books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, August 23, 2015

What Should a Novelist Blog About? Do's and Don'ts for Author-Bloggers

by Anne R. Allen


When I teach blogging to new writers, the most common question I get is: "What should I blog about?"

My answer isn't the same as you'll hear from the major blogging gurus, because most of them are teaching people how to blog for its own sake.

They will all tell you to find a niche and stick with it. And they'll also tell you to blog at least 3 times a week.

But I say if you're blogging to promote a fiction writing career, forget niches and just be yourself. And don't let your blog take over your fiction writing time. This is why I recommend slow blogging once a week or less (but preferably to a schedule.)

Your blog subject matter should depend on your genre and where you are in your career.

Of course, first you need to get that career started. When you're a newbie, your blogging goals will be different from those of an established author. An established author is blogging for fans and readers that already exist. But a newbie is blogging to attract readers in the first place.

1) If you're an unpublished or newly-published indie author/blogger, your primary goal is to get your name out there. 


The best way to do that is to network with other bloggers. Your colleagues can be your best resource early in your career.

I often harp on how silly it is to market to your fellow writers, but when you're starting out, you're not marketing. You're networking. And other writers can help you form a great support network.

You also want to network with book review bloggers and bloggers interested in your subject matter.

Most people who read blogs and comment regularly are also bloggers themselves, so this is your potential core audience when you're starting out.

Blog hops can be valuable at this stage of your career. Jump on any opportunity to participate.

Go to other blogs in your niche—that's readers, reviewers and other authors—to see what they're blogging about and get to know them. When you find yourself leaving a long comment: that's your next blog post!

A great place to network is the Insecure Writers Support Group, founded by sci-fi author Alex J. Cavanaugh. The Insecure Writers have even published an anthology full of inspiring, helpful tips for new writers (and it's free right now!) Their blog always has great tips, and they have blog hops that help you get to know a bunch of other bloggers fast. They have a new one coming up in September.

I also highly recommend Kristen Lamb's Blog for top-notch writing, publishing, and social media advice 4 days a week and her We Are Not Alone website for networking.

And the Writer's Village, administered by Dr. John Yeoman (he has a PhD in Creative Writing) is a great place to learn craft and hang out with other writers, especially if you're in the UK.

Also spend some time on sites that cater to your genre. I highly recommend Romance University for romance and women's fiction writers and Adventures in YA Publishing and YA Highway for Young Adult writers.

If you're planning on a traditional publishing career, you should also be regularly visiting agents' blogs like Janet Reid's, BookEnds and for Christian writers, Books and Such. You can also network with writers in the query process at QueryTracker and AgentQuery .

If you think you might go indie,
you can network on blogs like Joe Konrath's, The Creative Penn, Indies Unlimited and The Passive Voice.

Visiting blogs can be like hanging out with co-workers in the coffee room or cafeteria at a new job. You'll find a huge amount of information just by listening. Think of your blog as your cubicle where people stop by to say hello. But first you have to introduce yourself in a general meeting place.

This means yes, you CAN talk about writing and publishing when you're starting out. You can commiserate and congratulate each other as you ride the roller coaster of this crazy business.

As long as you don't complain too much. Believe me, we've all felt the temptation to vent about the unfairness of the industry, the stupidity of some reviewers, and sheep-like buyers of badly written bestsellers, but I guarantee that stuff won't help your career.


2) Once you've got followers and you've got some books published, it's time to switch gears.



You don't have to stop blogging about writing entirely, but mix it up so you can start attracting more non-writers—especially readers in your niche. (Do as I say, not as I do,  unless you have, ahem, a how-to book for writers.)

Remember people surf the Web looking for two things: information and entertainment.

Your blog can spin a good yarn, make people laugh, provide information, or all three, as long as you put it in your own honest, unique voice and you're not too whiny or preachy. You want to provide a way for people to relate to you on a personal level.

Of course, first you need to know who you're blogging for. If you're writing hard sci-fi, you're going to want to reach a different readership than if you're writing cozy mysteries.

Try picturing your ideal audience when you're deciding what to blog about. What movies and TV shows might appeal to people who would like your book? What's their age group? What other interests do those people have?

If you're writing YA dystopian, blogging news about the next Divergent film might attract your ideal demographic. Tweet news about the stars and you'll get those fans coming to your blog. Write mysteries? Discuss classic mysteries or all the retellings of the Sherlock Holmes stories in film and new books.

If you're writing Regency romance, run a series on your favorite films set in the era, or talk costumes and history. Or join a Janeite community and weigh in on controversial topics like the mental health of Jane Austen's mother and whether Colin Firth is the one and only Darcy.

What Works in a Writer's Blog



This is by necessity a partial list. Please feel free to make more suggestions in the comments.

Do consider any of the following:

