden Age' through the story of a friendship of two Boomer women from wildly different backgrounds. The subject matter had been too big and difficult for my fledgling writing skills, so I'd shelved it.

"Two years ago, when I had several books on the bestseller lists, my publisher, Mark Williams, asked me if I had anything in the archives that might be quickly polished up and published while I worked on my next Camilla novel.

"I sent him one of the 20 or so versions of the 'unpublishable' novel. I was pleased he saw potential in it. He gave me some great suggestions:

  • Shorten it. At 110K words, it was way too long for contemporary readers.
  • Emphasize the humor and mystery aspects of the story, since my 'brand' is humorous mysteries.
  • Think of a better title. "The Ashtrays of Avalon," and "The Leaders of the 21st Century," my working titles, did not fly. 
  • Beef up the opening scenes, which are set in the present and making the story more accessible to 21st century readers. 

"After about three grueling months of editing, I sent him the 95K word version, newly titled The Lady of the Lakewood Diner which has been a steady seller for me, and has got some of my most enthusiastic reviews."

Consuelo Saah Baehr


Here's what Consuelo did when Amazon approached her about publishing her bestseller Daughters: "I had typed the book into my computer (yes all 700 pages) and had done some editing (always making scenes tighter) at the time."

"Amazon did not ask me to change the storyline of Daughters although they didn't restrict me. They wanted to edit for punctuation, formatting, grammar, typos, etc. At the beginning I asked them about changing aspects of the story that reviewers complained about and they said that reviewers always complained about the things I mentioned and I should leave the story as it was if I wanted to.

"I did some editing on my own but it was minimal. Toned down some scenes, streamlined others, etc. There was no difference in the way I saw the plot or characters. Here's the thing, there is a segment of readers that object to any sexual content (no matter how tastefully done) and will one-star you and call the book trash.

"The Amazon publisher asked me to change the title because she felt the older title didn't convey the breadth of the book. We went through several rounds and settled on Three Daughters and I went from a modest couple of hundred reviews to 750 in three and a half months."

"Two of my other novels, Nothing to Lose and Best Friends, received new covers because I did not own the artwork to the original covers. Each book presented me with different issues and each required a different solution.

"Many reviewers of Best Friends complained about the ending and they were MAD. After about twenty complaints I changed the ending. One character who was hanging by a thread was allowed to live.

"Nothing to Lose had a lot of dated references since it was written pre-Internet. I updated some and just took out others that didn't translate well."

Harriet Smart


English mystery writer Harriet Smart took her TradPubbed books and approached the rehab this way:

"All in all. I have 'rehabbed' four out of my five traditionally published books now, and I have to admit I didn't really do much in the way of textual tinkering, as I was quite satisfied with them as they were. 

The most recent one, The Wild Garden, did give me some pause for thought, however, as it was a contemporary romance, written and set in 1996, and rereading it I was astonished at the character's use of landline phones and handwritten letters. Email appeared but only in passing. I did wonder if I should update this, but the story would not have worked in the age of Google and Facebook (it is about old lover's losing touch and then finding each other again by accident) so it remains a period piece—a conscious decision on my part.

"My first novel, A Garland of Vows, all three hundred thousand words of it, is another matter. An unabashed romantic historical epic, parts of it now make me cringe with embarrassment. I was learning my craft on the job when I wrote it, and it shows. 

"I would tackle such a story in a very different way now, I am sure. But then again there are parts of which I am proud, and I wonder if I shouldn't scan it in, and try and re-form it into something that satisfies me artistically now. It would be a lot of work and I wonder if there would any real point to doing it. Would I just ruin it? A very difficult question and so it remains, untackled…"

Thanks to magic of digital publishing, no book need be left behind.

Inspiration from pros like Anne, Consuelo and Harriet can be your best friend when faced with a book or manuscript in need of help. A makeover might do the job. Maybe a trip to rehab is required. Or even a week or two in intensive care. A sympathetic eye and some well-considered refreshing can come to your—and your book’s—rescue.


First things first: The Dirty Details of The Salvage Operation



The cover: One of the first changes to consider when you are contemplating a book makeover is a new cover. A new cover, like a new shade of lipstick, can make all the difference and help your book stand out in the correct category where it will draw the attention of readers you are looking for. If your book's cover doesn't quite convey the genre or tone, check the covers of the top selling books in your genre and see if a new cover could be the equivalent of a weekend at the spa.

The title: Perhaps your publisher stuck you with a title you never liked. (Trust me, it happens.) Or, perhaps, like Consuelo's editor, you feel that your title, while OK, doesn't quite adequately convey the tone or scope of your book. Now's the perfect opportunity to spend time to come up with a title more fitting to the book.

Even though titles can't be copyrighted, be sure to search your title in case it's been overused. If so, think of a way to differentiate your title from the umpteen dozen already out there.

If you do change your title, be sure to add a note to the blurb indicating that the book was "originally published as [OLD BORING TITLE]" You do not want angry readers who already bought your book in its previous incarnation to feel cheated and bomb you with one-star reviews!

New author name: There is no reason not to use a pen name. Perhaps you want to start a new series or perhaps your book would sell better with an author name that fits well in your genre. Von Poopen Outhaus is not exactly the greatest author name for a romance even it is your real name!

New names for old characters: Don't forget that in the original draft of Gone With The Wind, Scarlet O'Hara’s first name was Pansy. (!) Would Hannibal Lector be as scary if he were named Joe Smith? And what about that old perv Humbert Humbert? Choosing character names carefully will instantly help define that person. Name generators offer suggestions for almost any ethnicity/age/historical period you can imagine.

Strategic Revision


Once you've made the small makeover changes and you still want to address the larger problems in a ms., you need a diagnosis. Ask yourself why you've given up and try to ID the problem—plot holes, weak characters, slack pacing. The next step is to zero in and figure out how much and what kind of makeover is required to take your book out from under the bed and into the light of day.

Solve background/setting issues with research. Travel blogs and Goggle offer all sorts of foreign setting ideas. Get details on Southeast Asia at Nomadic Matt's, the latest on South America and what's offbeat, interesting and new in New Zealand.

  • An unfocused, go-nowhere scene or story arc? Don't forget the power of the delete button. Here's a superb example from TV writer, Ken Levine.
  • Need medical facts from allergies to appendicitis (or is it constipation?) Here's a guide for fiction writers written by Jordy N. Redwood, an ER nurse,
  • Too much tell, not enough show? What's the difference and how to fix it with examples.
  • Characterization issues: Good guy/gal or bad guy/gal, the super spy, the nutcase, the grunt who saves his battalion, the alcoholic teacher who can't save herself but rescues her class, the jihadist with a heart of gold, the whore with a heart of coal, the psychotic, psychopathic, and just plain psychic are the writer's best friend. How to write characters readers remember.
  • First line blahs: A killer first line in every chapter can go a long way to rehab a plain vanilla draft, hook your reader and keep the pages turning.
  • Endings that keep readers hanging on: The art and craft of the cliffhanger
  • How to write sympathetic characters readers will identify with and want to know more about. 
  • Need a bad guy or gal? Want someone despicable yet charming? Sexy but dangerous? How to write a villain.
  • Here's advice on how to fix your plot from Janice Hardy plus extra help from the story grid and Writer Unboxed .
  • Bring in the rescue crew, aka the editor or the book doctor. Sometimes you need help from a pro. What an editor can—and cannot—do--advice from The Kill Zone. 

USUALLY NOT WORTH THE EFFORT


  • Changing a time period—sci-fi retrofitted to Regency—is most likely just too big a jump.
  • Changing a historical from Edwardian to World War II will require massive research plus deep-dish psychological makeovers of characters' personalities and attitudes.
  • Satire into tragedy probably not worth the amount of work involved as is dystopian survivalist to contemporary romance.
  • Hard-edged big city noir to small-town cozy is another bridge too far.