  • Interviews and Profiles: These don't have to be interviews with authors, although that's a fantastic way to network AND reach readers. Write crime novels? Interview a cop, forensic expert or private detective. Write bookstore cozies? Profile a series of bookstore clerks and visit their blogs. Any time you write a post about somebody other than yourself, you bring those peopleand their friendsto your site.
  • Curated lists: Do you surf the 'Net looking for articles and blogposts on your favorite subjects? Collect the urls of the best ones and recommend them in a regular list on your blog. This is one of the best ways of getting to know top bloggers. Put them on a list and they'll get a Google alert and stop by your blog. Maybe they'll even invite you to guest post. And if you recommend a lesser-known blogger...you've made a friend! Some blogs that have great curated lists are Joel Friedlander's This Week in Blogs and Elizabeth S. Craig's Sunday Twitterific.
  • Informative pieces: This is where you can use all that research you did for your books that sounds too much like "info-dumping" in your novel.
  • Reviews and spotlights of books in your genre: Reviews are hard work and sometimes a thankless job, but good reviewers get a lot of respect in the industry. Spotlights are easier, so you might want to intersperse them. 
  • Film reviews and info about other media in your genre. Alex J. Cavanaugh's blog is a great example of how to do this right.
  • Comic or inspirational vignettes about your life. This can be almost anything, as long as it's entertaining, has a point, and doesn't turn into a pity party.
  • Stuff about your pets. Seriously. Never underestimate the power of a cute puppy or grumpy cat to draw readers.
  • Opinions (as long as you avoid polarizing subjects: see below) Any opinion piece about publishing news will probably get a lot of readers in the bookish community. An opinion blog I love these days is hilarious Irish writer Tara Sparling's blog. 
  • History and nostalgia pieces: Write historicals, or novels set in an earlier era? Anything about that era will be of interest to your readers. This is where people writing books of military history can share their own experiences. If you lived through history, the world wants to know about it. A blog is the perfect place to share.
  • Travel pieces about where you live or the settings of your books. Even if you've only made the journey via Google maps and Wikipedia, your readers will be interested. If it's your hometown, even better. Interview local business owners and people who live and work in similar places to your fictional ones. 
  • How-to's and recipes. Write crafting mysteries? Offer interesting quilt patterns or knitting directions. Have a character who likes to fly kites? Tell readers how to build one. And no matter what genre you write, if food is involved, people will enjoy a recipe for it. Or maybe you can offer a recipe for the busy writer to throw in the crockpot, or a tasty snack to serve to your book group.
  • Almost anything of general interest—especially to the kind of people you think might like your books. Anything that might make a good magazine article will make a good blogpost—especially a magazine your ideal reader is likely to buy.
  • A series of articles or vignettes you hope to make into a book. This is especially true of nonfiction, and fiction and poetry are becoming more acceptable too. But do note that if you get a traditional contract, you will be asked to take down those posts because of "non-compete" rules. Also, a blogged short piece may not be eligible for contests or "first rights" publication in a traditional magazine.


Not so Much


These topics don't do much to advance your career:


  • Daily word count. Sorry. Nobody cares. (Unless you're a member of a writers' group encouraging each other on—as sometimes happens during NaNoWriMo.) Although the original "weblogs" were often personal diaries, today's blogs are "other" oriented rather than "self" oriented and you need to write stuff that's interesting to people who don't already know you.
  • Rejection sorrows and personal woes. These belong in your private journal. The one with the lock on it.
  • Your writer's block. Ditto.
  • Teachy-Preachy stuff. Especially if you're not an expert. Don't lecture people on how to get published if you're not.
  • Apologies for not blogging. We know it's hard to get around to the old blog. You don't need to tell us the specifics. Just call it "slow blogging" and get on with something interesting.
  • Writing about writing exclusively, unless you have a "how to" book for writers.
  • Religion or politics: unless your work is exclusively for people of the same faith or political persuasion. Or you live in a part of the world with interesting politics and you have a unique viewpoint. (Extra credit if you're in a war zone.)
  • Your WIP.  If you want to write your novel in public and get feedback, Wattpad is a great place to do that. It's password protected and posting there is not officially "publishing".  Remember every novel needs editing. Your future self will thank you for not publishing that "s***y first draft". Remember the Internet is forever. 

Treat a blog as an expression of who you are


It's the face you offer the world. So be real and have fun. Think of your blog as something like your own version of Oprah magazine. It can be any collection of eclectic things that add up to you.

Blogging can lead you to unexpected places:

  • Sometimes blogging can take off and you find you'd rather blog than work on your WIP. There's nothing wrong with that. You may have a future as a professional blogger and content provider—a much more lucrative field than writing novels. Nina Badzin discovered she enjoyed blogging more than fiction writing and used her blog to launch a career as a freelance writer.
  • Or if you're a book review blogger, you may be invited to intern for an agent and even become an agent yourself. That's what happened to book blogger Danielle Smith, now an agent at Red Fox Literary

But if you have your heart set on being a novelist, remember your fiction must take priority. Slow blogging works! I'll be talking more about my version of slow blogging in future posts.


What about you, Scriveners? Do you have a blog? Do you have trouble deciding what to blog about? What's your favorite kind of blog to read? Have you tried to write a novel on your blog? How did it turn out? Do you have more suggestions for topics to blog about?


BOOK OF THE WEEK


FREE!

August 22-26
  

"Anne R. Allen's book of short stories explores womanhood in all seasons. I've read this book twice and get something new to appreciate each time. It is the kind of book one returns to periodically, just to revisit characters and stories like old friends that help clarify ages and stages of life and the changing world. Her poems are timely, tying stories together with theme, grace, and humor."
...Mary J. Caffrey


a short book of short stories

FREE!


Humorous portraits of rebellious women at various stages of their lives. From aging Betty Jo, who feels so invisible she contemplates robbing a bank, to neglected 10-year-old Maude, who turns to a fantasy Elvis for the love she's denied by her patrician family, to a bloodthirsty, Valley-Girl version of Madame Defarge, these women—young and old—are all rebelling against the stereotypes and traditional roles that hold them back. Which is, of course, why Grandma bought that car…



Great for the morning commute!

Narrated by C.S. Perryess and Claire Vogel



OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


The Ernest Hemingway Flash Fiction Contest. $10 fee Unpublished fiction. 1500 words or less. Simultaneous submissions ARE welcome. All entries will be considered for publication in Fiction Southeast. (a prestigious journal that has published people like Joyce Carol Oates) Winner gets $200 and publication. Deadline: Dec. 1st

The Central Coast Writers Conference. One of the best little Writers Conferences around! You can attend Anne's workshops on How to Write 21st Century Prose and How to Deal with Reviews and even have her critique your work. September 19-20.

Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest $4,000 in prizes. Entry fee $10 per poem. Submit poems in modern and traditional styles, up to 250 lines each. Deadline: September 30.

Real Simple's eighth annual Life Lessons Essay Contest FREE to enter, First prize: $3,000 for an essay of up to 1500 words on: "What Single Decision Changed Your Life?" Would your world now be completely different if, at some point in the past, you hadn't made a seemingly random choice? Deadline Sept 21.

BARTLEBY SNOPES CONTEST   $10 FOR UNLIMITED ENTRIES. Compose a short story entirely of dialogue. Must be under 2,000 words. Your entry cannot use any narration (this includes tag lines such as he said, she said, etc.). These are the only rules. 5 finalists will also appear in Issue 15 of the magazine. Last year they awarded $2,380 in prize money. Deadline: September 15.

Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers  Entry Fee $15. A prize of $1,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 20 copies of the prize issue is given quarterly for a short story by a writer whose fiction has not been published in a print publication with a circulation over 5,000. Using the online submission system, submit a story of 1,200 to 12,000 words. Deadline: August 31. 

Creative Nonfiction magazine is seeking new essays for an upcoming issue dedicated to MARRIAGE. TRUE STORIES about marriage from any POV: happy spouses, ex-fiancees, wedding planners, divorce attorneys. whoever. Up to 4000 words. $20 Entry fee. $1000 first prize. Deadline: August 31. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Mastering the Radio Interview: 10 Tips for Authors from a Talk Radio Host


We've got a must-read guest post for you this week. David Congalton, screenwriter and radio superstar here on the Central Coast of California, tells us how to be a good radio guest. 

Radio is still essential to book promotion in the digital age. Most car-commuters still listen to broadcast or satellite radio and the popularity of podcasts is growing. I think Dave is right that radio and books go hand in hand. In fact, while Dave take the reins at the blog today, I'll be listening to the radio and catching up on my reading. 

But soooo many authors are snoozerific on the radio. I've made a faux pas or two my ownself going off on tangents and getting too wordy. 

So I talked Dave into stopping by and telling us how to do it right. 

Dave knows what it's like to be on the other side of the mic, too. He's the author of four books and he wrote the screenplay for Authors Anonymous, one of the funniest films about writers ever made (and he has another film in development.) He was also a long-time director of the Central Coast Writers Conference, where I will be presenting on September 19th-20th. More info below...Anne

Mastering the Radio Interview: What This Talk Show Host Wants You to Know

By David Congalton 



Hosting a radio show for almost 24 years, I've probably read enough books and interviewed enough authors to start my own library. I've been fortunate to be able to chat with authors like Vincent Bugliosi, Jane Smiley, Arianna Huffington, Tim O'Brien, Catherine Ryan Hyde, and Carolyn See. 

I've also made time for the 86-year-old grandma who published her memoir locally and will end up giving away more copies than she will sell. Name a genre, I've probably covered it on the radio at some point.

Radio matters. Whether it's satellite radio, or NPR, or the local AM station like the one that hosts my show. People are still listening, and more importantly, I submit, there is an overlap between people who read books frequently and also listen to the radio. 

We're talking about people who are likely (1) older, (2) smarter, (3) better off (4) and have a real desire for information. 

If you read, you're also likely to listen to the radio. It's been a good marriage over the years and the honeymoon is far from over.

And radio is the perfect forum for conversation. 

Television news will interview you for 20 minutes and air 20 seconds. 

Newspapers and magazines are still widely read, but you run the risk of being misquoted or subject to an unsympathetic/jealous reporter. 

Radio is in the moment, whether live or pre-recorded. You say what you want, how you want, and the back-and-forth is largely unedited. Witness the lovely author conversations by Terry Gross on NPR's "Fresh Air," the current Holy Grail of radio book promotion. Listening to that show is like eavesdropping on a conversation between two friends.

So you want radio to be part of your marketing strategy. The good news is that talk radio, whether in New York or Yuma, Arizona, is always on the hunt for smart, articulate guests who can get to the point and light up those phones.

However, remember that you're competing with a multitude of other authors, also desiring precious air time. 

Even the most supportive radio host can only read so many books, interview so many authors—it becomes survival of the persistent. When I first started my radio show in 1992, I was getting about three to four books a week, mostly from national and regional publishers. Now I receive typically one or two books a week, mostly from local authors who are self-publishing.

Things to Keep in Mind when Pursuing a Radio Interview



1) Listen to the Radio. 


We all know that basic axiom, to be a writer, you have to be a reader. In this case, I'd say that in order to be interviewed on the radio, you first have to be a listener. 

How do you know which hosts to approach if you don't know anything about their programs? This may sound basic, but I can't begin to tell you how many wannabe guests approach me who clearly don't know the first thing about my show. They use key phrases like "My friends tell me I might be a great guest for your program," or they inquire about my time slot. 

I can't hit the delete button fast enough on those emails.

2) The Host Probably Won't Read Your Book. 


Don't be offended, but most radio hosts won't read your book. Oh, we might skim a few pages, but mainly we'll hang on to it like a life preserver during the interview and literally pull questions out of thin air. 

Don't hate us. In my case, I'm responsible for 20 hours of live radio every week—I want to support authors, but I don't always have the time. Best-selling author Mitch Albom tells the revealing story of being on book tour for Tuesdays With Morrie. He was with one FM host whose first question was, "So, Mitch. Why Tuesdays?" That's all Albom needed.

3) So…Spoon Feed Your Potential Host. 


When you initially contact a host, make it easy for him or her. Hit them with the book, your bio, and most importantly, a list of sample questions. Guarantee them that you LOVE to talk and can carry a conversation. 