GO FOR MAKEOVER MOJO AND WIN BIG


English politician and writer Lord Michael Dobbs did, and look what happened when he decided that "Location is irrelevant in political drama" and transferred the story in his novel and BAFTA-winning mini-series House of Cards from London to Washington. 

What about you, Scriveners? Have you got a book in the archives that needs a makeover? A trip to rehab? Were you as pleased as I was to read that reviewers always complain about certain things and Amazon editors think we should leave the story as it is if we want to? Have you tried some of these makeovers?...Anne


BOOK OF THE WEEK

DECADES: It's FREE!!

"The songs we sang, the clothes we wore, the way we made love. Absolutely perfect!" ...Publisher's Weekly



Kindle  |  iBooks  |  Nook  |  Kobo  |  GooglePlay

THREE WOMEN. THREE DECADES. Spanning the years from the optimistic post-War 1940s to the Mad Men 1950s and rule-breaking "Make Love, Not War" 1960s, DECADES is about three generations of women who must confront the radical changes and upended expectations of the turbulent decades in which they lived.

Evelyn, talented but insecure, is a traditional woman of the Forties. She is a loyal and loving wife and mother whose marriage and family mean everything to her.

Nick, handsome and ambitious, a chameleon who changes with the changing times, is her successful but restless husband.

Joy, their daughter, confused and defiant, a child of the Sixties, needs them both but is torn between them.

Barbara is the other woman, younger than Evelyn, accomplished but alone. She is a transitional woman of the Fifties who wonders if she can have everything--including another woman's husband.

DECADES, sweeping in scope yet intimate in detail, is the emotional, compelling story of family, marriage, crisis, betrayal and healing.


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


Golden Quill Awards Writing Contest: Flash, Poetry, and Short fiction categories. Entry fee $20 for stories and poetry, $15 for flash fiction. The theme is TRANSFORMATION. Deadline July 15.

MARK TWAIN HUMOR CONTEST  Entry fees: $12 Young Author or $22 Adult. 7,000 words (or fewer) of any original work of humor writing. Submissions must be in English. Submissions are not required to be in the style of Mark Twain or about Mark Twain. 1st Prize: $1,000 (Adult), $600 (Young Author). Other cash prizes! Deadline July 10, 2015

Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest. Entry fee $10. Your story should in some way touch upon the publication’s mission: Celebrating America — past, present, and future. Think Norman Rockwell. No profanity or graphic sex. Any genre. No previously published stories, but they can have appeared on your blog. Between 1,500 and 5,000 words. Deadline July 1, 2015

Big Beautiful Wellness Creative Writing Contest. NO FEE Poems up to 30 lines Fiction or Nonfic between 1000 and 2000 words. $100 first prize. Theme: Body-positive living. Looking for inspirational, positive stories. Deadline July 1.

Writer's Village International Short Fiction Contest Prizes totalling $3200! And every entrant gets a critique. (which makes this a great deal.) Any genre of fiction up to 3000 words. Entry fee $24. Deadline June 30th.

PULP LITERATURE'S The Hummingbird Prize for Flash Fiction $10-$15 ENTRY FEE. Winner published in Winter 2016. First Prize: $300 (Runner up: $75). For unpublished short fiction up to 1,000 words in length. Contest Opens May 1, 2015 and closes June 15, 2015.

Ink & Insights 2015
 is a writing contest that comes with a detailed critique. Send the first 10,000-words of your book. The entry fee is $35: pricey for a contest, but a fantastic deal for a critique. Each submission is read by four judges who score 18 areas of your novel. This looks like a great opportunity! Over $5,000 cash and prizesDeadline May 31.

WOW Spring Flash Fiction Contest: Fee $10, or $20 with critique. The critique is a fantastic deal. These quarterly contests are judged by an agent. 750 words.  First prize is $350 plus a $500 publishing package, publication and an interview. 20 prizes in all. Enter early. They only take the first 300 entries. Deadline May 31.

WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS SHORT STORY CONTEST NO FEE! Open to emerging diverse writers from all diverse backgrounds (including, but not limited to, LGBT, people of color, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural and religious minorities) who have not been published in BOOK format in any genre. The winner receives US $1,000 and publication in the “Stories For All Of Us” anthology to be published by Random House. Opens April 27--Deadline May 8.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

How to Guarantee Rejection: Top 10 Ways Writers Self-Reject when Querying Bloggers, Editors, and Agents

by Anne R. Allen


Having a popular blog has helped me feel a lot of empathy with agents and publishers. That's because Ruth and I get a ton of queries, too.

Most of ours are from authors or publicists who want a blog tour promotion, guest blog spot, or a book review. Some want us to give critiques or edit their work. We also hear from people who want us to advertise products, websites and software or display their infographics.

And there's that guy from Grammarly who writes to me regularly to tell me I could be a successful writer if I just learned a little grammar. And the blog "gurus" who want us to pay money to get readers for our pathetic little blog.

Thing is: we don't do blog tours or book reviews or editing. We also don't provide advertising, free or otherwise. And strangely enough, we're not eager to do business with people who insult us.

These are what I call self-rejecting queries.


It does no good to ask somebody for something they do not provide.

It's like going to a pet store when you want to buy a computer mouse: you're setting yourself up for disappointment.

And making yourself look pretty silly.

Here's the most important thing to remember: publishing is a business. As is all Internet commerce.

A query is a job interview. Give it 100% or don't do it. Picture the real person behind the company, blog, or agency you're querying, and talk about what's of interest to them.

Whoever is reading the query is looking for a reason to reject you so they can move quickly through the inbox. Don't give them one.

Do a little homework, be respectful, and you can avoid most of these pitfalls. We were all newbies once, and some of these are typical newbie mistakes. But if you educate yourself and practice empathy, you can avoid them.


Top Ten Ways to Write Self-Rejecting Queries


10) Send a query via anything but email (or snail, in some more conservative pockets of the world.)


Do not send a Twitter or FB DM or @message pitching your book to agents, editors, bloggers or readers. Unless it's in a specific Twitter challenge set up by an agency or blog.

Twitter events like March 11th's #Pitmad Twitter query session are an exception, but make sure you stay within the time period and follow the rules to the letter. And don't send the Tweet via Direct Message. Send it in a regular Tweet.

DMs are intimate and come across as disrespectful if you don't have a prior relationship. I talked about that last month in my post on How NOT to Sell Books.

Book bloggers are especially annoyed by tweeted queries. Book review blogs are hard work, and the reviewers deserve the respect due to any other professional.

Disrespectful queries self-reject.

9) Skip the Proofreading


The e-query is a great boon to authors. No more double envelopes and return postage and trips to the Post Office with those expensive manuscript boxes.

But the e-age can lull us into a false sense of informality. An e-query is just as formal and official as a paper query and needs to be composed with just as much care.

Remember to watch out for your headers. I remember working for weeks on a query and then sending it off to my potential dream agent with a whopping typo in the header (misspelling my own title.)

Rejection came within minutes. Yup. I'd self-rejected.

8) Advertise your failures


Agent Alex Glass reminds authors to "Avoid a sentence such as 'This is my third (or fourth, or fifth, or sixth) unpublished novel, so I am clearly very dedicated and hardworking'…"

No: you've clearly failed a lot.

Everybody fails—that's how we learn. But we need to keep the failures quiet in a query.

I feel the same if somebody queries me saying: "Nobody is buying my books so you have to help me by giving me a guest spot."

My first thought is going to be that maybe your books aren't selling because they're as unprofessional as your query. If so, you will lose us subscribers and reduce our stats.

We always get fewer hits on guest blogposts. I don't know why, but I think it's like the substitute teacher syndrome. People come here expecting stuff from Ruth and me and when they get a substitute, no matter how great, they seem to feel disappointed. So a guest spot is something of a gift. We have to choose guests very carefully. Regular commenters on the blog get priority.

Writers who tell us they are no good at drawing an audience are rejecting themselves.

7) Verbosity


A query should be one page. At most. Anything more is a glaring advertisement of your lack of self-editing skills.