Believe me, the less work for the host, the more chance you have of getting a booking.

Key point: Always make it clear that you're available at the last minute should a guest cancel.

4) Nonfiction Always Trumps Fiction. 


Sorry, fiction writers. Nothing personal. A nonfiction writer will always have a better chance of being invited on the radio. 

In truth, to interview a novelist, the host probably has to actually read the book, and, as I've already explained… Also, it's easier to talk about nonfiction and those subjects, particularly history and biography, tend to draw in larger listenership. 

I never give a novelist more than 30 minutes; nonfiction always gets the full hour. 

Today I booked an author who wrote a new book about Jimmy Doolittle's raid over Tokyo during World War II. Why? Because I'm a history buff and I rarely say no to history shows. 

A good example of the nonfiction bias is the syndicated radio segment Something You Should Know with host Mike Carruthers, heard daily on hundreds of radio stations across the country. Every day, Carruthers interviews a nonfiction author for about three minutes, but the segment is widely heard.

5) A Publicist? Hmmmmm.


Should you, or should you not hire a publicist? It depends. A reputable publicist is your guide to large market radio stations and major syndicated shows—you won't get anywhere near National Public Radio without one. 

But. Don't be led astray by the fast-talking, promising-the-moon publicist. 

My favorite are the ones who boast about the thousands of emails they'll send out on behalf of your book to radio stations all over the country. Trust me, those emails are deleted or go to Junk Mail and never get read. (The same is true of publicists who approach bloggers. Ruth and I no longer accept guest bloggers who use publicists because the authors don't have a clue who our audience is...Anne.)

Never, ever, hire a publicist without being told exactly what shows they've booked clients on and what specific shows they have in mind for you.

6) You Have Two Friends at a Radio Station. 


You have two allies as you hatch your strategy.

The first is the station's website, which can be a rich source of information. Most websites offer programming schedules, host biographies ("Oh, she's into animal rescue. She might enjoy my new dog book."), podcasts of previous shows, or upcoming personal appearances. 

Your other friend is the station receptionist, who typically spends day after day taking orders from everyone in the station and would melt for anyone who might take the time to pay attention to him or her. Many a guest has gotten to me by having our receptionist lobby on their behalf.

7) If you're Interviewed on the Phone, do it Right. 


About half the author interviews I do are by telephone, (called "phoners") which is harder because you can't see each other and can't use basic visual cues. 

 On behalf of radio hosts everywhere, I plead with you to remember the basics: 

  • Never use a speakerphone. 
  • Use a landline. An old-fashioned landline telephone is always better than a cell phone. Even Skype is better than a cell phone. 
  • Give the interview 100 percent of your focus, meaning don't be feeding the dogs, or playing with your kids, or cleaning the house while chatting. Find a nice quiet spot and shut out the world. 
  • Remember, the better the guest you are, the longer you get to stay on the radio. I can tell with the first response whether an author is going to be good, or not. Call in on a crappy phone, or from a noisy room, well, that's just one more reason to dump you early.


8) Explore All Your Radio Options. 


Most individual News/Talk radio stations have both talk shows and news programs. They also have weekend programming with specialty shows. So if a radio host passes on your query, don't be afraid to approach these other programs. 

Most people listen to radio in the morning, so five minutes on the local morning news may be better than an hour on the evening show. 

9) Contact us by Email. 


Don't bother calling because most phone messages are ignored. 

You can always call your new friend, the receptionist, and get the name and contact information for the producer of a specific show.

10) One Last Tip. 


Take a couple hours and wander around prx.org, which is the home of podcasts available on public radio. You won't believe the rich diversity of programming and hosts you'll find. Podcasting is becoming more and more viable and prx.org may just lead you to an interviewer interested in your book. (Fascinating website. Do check it out...Anne)


As an author and a writer, I've been on both sides of the microphone. There's nothing like that rush of having the red light go on in the studio, knowing that thousands of people are listening to what you're about to say.

Relax. You're going to do just fine.

Okay, Scrivenershave you ever done a radio interview? How did it go? Did you screw it up like I did my last one (never mention a subplot when all you need is a soundbite.) Do you have any questions for Dave? He'll be here on Sunday to answer, but after that he'll be on his way to UCLA for eye surgery, so I'll be replying after that (and we're all wishing you well, Dave!) But I can email him questions for when he's seeing again.

David Congalton is an award-winning author, screenwriter, and radio talk show host based in San Luis Obispo, CA. His popular radio show, now in its 24th year, is heard weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m. on 920 KVEC. Along with Deborah Bayles, he is the co-author of the bestselling ebook The Talk Radio Guest Book: How to be the Perfect Radio Guest. Congalton's screenplay for Authors Anonymous was made into a 2014 feature film comedy starring Kaley Cuoco, Chris Klein, and the late Dennis Farina. Follow him on Twitter: @DaveCongalton and Facebook.


SPOTLIGHTS OF THE WEEK


The Talk Radio Guest Book: How to be the Perfect Radio Guest

by David Congalton and Deborah Bayles



For anyone with a product to pitch, a case to win, or a point to make, if you follow the steps in this book, you will be heard and celebrated for who you are and that which is important to you. We all want to be listened to. Read THE TALK RADIO GUEST BOOK and people will look forward to hearing what you have to say...Literary Agent Karen Grencik


Authors Anonymous

A hilarious "mockumentary" about critique groups!

DVD only $8.96--great gift for a writer friend!




In beautiful San Luis Obispo, "America's Happiest Town"!




Anne will lead a workshop on How to Write for the Digital Age and talk about dealing with reviews and she's even doing critiques!  (That link goes to a video with a voice-over from me, if you wonder what I sound like...Anne)

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


The Ernest Hemingway Flash Fiction Contest. $10 fee Unpublished fiction. 1500 words or less. Simultaneous submissions ARE welcome. All entries will be considered for publication in Fiction Southeast. (a prestigious journal that has published people like Joyce Carol Oates) Winner gets $200 and publication. Deadline: Dec. 1st

The Central Coast Writers Conference. One of the best little Writers Conferences around! You can attend Anne's workshops on How to Write 21st Century Prose and How to Deal with Reviews and even have her critique your work. September 19-20.

Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest $4,000 in prizes. Entry fee $10 per poem. Submit poems in modern and traditional styles, up to 250 lines each. Deadline: September 30.

Real Simple's eighth annual Life Lessons Essay Contest FREE to enter, First prize: $3,000 for an essay of up to 1500 words on: "What Single Decision Changed Your Life?" Would your world now be completely different if, at some point in the past, you hadn't made a seemingly random choice? Deadline Sept 21.

BARTLEBY SNOPES CONTEST   $10 FOR UNLIMITED ENTRIES. Compose a short story entirely of dialogue. Must be under 2,000 words. Your entry cannot use any narration (this includes tag lines such as he said, she said, etc.). These are the only rules. 5 finalists will also appear in Issue 15 of the magazine. Last year they awarded $2,380 in prize money. Deadline: September 15.

Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers  Entry Fee $15. A prize of $1,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 20 copies of the prize issue is given quarterly for a short story by a writer whose fiction has not been published in a print publication with a circulation over 5,000. Using the online submission system, submit a story of 1,200 to 12,000 words. Deadline: August 31. 

Creative Nonfiction magazine is seeking new essays for an upcoming issue dedicated to MARRIAGE. TRUE STORIES about marriage from any POV: happy spouses, ex-fiancees, wedding planners, divorce attorneys. whoever. Up to 4000 words. $20 Entry fee. $1000 first prize. Deadline: August 31. 

KUDOS!



Congrats to Tara Tamburello!  She sold her first piece of fiction thanks to an "Opportunity Alerts" entry back in January. The Vestal Review picked up her Jane Eyre-retelling for their Condensed to Flash: World Classics Anthology."

A number of you have written to thank me after they've won contests or placed short pieces with journals listed in the "OPPORTUNITY ALERTS".  So please let me know if you've had good luck with any of these opportunities and I'll post your name here in the new KUDOS section! (And if you've written to me before, do resend so I can include you. Sorry I didn't think of this before.) 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Why Social Media is Still Your Best Path to Book Visibility


by Anne R. Allen


A lot of marketing gurus are advising authors to cut back on blogging and social media and go back to the email marketing of the last decade.

"The author with the biggest mailing list wins," has become a mantra with self-publishing gurus.

Go to most blogs and websites these days and you'll be assaulted by a pop-up window that demands you subscribe to a newsletter before you even get to see if the site has content you're interested in. (I'm glad to see that book marketing guru Frances Caballo agrees with me about how obnoxious those pop-ups are.)

Some vendors won't even let you get a glimpse of their merchandise unless you surrender your email address for spamming purposes. These companies are paying big money for advertising, just for the privilege of slamming their cyber-doors in the faces of potential customers. (Because who cares if you make any sales, right? What's important is helping the pop-up cartel take over the world!)

I assume they are following advice from the same marketers who tell authors to stockpile the addresses of everybody we've ever brushed electrons with in order to spam them with daily tips, interviews, recipes, and "calls to action" (buy my book, review my book, why haven't you reviewed my book, pre-order my next book, and seriously, why haven't you reviewed my book?)

This is because, they keep insisting, "spam newsletters sell more books ."

These experts must have access to statistics I don't. But until I see proof, I'm not dropping my blog for a clunky old newsletter.

Why?

Because I hate getting newsletters. And I like to follow that Golden Rule thing.

Are Emails More Effective than Social Media?


The "biggest email list" contest has led to a tsunami of emailed crap. And mostly the people getting the emails are other authors—the people least likely to have time to read them.

My inbox is stuffed every morning with more and more emails I never subscribed to from authors I've never heard of in genres I don't read. Some of them send me three or four copies at the same time.

I can't delete and unsubscribe fast enough. But it now takes me at least an hour just to delete emails every morning and evening.

That's time I could spend actually reading a book.

Unfortunately, many of them don't even have an unsubscribe button, so I have to write the author personally and ask to be deleted from the list.

Here's a quote I recently saw on Facebook from UK author Vivienne Truffnell:

"I got an email, a promotional email in fact, from someone I have zero recollection of knowing a thing about. On the small print, it said, "you're getting this newsletter because you have either interacted with me on my blog or on social media."

Well, as far as I am concerned, using my email address when I might have made a random comment on a random blog post is not fair usage. Mining that sort of data is simply going to annoy. Unless I actually deliberately choose to sign up for a newsletter, sending me such a thing is akin to shoving leaflets down my cleavage because I merely smiled at you in the street."


Vivienne's not the only one who's tired of the newsletter oversharing. Author/Editor/Speaker Roz Morris recently posted a "Manifesto for a sustainable, ethical and rewarding online life."

Her number one rule?

"You don't have to bribe me to sign up for your newsletter. If I enjoy your tone and style, I'll sign up."

And my co-author of How to be a Writer in the E-Age and Amazon superstar, Catherine Ryan Hyde,  minces no words when talking about her dislike of newsletters:

"For years I've been encouraged to keep an email list of readers, but I have always refused. I feel that emailing you to tell you I have a new book out is spamming you. So, though you give me your email address for the purpose of giveaways, I don't save those addresses or use them for any other purpose. I put news on my website, on my blog, and on my social media pages, so you know where to find it. If you want it."