The query is your vehicle. Make sure it's streamlined and modern looking. This means it's short, hooky, and has lots of white space. Would you hire a car mechanic who showed up in a clunker bellowing smoke?

Most agents these days want a synopsis that is one page as well. They want it to read like book jacket copy—only with the ending included. Anything else is old fashioned and gets skipped. Don't write a long synopsis unless it's specifically requested. Here's my post on how to write a synopsis. And here's a great one from Jane Friedman.

Yes, I know you've taken all those creative writing classes that tell you it's all about your talent and passion and descriptive writing ability.

But a query uses a different kind of writing skills—skills you're going to need whether you publish traditionally or not. Every author needs to know how to write good blurbs, hooks, and product descriptions these days.

Learn those skills before you query.

And if you want a guest blogspot, show you have the writing chops to carry it off. If you write one big hunk of text in your query, you show you don't get 21st century writing.

Thus auto-rejecting yourself.


6) Forget the hook


It doesn't matter if you're querying a newbie blogger asking for a review or pitching your screenplay to Steven Spielberg, you always need a HOOK. Make what you have on offer enticing.

A simple formula for a novel hook is "When X happens, X must do X to X/otherwise X happens". It's a one or two sentence overview of the plot that needs to be dynamic and show what's at stake. For a more literary work, you might want to state the theme or setting and whatever makes it unique.

For a blogpost or nonfiction book, the hook only needs to answer the questions: why this book/post? Why now? Why you?

I wish I'd kept the query the Canadian "queen of comedy" Melodie Campbell sent asking to guest post two years ago. It had me laughing out loud. She pitched a post on how to write humor with humor. She had me hooked in two lines.

Yes, I know it's hard. But we all need to work on our skills as "hookers".  Here's a good simple piece on writing a hook from agent Natalie Lakosil of the Bradford Literary Agency.

5) Lie 


Don't tell me you read my blog regularly and then say you know how much I like to review Bigfoot erotica. It's an auto-delete.

Agents feel the same way. Don't say "I met you at the Southeast Montana Paranormal Romance Writers Conference-and-Gun Show" if you weren't there.  Maybe the agent was scheduled but cancelled at the last minute. Maybe there were only four people in her workshop.

And if you say "I love your client's work," at least read the "look inside" of a few of the titles.  If you say "I see you rep Zorian Q. Weatherbottom, so I know you'll love my work" make sure you know what Zorian Q. Weatherbottom writes.

If it turns out  Mr. Weatherbottom writes Christian end-times thrillers, you've just self-rejected your steamy vampire/werewolf M/M romance.

4) Act arrogant


You want to sell your story or blogpost, not brag about yourself.

I don't get very far into a query that starts with "I'm a bigshot. Here are all the fabulous things I've done…" and then goes on for paragraph after paragraph of "I'm so special".  I don't care if you're Shonda Rhimes. If you don't tell me why you've contacted me and what you have on offer, I'm going to delete.

And here's a secret: people who really are bigshots do not have to tell people who they are.  When Anne Rice contacted me to talk about cyberbullying, her name in the address was more than enough to make me ignore everything else in the inbox and jump to open it.

And even if you're not that famous, just one or two major achievements are much more impressive than three pages listing every prize you've won since you got the trophy for good penmanship in third grade. That "lady doth protest too much" thing kicks in sooner than you think.

Here's how agent Shira Hoffman put it:

"I dislike it when a query letter focuses too much on the author’s bio and doesn’t tell me what the book is about. Make sure you include essential story details."

3) Don't bother to do your research


Agents say the number one reason for rejections is that most writers query them with books in genres they do not represent.

Reviewers say the number one reason for rejections is that most authors query them with books in genres they don't review.

Our number one reason for rejections is that most writers query us with posts on non-writing-related subjects.

See a pattern here?

I realize everybody starts as a beginner. I don't mean to make fun of novices.

But anybody can visit a website or blog. And read it. It's not hard. It just means taking the time to be polite.

And not look like a doofus.

You'll also want to learn about the industry you want to join. The best way to get general info about publishing is is read a few current books on the industry, like, ahem, HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE (get it cheap below.)

If you want an agent, then read agent blogs, especially in your genre. The #AskAgent hashtag on Twitter is also a great resource for up-to-date agent info.

There are three fantastic websites for agent-seekers that are must-reads: AgentQuery.com, QueryTracker.net, and QueryShark. If you write YA, check Literary Rambles, too.

AgentQuery.com has a searchable database. You can go there and put in the genre you write and choose the agents who are open to queries.

But don't stop there. Visit the agent's website. If the agent says "I don't rep paranormal romance or Young Adult," believe her.  Even though she may have sold the genre three years ago and several of her clients write in that genre, it's counterproductive to send her your teen vampire romance now. She is not going to be so blown away by your brilliance that she's going to "make an exception."

If she says she doesn't rep that genre, she means she doesn't know any editors who are buying that genre right now. She probably can't even sell the books of her existing clients who write in that genre. Genres have fashions, and what's hot one month can be untouchable the next.  Even if you have the storytelling skills of J.K. Rowling, that agent will not be able to sell your book..

People who query asking me to review a book—no matter the genre—are just wasting their time and mine. This is not a book review blog. It's not what we do. A quick glance around tells you that and it's clearly stated on our CONTACT US page.

These things happen because the queryiers think their time is more valuable than the person they are querying, so they don't bother to research. Not a good way to start a business relationship.

2) Ignore guidelines


NEVER ever query an agent or publisher or blogger without reading the guidelines—the ones on their actual current website, not in a library copy of some book on agents from 10 years ago.

Oh yeah, and then you have to FOLLOW the guidelines. I don't know how many times I have heard authors say "this agent says she wants a one-page synopsis, double spaced, but I have a book (published in 1987) that says a synopsis should be at least 7 pages, so that's what I sent."

You just self-rejected.

I don't care if the agent says she wants the synopsis written in Sanskrit. Just go to Google Translate and do it.

If you don't like her guidelines, don't query her. But otherwise, you're only wasting electrons.

1) Amateurish antics


If you query in the voice of your character, write a synopsis from the point of view of her cat, or handwrite your query on a heart-shaped piece of pink watered silk, you will get noticed, but not in a good way.

Even if your antics are wildly clever, this is like wearing an evening gown to a job interview. You are advertising yourself as an amateur who doesn't know how things are done in the business.

Listen to the agents:

"Queries are business letters. Agenting is business. Publishing is business. I try to be nice and friendly and funny and all, but the bottom line is that I expect those with whom I work to be professional and take what they’re doing seriously.
—Linda Epstein (Jennifer De Chiara Literary)"

"Treat [a] query as a job interview. Be professional. Be concise.
—Nicole Resciniti (The Seymour Agency)

Most writers (and a lot of Internet marketers) overestimate the value of raw "talent". If you're a clueless amateur, an egotist, or a pain in the patoot, nobody will want to work with you even if you have the talent of Shakespeare, Dickens, and Jane Austen all rolled into one.

So don't reject yourself before you even hit "send." Learn to write a professional query, whether it's to an agent, an editor, or a lowly blogger like me. Show respect. It opens an amazing number of doors.

For more great quotes from agents about queries, check out Chuck Sambuchino's blogpost Literary Agents Sound Off.

And for a comprehensive survey of what agents don't want to see in queries, read J.M. Tohline's 2010 blogpost The Biggest Mistakes Authors Make in Querying Agents.

For more on queries, here's Nathan Bransford's classic post on how to write a query.

How about you, Scriveners? What mistakes did you make when you were first querying? As bloggers, do you get outrageously inappropriate queries? What's the worst query you ever saw?


BOOK OF THE WEEK


It goes up to $3.99 on April 23rd
It's only on sale in the US and the UK, alas. 
(The Zon's policy, not ours.) 

HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE: A SELF-HELP GUIDE
by Anne R. Allen and #1 bestseller Catherine Ryan Hyde



Not just for indies, and not just for authors going the traditional route. This is the book that helps you choose what path is right for YOU.

Plus there's lots of insider information on using social media and dealing with critiques, bullies, trolls, and rejection.


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


Golden Quill Awards Writing Contest: Flash, Poetry, and Short fiction categories. Entry fee $20 for stories and poetry, $15 for flash fiction. The theme is TRANSFORMATION. Deadline July 15.

MARK TWAIN HUMOR CONTEST  Entry fees: $12 Young Author or $22 Adult. 7,000 words (or fewer) of any original work of humor writing. Submissions must be in English. Submissions are not required to be in the style of Mark Twain or about Mark Twain. 1st Prize: $1,000 (Adult), $600 (Young Author). Other cash prizes! Deadline July 10, 2015

Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest. Entry fee $10. Your story should in some way touch upon the publication’s mission: Celebrating America — past, present, and future. Think Norman Rockwell. No profanity or graphic sex. Any genre. No previously published stories, but they can have appeared on your blog. Between 1,500 and 5,000 words. Deadline July 1, 2015

Writer's Village International Short Fiction Contest Prizes totalling $3200! And every entrant gets a critique. (which makes this a great deal.) Any genre of fiction up to 3000 words. Entry fee $24. Deadline June 30th.

PULP LITERATURE'S The Hummingbird Prize for Flash Fiction $10-$15 ENTRY FEE. Winner published in Winter 2016. First Prize: $300 (Runner up: $75). For unpublished short fiction up to 1,000 words in length. Contest Opens May 1, 2015 and closes June 15, 2015.

Ink & Insights 2015
 is a writing contest that comes with a detailed critique. Send the first 10,000-words of your book. The entry fee is $35: pricey for a contest, but a fantastic deal for a critique. Each submission is read by four judges who score 18 areas of your novel. This looks like a great opportunity! Over $5,000 cash and prizesDeadline May 31.

WOW Spring Flash Fiction Contest: Fee $10, or $20 with critique. The critique is a fantastic deal. These quarterly contests are judged by an agent. 750 words.  First prize is $350 plus a $500 publishing package, publication and an interview. 20 prizes in all. Enter early. They only take the first 300 entries. Deadline May 31.

Writer's Digest Writing Compeition. This is their biggie. First prize is $5000 plus your photo on the cover of Writer's Digest. Entry fees are a little pricey at $25 for a story, $15 for a poem but there are lots of big prizes. Categories for many genres of fiction, Creative nonfic, essays, screenplays, and poetry. Early Bird deadline May 4th.

The Vestal Review is looking for FLASH FICTION. Submissions are accepted February-May for the Vestal Review, the oldest journal devoted exclusively to flash fiction. 500 words or less. Humor is a plus. Pays $$ plus copies.

WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS SHORT STORY CONTEST NO FEE! Open to emerging diverse writers from all diverse backgrounds (including, but not limited to, LGBT, people of color, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural and religious minorities) who have not been published in BOOK format in any genre. The winner receives US $1,000 and publication in the “Stories For All Of Us” anthology to be published by Random House. Opens April 27--Deadline May 8.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ten Reasons for Authors to Blog

by Robin Houghton


One of the questions I'm most asked is "how do you find time to write a blog?" I can answer this quite simply – I find the time in the same way that I find time to do the grocery shopping, or read poetry, or stroke the cat.

We all find the time to do the things we consider either essential/non-negotiable or enjoyable, preferably both. But this answer doesn't always satisfy people. That’s when it becomes clear that the real question they want to ask is "why do you blog?"

Professional persuader Simon Sinek says that in order to inspire anyone you need to "start with why". I'm not really in the business of persuading authors they need to be blogging, because it has to be an individual’s decision, it has to feel right. You have to be convinced of why you're doing it. And that why can be different for all of us. Here are a selection of reasons, and I'd be interested to which of them, if any, resonate with you.

1. To have your own real estate on the social web


The web is an ever-growing place and as with any land-grab it pays to do your research, read the small print and think long-term. As an author, there are many places to hang your hat: Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon, your publisher's or agent's website, your own website or blog – all good in terms of setting out your wares and promoting yourself.

But with the exception of your own website or blog (if it's self-hosted), all those other places belong to someone else. You're renting your space, and the cheaper it is, the less you can rely on security of tenure. Facebook could change its rules at any time (and does!), as might WordPress.com. Your page on a publisher’s site will be branded and controlled by the publisher, it goes without saying.

If you self-host your website and/or blog, that is, if you pay for hosting and are responsible for managing it, and if you own your domain name, you are in control. All presentation and content is down to you. And a blog by its very nature increases in value over time as you add content, it's more dynamic than a static website and that's something search engines love. Own your space!

2. To promote your writing and your name


This is often the number one reason authors start blogging: the blog is the heart of your author platform. I know the phrase has come up for some bashing and some have argued that a blog isn't even necessary to an author platform (for example in this piece by L L Barkat )

It's true that any old blog thrown up on the web won't suddenly deliver you a worldwide audience of clamorous readers. There's more competition for people's attention online than ever before. But a blog is still your number one opportunity to create a unique online property to showcase your work, your skills, your personality, and yes – to sell yourself.

There's a slight issue with the phrase "author platform" in that it brings to mind the author giving a reading or a signing, while eager readers line up to hear what they have to say in a passive manner. A one-way relationship in the pre-social web tradition, as if it were sufficient for the author to broadcast his opinion, with no expectation of feedback. Which of course is a very narrow view of what a blog actually offers.

3. To help develop a loyal readership


Here’s where it gets interesting. Wouldn't it be great to have a direct line to your ideal readers, those who are going to buy every word you write and tell all their friends about this amazing writer they've discovered?

That's exactly what a blog offers. But it takes time to build a relationship, in any setting. Just as in an office job you get to know your co-workers simply by encountering them every day, your blog readers get to know you gradually from reading your posts and comments, and getting a feel for who you are through repeated exposure to your blog. It’s not just your blog posts that create the impression, it's everything from how you invite interaction, the colors, graphics and images you use, even the choice of fonts.

A new writer, or one in a small niche, wants to build a network of loyal readers. I see this happen a lot in poetry, for example: it’s a small enough world, and sales are so tiny, that poets are inclined to support one another by attending launches and buying books. So what you get is a readership of peers, friends and family.

It's relatively easy to build a small but loyal readership, and you don't need a blog to get to this stage, although it certainly helps – especially if you encourage follows and social shares. And a blog, for example, gives you the chance to build a valuable email list (see point 7).

4. To build an army of advocates


What we sometimes forget, especially when starting out as a writer, as the difference between loyalty and advocacy. Loyalty comes when people get to know the person behind the words and want to support them.

 But with a blog you have the means to develop something more, and that's advocacy. Your advocates, or ambassadors, are people who are happy to help promote your work to others and are prepared to stake their own reputation on it.

When your blog content gets shared on social networks it will potentially bring new readers, but social shares are relatively superficial. The real work of advocacy takes place when higher profile bloggers invite you to guest post, or reblog a post of yours, publish a favorable review, or reference your blog in a completely new setting such as at a conference or in a journal, or in the mass media. I'm not saying this happens right away, but the opportunity is there.

5. To do market research and try things out


Your blog is a safe place for experimenting. It might not feel that way at first, but even the most cautious of authors tend to relax into their blog at some point. I think of it as putting on the slippers. When I feel I'm among friends I'm more able to be honest and open myself up to other people's ideas and possible criticism.

Treating your blog readership as a crit group might be taking it too far, but don't dismiss the opportunity to ask for opinions on things – a new book idea you're mulling over, a plot twist or character change. You don't have to give anything away, you can keep your questions fairly general. But you could get some interesting feedback that might inform your decision.

If you're in the process of researching a new book, why not introduce into your blog some of the topics you need to know more about? Share one or two anecdotes or examples and ask if anyone has experienced anything similar. Write a post on your favorite and least favorite things about Sense and Sensibility and see how the comments pan out – it could be useful if you're contemplating a 21st version of Austen's classic.