And this attitude hasn't hurt her sales one bit. She is consistently one of the top authors on Amazon. There are weeks when she outsells Stephen King and J.K. Rowling.

Why I Like Blogs Better than Newsletters


I realize we are at odds with all the "experts" here, but why are people so sure a newsletter is more useful than a blogpost? I have a feeling it's one of those marketing fads—like those loathsome pop-ups—that have more to do with a sheep-like herd instinct than actual sales figures.

Logic would say blogs are better.

  • You can't comment on a newsletter. It's static and non-interactive.
  • You can't tweet or share a newsletter. I sometimes read a great piece in a newsletter and look all over and can't find a way to share the information with anybody except by forwarding it to a handful of people. 
  • A newsletter is often a PDF, which has to be downloaded to your hard drive and may harm your computer. (Or so a pop-up tells me every time I do.)
  • You can subscribe to a blog just as easily as a newsletter.
  • A stranger can't stumble upon your newsletter. It doesn't bring in new readers

I do subscribe to newsletters, but I've subscribed to them since before I'd even heard of blogs. I get Publisher's Lunch and read it carefully every day, and that's officially a "newsletter." Plus I been getting C. Hope Clark's Funds for Writers newsletter for years. She's one of my sources for contests for the "opportunity alerts" here, and her articles are top-notch. But I'm disappointed when I can't share them.

I also get Elizabeth S. Craig's newsletter because she's a huge help to other writers and she only sends mailings about four times a year when she has a new book out. Plus there's always a yummy recipe.

I also get my local "Nightwriters" writing club newsletter and the one from my local chapter of Sisters in Crime because it has news about my friends.

But I subscribe to at least five times as many blogs as newsletters. I don't have to download them or wade through them to get to the good stuff. Most blogposts have one main subject per post, although they also make a mention of author news or a new release.

Yes, obviously some authors manage to maintain both a blog and a newsletter, but I don't know how. Personally, I like to reserve a little time every day (miniscule as it may be) for writing those book things. I'll bet you do too.

When Email Marketing Does Work Better than Social Media. 


So should you jump on the "party like it's 1999" email newsletter bandwagon?

Newsletters are good for some things. I'm not quite as fierce as Catherine about them and I think it's okay to send out an announcement when you have a new release. (As long as readers have specifically signed up for the notice, and you're not releasing new bits of McFiction every week.) But do note that Amazon allows readers to sign up for those notices through them, so you really only have to send notices to your Nook and Kobo readers.

Newsletters are also necessary if your target demographic isn't likely to be on social media. If you write for the very old or the very young, you may find email (or even a snail-mailed postcard) provides a better way to reach them.

Some of my fellow Boomers stare at me with a mixture of terror and scorn when I mention I'm a blogger. 

"I wouldn't know how to read a blog," they say. Or "I have no idea what that means." Or "the Internet is just a passing fad." Or "saddle up old Bessie. I don't need one of them new-fangled auto-mobiles."

Okay, I got carried away with that last one. 

But clearly, those are people who need newsletters. 

And if you're selling children's picture books or even chapter books, a lot of your customers are probably bookstore owners and librarians, and they may not be much for social media either. And your "age three-to-five" pre-readers are probably not following you on Twitter. 

There are also people who really, truly hate to blog. If you find a blog is too public and you only want to communicate privately with a small group, then email will better suit your needs. 

But every time you're tempted to send out a newsletter, ask yourself "would I like to find this amongst the other 500 emails in my inbox tomorrow morning?"

Remember you can send out your blog, just like a newsletter. Use a subscription service like MailChimp and they will send out your blog to subscribers as often as you tell them to. You can put anything in your blog that you can put in a newsletter.

But that newsletter isn't going to raise your profile with the general public. You need a blog and other social media for that.

Social Media's Importance in Visibility


I'm not saying we should all be using social media to sell books 24/7.

I often advise authors: don't waste so much time "building platform!". A whole lot of the social media stuff marketers tell you to do is just time-wasting busy-work.

And yes, social media sites can disappear or kick you off for weird violations of unwritten rules, or start charging money for more than a handful of people to see your post.

But unless you're already wildly famous, you need social media.

Why?

Because social media gets you into the search engines.

If you're a new writer, your search engine profile should be top priority. You need to get on Google's radar much more than you need to get into the spam folder of somebody who's already bought your book.

Newsletters only reach people who already know you. The people you really want to reach are new readers.

85% of new traffic to this blog comes from Google (and a bit from Bing.) The rest comes from Facebook and Twitter.

Search Engines Matter!


Any agent, editor, translator, audiobook narrator, or book reviewer is going to Google you first—often before they'll even read to the end of your query. Certainly before they request a partial, sample audition script, or a book to review.

What comes up on that Google search will make all the difference.

Yes, of course it's possible to become a successful author without an online presence, the same way it's possible to get hired for a corporate job if you write your resume on parchment and send it by carrier pigeon.

But your chances are a whole lot better if you follow established protocol.

Being on social media takes you out of the confines of your own backyard and puts you into the global marketplace. It makes the difference between hawking your book to people you already know or getting it in front of millions of readers all over the world.

But You Have To Do it Right


Most authors waste much of their social media time. As I have written before, a lot of clueless authors (and their even more clueless advisors) have made Twitter a river of never-ending spam.

Understandably, people are tired of it. And anybody who was told that never-ending spam was going to sell books is getting fed up with social media entirely.

They say: "Twitter is no good for selling books, and therefore a waste of time."

They're right on the first point, but not on the second.

Here is the Big Secret about Social Media:


It is not a direct marketing tool. It is a method of communication.

Kinda like a phone.