6. To improve your writing


To say there's no substitute for practice has become a bit of a cliche, and even the 10,000 hours of practice rule has been shown to be too simplistic. But anecdotally, it seems to be the case that writing in different styles across a variety of genres and platforms can make you a better writer.

A blog calls for a different style of writing than, say, a novel, or poetry, or even a Twitter update. Some blogs have a lot in common with journalistic writing, and some are notably academic in style. Picture someone whose day job is writing 300-word articles for a celebrity gossip website. Blogging might be the last thing they want to do in their spare time. But perhaps they are also a poet.

If you are a writer and you have a passion for something, writing about it feels natural and easy. Someone who works in an academic or highly regulated setting may welcome the chance to write in a freer style.

Writing a blog makes you think about things like keywords and optimization, how people read on screen, how to order, format and chunk your content, how to plan and think like an editor. Blogging is a discipline that can help improve your organizational skills and well as the range and fluency of your writing.

7. To widen your network of professional (useful) contacts


On its own, a blog may not have agents, reviewers, publishers and other industry contacts beating a path to your door. First, they have to know it exists, second, they have to have a good reason to visit and third there has to be something unique and compelling about what they find there.

Let’s say your blog is up there in terms of amazing content. Let’s say also that you've worked really hard on optimizing the blog for search engines and are getting good visitor and following numbers. For some kinds of blog, especially those focused on making money, being found in searches is the holy grail. But for authors? The human aspect of blogging comes much more into play.

The age-old ways of connecting with influential industry contacts remains the same in that it's about building relationships one person at a time. Whether the initial contact comes from a face-to-face or online encounter, or from a recommendation, your blog is where people then go to get a feel for the person behind the work. A blog doesn't stand alone, but it's a key piece in your professional armory.

8. To create a new revenue stream /supplement your earnings


Selling digital products as one way writers can supplement their income, and a blog is the perfect platform. Decide what you can package (for example "hot topic" content you've already written for the blog, tutorials, ebooks or downloads, courses or even a "members only" site).

Taster material can be offered for free in return for an email sign up, so building up a list of prospects to which you can then market your paid content. The combination of a blog plus an opt-in email list is tried and tested: the result is a pre-qualified list of prospects who are likely to buy whatever you're selling.

9. To get you out of the garret


As with any solitary activity, writing can bring on feelings of isolation. We have a human need to connect, and a blog is a way into the blogosphere and the wider social web. Discovering and reading other people's blogs, connecting with people you otherwise wouldn't have met, conversation around shared interests – these are all side-effects of blogging, and there are more.

Combined with social media outreach in the form of a Twitter or Facebook account, a blog places you within a community of readers and writers from which peer support, friendships and inspiration soon follow.

10. For the serendipity


Blogging is undoubtedly a commitment, and however much of a challenge it might appear at times, if you stay focused on what you're really REALLY interested in, there's a good chance you will enjoy it. And from enjoyment comes the delight of the unexpected.

It’s not unusual to find that a blog takes you in a new direction, or leads to completely unforeseen opportunities. Enjoy the serendipity!


What about you, Scriveners? What is your strongest motivation to blog? I think I started blogging initially because of #9. I needed to get out of the garret and meet some other writers who understood what I was going through. Do you blog? Are you still on the fence about making the commitment? Have you tried blogging and found it wasn't for you? ...Anne


Robin Houghton (@RobinHoughton) has over two decades of experience in marketing and communications, formerly with Nike, then running her own business Eggbox Marketing since 2002 specializing in online. She now works primarily with writers and publishing industry professionals to help them make the best use of social media. 

Robin writes blogs on social media and poetry and has been a guest blogger for a number of sites including Social Media Today and MarketingProfs. She is a published poet and a commercial copywriter for web and print, and an experienced trainer and conference speaker. 

Her first book Blogging for Creatives was a best-seller and resulted in two more commissions, Blogging for Writers (2014) and The Rules of Blogging (and How to Break Them) (2015), both published by Ilex in the UK and Writers Digest Books in the US.



BOOK OF THE WEEK




From which platform to use (Blogger, WordPress, etc) to setting up the perfect blog; from layout and design to getting the tone right; from social networking and getting noticed to finding a readership and liaising with publishers, Blogging for Writers lays out the fundamentals and then digs deeper, advising how to make your blog and your skills stand out from the pack and bring the customers your way.

Buy the book At Writer's Digest BooksAmazon US or on Amazon UK


If you happen to live in the San Luis Obispo area, Anne will be speaking to the SLO Nightwriters on April 14th at 6:30 PM on the subject of author and reviewer bullying and how we can fight it with a combination of good social media manners and reporting offenses. Directions at the SLO Nightwriters website

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


Golden Quill Awards Writing Contest: Flash, Poetry, and Short fiction categories. Entry fee $20 for stories and poetry, $15 for flash fiction. The theme is TRANSFORMATION. Deadline July 15.

MARK TWAIN HUMOR CONTEST  Entry fees: $12 Young Author or $22 Adult. 7,000 words (or fewer) of any original work of humor writing. Submissions must be in English. Submissions are not required to be in the style of Mark Twain or about Mark Twain. 1st Prize: $1,000 (Adult), $600 (Young Author). Other cash prizes! Deadline July 10, 2015

Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest. Entry fee $10. Your story should in some way touch upon the publication’s mission: Celebrating America — past, present, and future. Think Norman Rockwell. No profanity or graphic sex. Any genre. No previously published stories, but they can have appeared on your blog. Between 1,500 and 5,000 words. Deadline July 1, 2015

Writer's Village International Short Fiction Contest Prizes totalling $3200! And every entrant gets a critique. (which makes this a great deal.) Any genre of fiction up to 3000 words. Entry fee $24. Deadline June 30th.

PULP LITERATURE'S The Hummingbird Prize for Flash Fiction $10-$15 ENTRY FEE. Winner published in Winter 2016. First Prize: $300 (Runner up: $75). For unpublished short fiction up to 1,000 words in length. Contest Opens May 1, 2015 and closes June 15, 2015.

Ink & Insights 2015
 is a writing contest that comes with a detailed critique. Send the first 10,000-words of your book. The entry fee is $35: pricey for a contest, but a fantastic deal for a critique. Each submission is read by four judges who score 18 areas of your novel. This looks like a great opportunity! Over $5,000 cash and prizesDeadline May 31.

Writer's Digest Writing Compeition. This is their biggie. First prize is $5000 plus your photo on the cover of Writer's Digest. Entry fees are a little pricey at $25 for a story, $15 for a poem but there are lots of big prizes. Categories for many genres of fiction, Creative nonfic, essays, screenplays, and poetry. Early Bird deadline May 4th.

WOW Spring Flash Fiction Contest: Fee $10, or $20 with critique. The critique is a fantastic deal. These quarterly contests are judged by an agent. 750 words.  First prize is $350 plus a $500 publishing package, publication and an interview. 20 prizes in all. Enter early. They only take the first 300 entries. Deadline May 31.


Sunday, April 5, 2015

How NOT to be a Spammer: A Guide for Authors

by Anne R. Allen


Internet spam! Everybody hates it, right?

Not only is it annoying, but vigilante groups can be cruel in enforcing anti-spam rules.

But here's the thing: not everybody defines "spam" the same way.

I thought I knew what was acceptable on social media. I know that it is social and shouldn't be be used for direct marketing. But I have sometimes blundered into spam territory when I'm only trying to be helpful.

That's because the rules are different for each social media site, forum, and group. And finding those rules can require tech savvy and knowledge of legalese (and good eyesight: they're usually written in a flyspeck font.)

Here are the rules I've managed to discover, mostly by breaking them. As Ruth and I say, we make the mistakes so you don't have to.

How Not to Spam with Newsletters


1) Never, ever, ever ever put somebody on a mailing list who did not sign up specifically for that newsletter.

2) Send them only when you have actual news to put in the letter. That is: a new book or a sale or a big presentation, like an appearance at a national writers' conference. Don't send notices of every personal appearance, since most readers won't live nearby and will be annoyed.

3) Make them short and sweet and provide unique content. One author whose newsletter I do subscribe to is Elizabeth S. Craig's. She only sends them when she has a new book and they always include a great recipe.

4) Never send a whiny plea begging people to buy your book to "help you get ahead." I got one of those yesterday. Advertising that you're an amateur doesn't make people want to read your work.

5) Always provide an unsubscribe button, so people don't have to face your wrath if they want to trim down what shows up in their inboxes.

How not to Spam on Facebook


1) Don't link to your blog or website from anything but your own page or a designated thread. Links to your blog or website are considered spam on Facebook, no matter how useful. They'll put you in Facebook jail (freeze you out of your own page) if you post links to your blog more than a few times a week, even in a private group.

This happened to me. Somebody in a group asks at least once a week about using song lyrics in fiction. So I used to post a link to our guest blog piece from Michael Murphy that tells you how to get rights to song lyrics .

But I was wrong on that. Unwritten Facebook rules say you can't do that, and a self-appointed vigilante will click the "report for spam" button and you're off Facebook for a week or more and your blog is flagged forever as "spam." Much hoop-jumping is required to get reinstated. Don't take the chance.

2) At the moment Facebook still seems to be okay with links to your book buy page on Amazon or other retail sites as long as you post them on your personal page or promotional Facebook pages like Free Books R Us. Nook and Kindle Readers, or Free Today on Amazon.

3) Don't friend more than a few people a day. Even though Facebook is constantly hounding you to "friend" people, it's a trap. If you actually do what they say, you'll end up in Facebook jail.

4) Don't post a promotion of your book in a group without reading the rules first. Many groups will kick you out for it.

5) Posting promos on somebody else's Facebook page is serious spam. It's a violation of personal space. Nothing will make people unfriend you faster.

6) Never market through a FB direct message. If you're not friends with the person, it will go in the "other" folder with all the proposals of marriage from men with poor English skills and a photo they stole from some CEO's bio page, which means the recipient isn't likely to see it anyway.

And besides, it's rude. Never use personal messaging for advertising. A direct message is like a phone call. Do you like getting unsolicited "cold calls" from marketers? Yeah. Nobody else does, either.

7) Never add somebody to a group without permission. There's been a trend to add random people to book launch "parties" and other "love my book" groups. Your targets will start to get dozens of notifications about you and your book which will be unwanted 99% of the time. Facebook won't punish you for it, but you're likely to get unfriended. And lose possible sales.

8) Note: Facebook is constantly adding limits to what you can do on your author page, so a "personal" page is necessary if you want to interact anywhere but on your own page. But use the personal page to make friends, not just to advertise.

How not to Spam on Twitter


1) Never send those automated direct messages that say, "Now that you've followed me, go like my Facebook and author pages, follow my blog, buy my book and pick up my dry cleaning, minion! Mwahahah."

They're against the Terms of Service as well as causing an auto-unfollow from practically everybody. For more on why not to use automatic direct messaging, here's a great post from social media consultant Rachel Thompson: Death to the Auto-DM on Twitter. She says a recent study showed the Auto-DM causes a 245% increase in the unfollow rate.

2) Do NOT send direct messages to people you don't have a relationship with. Not even to say "thanks for the follow." A follow is not a relationship. If you must thank for a follow, sent it in a @Tweet. (Not an automated one.)

3) Don't tweet your book more than a few times a week unless you have news like a great review or a sale or freebie run. Otherwise, it's just noise that gets ignored.

4) Don't tweet somebody else's book link just because they ask. Make sure it's in a genre your Tweeps will enjoy.

5) Unpublished authors, don't ever tweet published authors asking us to read and evaluate your work on your blog or Wattpad or whatever. People who evaluate your work are called editors. They cost money. Working authors are very, very busy. We can't afford to give strangers hundreds of dollars worth of critique for free. Don't ask us to do this on any kind of social media. If you want critique, I highly recommend CritiqueCircle.com

How not to Spam on Amazon


1) A link to your own book or website in a review is spam. It can get you banned from Amazon. You can have a title in your signature and post as "Susie Scrivener, author of Scribblings," but without a link.

2) Do not mention your book in the Amazon Forums. Better yet, don't go there. It's troll habitat and very anti-author.

3) Link to your blog ONLY in a designated thread in Kindleboard forums, even if your blog is full of useful information to writers. I learned that the hard way.

How not to Spam on Blogs


1) Never, ever subscribe to a blog via email just so you can hit "reply" and send an ad for your book. It's happened to me a couple of times. It's insulting and pointless. The ad doesn't go to the mailing list. It goes to the blogger—who will put you on their list of authors to avoid, especially if the genre has nothing to do with the blogger's interests. Remember this is about making friends, not enemies.

2) Don't link to your buy page from a blog comment. I don't mind links to a blog or webpage in the comments here—in fact I find them useful. But some people don't like links of any kind from a blog comment, and they'll delete the comment as spam, so be wary.

3) Don't talk up your book or blog in a comment unless it's relevant to the conversation.
  • "I respect your opinion on prologues, but I've got testimonials from readers who love prologues—the longer the better—over at my blog today" is great. 
  • "This discussion of Marcel Proust reminds me of my book, Fangs for the Memories, a zombipocolyptic vampire erotic romance, $3.99 on Smashwords." Not so much.
    .

How not to Spam in Forums


1) Lurk. Every forum is different. So never say anything in a forum until you've unearthed every rule and hung out for a good long time.

2) Beware "share" buttons. I made the mistake a couple of years ago by sending out my blog link to a number of sites via the "share" button Blogger provides. This sent it to forums where it should not have gone on Reddit, StumbleUpon and Digg. A nice moderator from Reddit informed me all my posts had been deleted as spam.

3) Do not post book promotions or pimp your blog except in designated threads. You will be criticized and deleted.

4) Better yet, stay out of book-related forums unless they're small and well-moderated.  The bigger and older the site, the more likely it will have resident trolls, bad-tempered vigilantes and anti-author groups. The Kindleboards can be snarky, but they do provide up-to-date information and are generally safe if you behave yourself. But the Amazon forums are toxic: stay away. Absolute Write is a good place to check for information about bad-faith publishers or bogus agents, but you're better off lurking rather than commenting. The tone is very anti-indie and full of trollish types.

Personally, I prefer Facebook and Google Plus writing groups to forums. My favorites are Google Plus for Writers and Tom Winton's Authors Helping Authors on Facebook.

How not to Spam on Goodreads


1) Don't join a group just to promote your book. Spend a long time talking about other authors' books before you bring up your own. In fact, on Goodreads, it's best not to mention you're an author at all. Take off your author hat and discuss books you've read, not ones you've written.

2) Don't send mass friend requests. This is true on almost all sites. You will be flagged as a spammer.

3) Don't thank a reviewer or someone who has put your book on their "shelf." The Goodreads author guidelines prohibit it.

4) And especially: never, ever, ever engage with somebody who has given you a bad review or put you on a hate "shelf." Not for any reason. Goodreads reviews are notoriously unpleasant, unhelpful, and snarky. But authors need to learn to live with them.

How not to Spam on Google+


Google Plus users tend to be into tech and business, which means they're usually too busy to engage in a whole lot of childish behavior, so you don't have to be as afraid of troll-vigilantes as on Facebook and Goodreads. But:

1) Posting the same link on more than one page can get you marked as a spammer by Google Plus algorithms. Here's what Google Plus expert Johnny Base says "do not post the same posts ever to "the public" and [community] groups: that will be looked at as spam."

2) Posting a link without at least 100 words of introduction anyplace but your own page can mark you as a spammer. Google Plus wants original content, not just linkage. Johnny Base says, "if you post a blog link [to a community page], please add a comment as to why it is relevant to the group. don't just post 'please read my new blog post'."

How not to Spam on Pinterest


1) Don't create pins with misleading links to trick people into visiting your boards. Truth in advertising is required here.

I officially have joined Pinterest (Facebook joined me up when I tried to look at somebody's board.) But I haven't actually done anything there. So if anybody has more info on Pinterest spam, please leave it in the comments.