A phone can be a useless time-suck if you keep it turned on all the time and check it every five minutes and get into endless conversations about your friends' shopping trips, political opinions, or what they're cooking for dinner.

Does that mean you should abandon your phone? Go back to using the telegraph? Carrier pigeons? Smoke signals?

No, it means you should turn the thing off when you're working. Only check in when you want to engage with people. I usually check in with social media morning and evening. With maybe a quick stop at lunch.

Once you've made social media friends, when you have a new book, a great review or an sale event coming up, tweet and share it to all those people.

Use the 20% - 80 % rule. That means only 20 % of what you put on social media should be about business. The rest is about engaging with people as friends.

Why? Because the business stuff only matters if people care. And they will care because they know you. You're the person who tweeted the link to that great article that helped them get unstuck with the WIP. You're the one who always has the funny Grumpy Cat stuff. You're the one who made a supportive comment the day they got fired or their dog got sick.

Is Twitter a "loud, shallow waste of time"?


There's been lots of complaining about how Twitter is "a loud, shallow waste of time" as Joss Whedon said when he quit Twitter in May. And yeah. It is...a good deal of the time.

But so is your phone, if you only talk to loud, shallow people.

Should you Quit Facebook because it isn't as User-Friendly as it Once Was?


Lots of writers are complaining that Facebook isn't useful anymore because so few people can see your author page posts unless you pay.

But your author page isn't that important. Think of it like an entry in the Yellow Pages of the phone book. It lets people know who you are and what events you have coming up. You can post there a few times a week with some things of interest to your fans. But that's not where you make friends.

You make friends on your personal page. You don't use the personal page to promo your book all the time. Yes, Facebook will now block you if you appear to be using the personal page for mostly business.

But when you're engaging with your readers as friends, not as a "target market," you're not likely to get blocked.

And if you follow the 20%-80% rule, you're fine mentioning your book—even on Facebook. Or steer friends to your author page.

The Most Important Social Media Pages 


  • Are not your personal page
  • Or your author page.
  • Or your Pinterest Pins
  • Or your Instagram photos
  • Or your Twitter, Google Plus, About Me, LinkedIn or whatever profiles
  • Or those endless promotional "event" pages.

They are your friends' pages.

If you visit your friends' pages and make them feel like equals rather than minions, and encourage them through their triumphs and crises, the way you'd like them to do for you, they will reciprocate.

And they might even be interested in reading your next book.

Yeah. That's how social media works. It's, um, social. And as with all social interactions, the best rule is always the Golden one.

And don't feel you have to be on every social media platform there is. Choose the ones where your readers are most likely to be. If you write for younger people, you'll want to be on Instagram or Tumblr. Facebook will more likely reach an older crowd. If you write for women in their 20s-40s, Pinterest may be your most useful venue. If you are interested in tech and marketing, Google Plus is the place to be. (It will also get Google's attention.)

And for some great specific info on how and when to use social media, here's a fabulous list and downloadable "cheat sheet" from Frances Caballo.

What about you, Scriveners? Have you abandoned any social media sites? Are you sending out a newsletter? Do you find it sells more books? I know I've stated some strong opinions here, but I know newsletters must be working for some of you, or the marketers wouldn't be pushing them so hard. If they work for you, how long have you been sending them out? Are they more useful than a blog for you?

Coming up in the Blog: Next week we're going to have a visit from screenwriter and radio talk show host David Congalton to talk about HOW TO BE A GOOD RADIO GUEST. Radio and podcasts are another important way to get your books "visible".

In September, we'll have a visit from Mr. International, indie superstar Mark Williams (aka the quiet half of "Saffina Desforges"), who's going to tell us how to get into the international market and connect with translators. 

BOOK OF THE WEEK


It goes up to $3.99 on August 15
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


The Central Coast Writers Conference. One of the best little Writers Conferences around! You can attend Anne's workshops on How to Write 21st Century Prose and How to Deal with Reviews and even have her critique your work. The inspiring keynote speaker is ZombieLit superstar Jonathan Maberry. September 19-20.

Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest $4,000 in prizes. Entry fee $10 per poem. Submit poems in modern and traditional styles, up to 250 lines each. Deadline: September 30.

Real Simple’s eighth annual Life Lessons Essay Contest FREE to enter, First prize: $3,000 for an essay of up to 1500 words on: "What Single Decision Changed Your Life?" Would your world now be completely different if, at some point in the past, you hadn’t made a seemingly random choice? Deadline Sept 21.

BARTLEBY SNOPES CONTEST   $10 FOR UNLIMITED ENTRIES. Compose a short story entirely of dialogue. Must be under 2,000 words. Your entry cannot use any narration (this includes tag lines such as he said, she said, etc.). These are the only rules. 5 finalists will also appear in Issue 15 of the magazine. Last year they awarded $2,380 in prize money. Deadline: September 15.

Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers  Entry Fee $15. A prize of $1,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 20 copies of the prize issue is given quarterly for a short story by a writer whose fiction has not been published in a print publication with a circulation over 5,000. Using the online submission system, submit a story of 1,200 to 12,000 words. Deadline: August 31. 

Creative Nonfiction magazine is seeking new essays for an upcoming issue dedicated to MARRIAGE. TRUE STORIES about marriage from any POV: happy spouses, ex-fiancees, wedding planners, divorce attorneys. whoever. Up to 4000 words. $20 Entry fee. $1000 first prize. Deadline: August 31. 