How not to Spam on Tsū


So what's tsū? It's a new social media platform that's a little like Facebook in its interface. Except they pay you. You get royalties if your posts are popular. So far I've made one penny. But I have to admit I haven't spent any time there. They have very specific rules about spam. 

1) Don't over-hashtag or make irrelevant, self-serving comments

2) Follow the rules:
  • You can make 24 Posts per day
  • You can only share 8 posts per day
  • You can only follow 1,000 people and have 5,000 friends
  • You can only hold up to 50 Pending friend requests
  • In a single post you can only use 10 @ mentions
  • In a single post you can only use 10 # hashtags
In order to join, you have to be invited. Anybody who reads this blog can consider this an invitation. Use the "short code" http://www.tsu.co/annerallen

BTW, if you've ever wondered why unsolicited Internet advertising is named after a perfectly innocent meat product, blame Monty Python. In a famous 1970 sketch, the customers in a café are drowned out by a chorus of Vikings singing "Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam... Lovely Spam! Wonderful Spam!" 

The most important thing to remember to avoid being a spammer is to lurk a while on each site and check the rules before posting. Remember that drive-by promotions, selfish behavior, and deceptive practices are going to be frowned on everywhere. 

What about you, scriveners? Do you have any other sites to add? Have you ever been criticized or punished for spamming when you didn't realize you'd broken the rules? What kind of spam bothers you most? Anybody here on Tsu?  

If you want some info on how to use social media correctly to sell books, here's my post on HOW DO I SELL MY BOOK. And I'm one of 18 people who blog about book marketing interviewed for this piece on BOOK MARKETING SECRETS. I don't know if I've ever been called a "one of the world's foremost thought-leaders" before. But there are some good tips! 


If you happen to live in the San Luis Obispo area, I will be speaking to the SLO Nightwriters on April 14th at 6:30 PM on the subject of author bullying and how we can fight it with a combination of good social media manners and reporting offenses. Directions at the SLO Nightwriters website



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OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


Golden Quill Awards Writing Contest: Flash, Poetry, and Short fiction categories. Entry fee $20 for stories and poetry, $15 for flash fiction. The theme is TRANSFORMATION. Deadline July 15.

MARK TWAIN HUMOR CONTEST  Entry fees: $12 Young Author or $22 Adult. 7,000 words (or fewer) of any original work of humor writing. Submissions must be in English. Submissions are not required to be in the style of Mark Twain or about Mark Twain. 1st Prize: $1,000 (Adult), $600 (Young Author). Other cash prizes! Deadline July 10, 2015

Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest. Entry fee $10. Your story should in some way touch upon the publication’s mission: Celebrating America — past, present, and future. Think Norman Rockwell. No profanity or graphic sex. Any genre. No previously published stories, but they can have appeared on your blog. Between 1,500 and 5,000 words. Deadline July 1, 2015

PULP LITERATURE'S The Hummingbird Prize for Flash Fiction $10-$15 ENTRY FEE. Winner published in Winter 2016. First Prize: $300 (Runner up: $75). For unpublished short fiction up to 1,000 words in length. Contest Opens May 1, 2015 and closes June 15, 2015

Ink & Insights 2015
 is a writing contest that comes with a detailed critique. Send the first 10,000-words of your book. The entry fee is $35: pricey for a contest, but a fantastic deal for a critique. Each submission is read by four judges who score 18 areas of your novel. This looks like a great opportunity! Over $5,000 cash and prizesDeadline May 31.

Writer's Digest Writing Compeition. This is their biggie. First prize is $5000 plus your photo on the cover of Writer's Digest. Entry fees are a little pricey at $25 for a story, $15 for a poem but there are lots of big prizes. Categories for many genres of fiction, Creative nonfic, essays, screenplays, and poetry. Early Bird deadline May 4th.

WOW Spring Flash Fiction Contest: Fee $10, or $20 with critique. The critique is a fantastic deal. These quarterly contests are judged by an agent. 750 words.  First prize is $350 plus a $500 publishing package, publication and an interview. 20 prizes in all. Enter early. They only take the first 300 entries. Deadline May 31.

The 2015 Bulwer Litton Bad Writing Contest. Wretched Writers Welcome! This is the "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night" Bad Writing Contest! Write the worst opening line you can come up with (about 50-60 words). Must be a single sentence. NO FEE. Small cash prize. Deadline April 15

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The 10 Commandments of Highly Productive Professional Writers

by Ruth Harris


I've known and worked with a lot of professional writers over the years (decades).

Some work first thing in the AM, others in the PM, some don’t get started until near midnight. Some write sober, some don’t. Some write on a computer, some on legal pads, and some write on tablets or even phones. Some edit as they go along, perfecting each sentence before going on to the next. Some keep strict, almost corporate office hours, some write irregularly but in hot rushes of productivity.

Others write a first draft as fast as they can, then go back to edit and revise. Some outline in detail. Others work from a jotted list of scribbled notes. Still others let the characters do the work. Some brainstorm the plot with a trusted friend or spouse. Some work with a crit partner/ editor/beta reader getting comments and guidance along the way. Others won’t let anyone see their work until it’s finished.

Bottom line, there's no ONE way to get the job done and no ONE way will work for every writer. Still, no matter where, when or how writers write, certain general rules seem to work well for most people most of the time.


1. Thou shalt hold thy nose and type.


Anatomically impossible, of course, just like another frequently suggested act but writing without over thinking has positive payoffs:

  • When you write without censoring yourself, you get the engine running. You quash the inner scold, that mahatma of negativity that rains on your parade.
  • Writing while holding your nose doesn't give you time to second-guess yourself.
  • Even if you have an outline, writing fast gives you the freedom to stray when a better idea or that fabulous plot twist pops into your mind and surprises even you.
  • You avoid obsessing over whether your hero should be blond, brunette or a power-baldy à la Bruce Willis. You can always figure out the details later and, more often than not, as the character engages and develops, hair color (or lack of hair) will become obvious.
  • Writing freely increases your chances of "getting into the flow" and gaining access to your sub-conscious or what Stephen King calls "the boys downstairs." Those "boys"—or girls if you're of the female persuasion—are the ones who come up with the dazzling and unexpected (even to the writer!) plot twist that causes a reader to gasp—and keep turning the pages.
  • As you watch the words and the pages pile up, you give yourself the gift of a sense of accomplishment. Where there was nothing, there is now something. The fact that there’s "something" where once there was nothing builds confidence. Besides "something"—even if it’s the notorious lousy first draft—can be revised/edited/rewritten. Or deleted if it’s that bad. Which is probably isn’t
  • But, you ask, won't writing fast add to the "tsunami of crap"? The answer is yes/maybe but so what? No one except you has to read it and, besides, writing slowly and agonizingly can also result in unspeakable crap. So, you choose.

2. Thou shalt write. A lot. 


Commandment 2 is a close relative of Commandment 1. Professional writers turn out copy, they meet deadlines, they get the job done and the more they write the better they get. Same with any job, career or profession.

Do you want a surgeon who's just out of med school or one who's done hundreds of knee/hip replacements? See what I mean?

3. Thou shalt not give in to temptation. 


You know the Internet is full of enemies: email, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, Candy Crush and Words With Friends. Now meet the allies:

  • AlphaSmart Neo ($39), a lightweight, hand-held dedicated writing machine sans internet connection. Many find the AlphaSmart ideal for first drafts which can be uploaded to your PC or Mac.
  • Go retro with a notebook, legal pad and pen, or even a typewriter.
  • Install distraction blocking software like Freedom (Mac, Windows, Android) or Anti-Social.
  • OmmWriter for Mac, PC and iPad ($4) presents a calm, peaceful environment, aids concentration and helps get you into the zone. "Discover the bliss of single tasking."
  • Full-screen, distraction-fighting writing tools: Scrivener (Mac and Windows), Ulysses (Mac), FocusWriter (Windows/Mac/Linux, FREE) or WriteMonkey (Windows, FREE).

4. Thou shalt respect thy genre. 


Successful writers of horror, romance, thrillers or mystery read widely in their genre. They study its conventions, know what readers expect and they do NOT let them down. Period.

  • No unhappy endings for romances. Readers want the HEA and that's what the pro delivers.
  • No "revelation" at the end that the whole book, the characters, their trials and tribulations, was the MC’s dream. We're writing compelling fiction here, not a shaggy dog story.
  • No tearing up in tough-guy noir. Hard edges, dammit!
  • No blood and guts in a cozy mystery.
  • No weepy heart-to-heart confessions in action thrillers.

Don't think you will reinvent the wheel. Pros know better. Find out more about the subject in my earlier post "know your genre". And here are additional resources get you started:

  • How to write a romance from the experts at Harlequin.
  • P.D. James tells how to write a mystery.
  • The Five Cs of writing a thriller.
  • Seven steps to writing science fiction.
  • Chuck Wendig on 25 things to know about writing horror. (Warning: strong language.)


5. Thou shalt keep it real. 


Successful professional authors don’t clutter their minds with gauzy notions of "literature" or "art." Instead, they are experienced, disciplined and competent storytellers and entertainers who understand that craft matters. 

Great books are about characters, plot, setting, if "art" is the outcome, great, but, as in building a house, don't rely on wishful thinking when what you need is a hammer and some nails.


6. Thou shalt learn to bail thyself out. 


One of the great old-time pulp writers (200+ books) once told me "Each book is a pain in the ass in a different way." What he meant was that at some point each one is going to present a problem.

  • A plot going nowhere.
  • A plot hole big enough to need planet of its own.
  • A boring/stupid/addled/DebbieDowner character.
  • A villain that wouldn't scare a two year old.
  • A MC who can't get out of his/her own way.
  • Too much/not enough background/research.
  • Too long.
  • Too short.
  • Too much tell/not enough show. Or vice versa.

You name it, sometime, somewhere, in the course of writing a book, you will get stuck. Professional writers have learned how to bail themselves out. Whether it means going back to the beginning and starting again, a light rewrite, a total revision, a personality transplant (for a character, not the writer—lol), the pros have learned how to get themselves out of trouble.

First aid for boo-boos:


7. Thou shalt put thy butt in the chair and face thy crit group/beta readers. 


 Your crit group/beta readers say your characters are stereotypes? They hate your MC. They think your love scenes are boring/soapy/ unbelievable. Are they right? Do they know what they're talking about? Do you agree with them? Should you agree with them?

  • They say your plots are creaky? Are they?
  • They don't like the way your book ends. Or begins.
  • They have a thousand opinions and they can leave you confused or, even worse, paralyzed.
  • Belinda Pollard discusses beta readers and crit groups and the differences between them.
  • Anne sifts through the evidence, profiles the different flavors of crit groups, and tells why you should ignore your crit group—and how it can help.

8. Thou shalt accentuate the positive.


I read a while ago about an in-demand sports psychologist whose theory is that if a golfer is a good putter, s/he should practice putting until s/he becomes a superb putter. This shrink’s approach was not to focus on correcting an athlete's weaknesses, but on polishing his/her strengths to the highest possible level.

Writers can take the same approach: write what you're good at. Do more of what comes easily and work on your strengths. Snappy dialogue? Sheet-scorching sex? Evocative descriptions? Slam-bang action? Whatever you love to write will certainly be one of the keys to making your book stand out.

9. Thou shalt park thy ego and learn to edit thyself. 


Heresy coming from an editor, I know, but professional writers are often excellent editors of their own work. After years of experience, they have learned to recognize their strengths and weaknesses. They have developed the ability to look at their own work objectively and their approach is practical: what works stays, what doesn’t work hits the cutting room floor, aka the delete button.

The ability to self-edit comes with time and experience but it’s a goal for beginning writers to keep in mind.

Here are a few ideas for learning to edit your own work.


10. Thou shalt suck it up. 


Rejection and rotten reviews are in your future. Guaranteed.

  • Writers from JK Rowling to Kurt Vonnegut react to rejection in this piece on famous authors talking about their rejections 
  • James Altucher gives sane, sensible advice about what to do when you've been rejected.
  • RH on the down-and-dirty behind-the-scenes real reasons for rejection.
  • This advice from a clinical psychologist on how to cope with rejection focuses on romantic rejection but much of it is also applicable to rejection from an agent/publisher or even a negative review.
  • A professional counsellor explains how to cope with criticism.

10+1. Now that you know the 10 commandments and pledge to obey them, go forth and hit it out of the park. ;-)


What about you, Scriveners? Do you find bliss in single-tasking?  Are you following these "commandments"? Do you have any to add to the list?  What is the most important rule you follow for your own writing? 


BOOK OF THE WEEK


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Three Fed-up Wives—and only Husband Training School stands between them, murder, and a lifetime in prison.

  • Will Trailer is a super-achiever on the baseball diamond but at home? Not so much, according to his gorgeous movie star wife. 
  • Efficiency expert Howard Hopkins has just retired. His wife married him for better and for worse—but not for 24-hours-a-day.
  • Gordo Canholme would procrastinate breathing if he could, but will he ever get the new baby's room ready? Not without HTS, according to his very pregnant wife.

Ex-Marine Drill Instructor, Robin Aguirre, and her sister, Melodie, run HTS and have been hardened by years of experience. When the three fed-up wives enroll Will, Howard and Gordo as new students, Robin and Melodie are ready for anything the most hapless and hopeless husbands of the 21st Century can dish out.
They think.


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS



MARK TWAIN HUMOR CONTEST  Entry fees: $12 Young Author or $22 Adult. 7,000 words (or fewer) of any original work of humor writing. Submissions must be in English. Submissions are not required to be in the style of Mark Twain or about Mark Twain. 1st Prize: $1,000 (Adult), $600 (Young Author). Other cash prizes! Deadline July 10, 2015

Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest. Entry fee $10. Your story should in some way touch upon the publication’s mission: Celebrating America — past, present, and future. Think Norman Rockwell. No profanity or graphic sex. Any genre. No previously published stories, but they can have appeared on your blog. Between 1,500 and 5,000 words. Deadline July 1, 2015

PULP LITERATURE'S The Hummingbird Prize for Flash Fiction $10-$15 ENTRY FEE. Winner published in Winter 2016. First Prize: $300 (Runner up: $75). For unpublished short fiction up to 1,000 words in length. Contest Opens May 1, 2015 and closes June 15, 2015

Ink & Insights 2015
 is a writing contest that comes with a detailed critique. Send the first 10,000-words of your book. The entry fee is $35: pricey for a contest, but a fantastic deal for a critique. Each submission is read by four judges who score 18 areas of your novel. This looks like a great opportunity! Over $5,000 cash and prizesDeadline May 31.

Writer's Digest Writing Compeition. This is their biggie. First prize is $5000 plus your photo on the cover of Writer's Digest. Entry fees are a little pricey at $25 for a story, $15 for a poem but there are lots of big prizes. Categories for many genres of fiction, Creative nonfic, essays, screenplays, and poetry. Early Bird deadline May 4th.

WOW Spring Flash Fiction Contest: Fee $10, or $20 with critique. The critique is a fantastic deal. These quarterly contests are judged by an agent. 750 words.  First prize is $350 plus a $500 publishing package, publication and an interview. 20 prizes in all. Enter early. They only take the first 300 entries. Deadline May 31.

WRITER ADVICE FLASH PROSE CONTEST $15 ENTRY FEE. Flash fiction, memoir, and creative non-fiction running 750 words or less. First Place earns $200; Second Place earns $100; Third Place earns $50; Honorable Mentions will also be published. Deadline April 21, 2015.

The 2015 Bulwer Litton Bad Writing Contest. Wretched Writers Welcome! This is the "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night" Bad Writing Contest! Write the worst opening line you can come up with (about 50-60 words). Must be a single sentence. NO FEE. Small cash prize. Deadline April 15