"I is Another" Short Fiction contest FREE! UK's Holland Park Press seeks unpublished short fiction, 2,000 words maximum, inspired by Arthur Rimbaud's famous declaration "Je est un autre" -- "I is another". Write a story in the first person about someone who is not you but which is about a subject close to your heart. Therefore the storyline will really matter to you but the story should not be autobiographical. It should have a strong theme such as betrayal, sorrow, lust, jealousy or revenge.  £200 prize, plus publication Deadline: August 31.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Your "LOOK INSIDE!" Book Preview: Will it Turn Readers Away or Close the Sale?

by Anne R. Allen


I get a lot of bargain ebook newsletters: BookBub, Fussy Librarian, Kindle News Daily, EBUK, etc.

Often a book intrigues me enough that I click through to look at the book's full details on the retail site. But I almost never buy. Sometimes the full blurb or a review will stop me, but 90% of the time, it's the sample chapters that turn me off.

I do admit I'm extremely picky these days, since I have a Kindle full of unread titles. I don't really want to buy new books—I get the newsletters mostly to see what's on the market—but sometimes a book intrigues me enough to click through to the buy page.

Unfortunately, with an awful lot of books—not only self-published, but some trad-pubbed as well—I can tell I'm not in competent hands from the first few pages.

I admit this is subjective. Some people don't mind reading less than polished books as long as the story is good—and the indie movement faithful often say "writing rules don't exist anymore because of self-publishing."

But some of us see a problem with this attitude. Blogger Jefferson Smith says, "I think indie books need a bit more tough love. Too many books are being published, for which real money is being charged, that aren’t up to professional standards. Sure, I may only be one opinion, but too many of the people indie authors turn to for criticism seem willing to let weaknesses slide a little. And in that process, we all suffer."

I share his opinion. I know this is partly because I've been a professional editor and worked at a traditional publishing house, so to me, reading amateur writing feels like work. I want to relax and immerse myself in a story, not constantly fight the urge to reach for a red pencil.

So whether you're self-publishing or trying to snag an agent or publisher, remember the early chapters are the most important part of your book—and your most powerful sales tool.

Yes, I said early chapters, plural. Not just the first five pages, which is where we've been taught to put most of our energies.

This has changed, like so many other aspects of publishing, because of new technology.

The "Look Inside" on retail sites is generally 10% of the book. So we have to make sure the story and quality don't begin to sag after that big first scene.

You have more room to make your case and sell the reader on your story. But you also have more room to show your weaknesses. So polish that first 10% until it shines.


Here are some things that will stop me from buying a book after taking a  "LOOK INSIDE"



1) The story comes to a dead halt every time a new character appears—usually followed by a paragraph of police-report description.


This is classic first draft stuff. We all want to describe our characters when we meet them. But that description needs to be cut out of the final piece. Put it in your outline, writing journal, or series "bible" for future reference. But don't bore your readers with it. Let them use their own imaginations.

Yes, I know you've seen this convention in lots of classic genre writing. Garrison Keillor satirizes it in his Guy Noir radio sketches that mimic 1930s pulp fiction. (This is my own paraphrasing of a typical Guy Noir script):

"She was a curvy brunette who wore a dress so tight I could read the day of the week on her underpants. It was Wednesday. I could tell she hadn't been in Minnesota long because she didn't have that roll of fat around her midriff you get from Tater Tot hot dish…"

Do not write like this for a modern audience unless you're going for laughs.


2) Head-hopping


Head-hopping is one of the tell-tale signs of amateur writing. Everybody who has ever taught a writing class or workshop has to spend a good deal of time explaining point of view to newbies, especially the ones who stubbornly argue they should be able to write from as many points of view as they like—what was good enough for Edgar Rice Burroughs is good enough for them.

But the trouble is, this is not 1912, and you're not writing for a 19th or 20th century audience.

Because POV is one of the toughest things for a new writer to master, I advise new writers to start in first or third person limited (only one point of view character per scene).

Unfortunately, beginners are likely to choose the omniscient point of view—or what they think is omniscient—because it seems easier than trying to show the actions and feelings of many through the eyes of one character.

But it's the hardest point of view to do well. It also tends to seem old-fashioned. That's just what you want in epic fantasy, and it's fantastic for humor with a "stand-up" comedy voice. But it tends to sound dated in mystery or romance.

The problem with attempting the omniscient point of view when you're a beginner is that it usually slides into a slithery third person. The reader has to snake in and out of the consciousness of every character in the room. This leaves us not knowing who the protagonist is and we often don't know whose thoughts we're reading.

A confused reader is not buying your book.

You may be less tempted to use the omniscient POV after watching the You Tube video the Gunfighter by Eric Kissack and Kevin Tenglin. It's a brilliant parody of the intrusive narrator who takes over a story.


3) False starts


Yes, that battle between the spaceman and the dinosaur on page one is really exciting, and might make somebody turn the page. But when the reader sees on page two that it's only a dream in the head of five-year old Aiden, the protagonist's son, who can't decide if he want spacemen or dinosaurs on his birthday cake…you just lost the spaceman vs. dinosaur-loving audience.

Plus that opener did not intrigue the women's fiction readers who would enjoy the rest of the book.

Prologues can be false starts too, so be wary of using them unless you're writing epic fantasy or historical fiction, where they are often necessary to establish the historical context of the tale.

Another false start that's a pet peeve of mine is when the first point-of-view character you meet gets whacked at the end of chapter one. I'm just getting to know this person and now he's toast.

I know this is a convention of TV cop shows, but it doesn't work well in a novel. Give us somebody to root for up front and don't yank them away too soon.

When I get to see the first 10% of your book, I can see that I'm going to have to start all over again with another set of characters after that exciting first chapter and I'm gone.


4) Desultory dialogue


"Hi Aiden."
"Hi Connor."
"What you doing?"
"Nothing much."

Um, no. Beginners write dialogue the way it really sounds. The pros have learned how to put in just the good stuff.


5) Clunky dialogue tags


"Hi Aiden," yelled Connor happily as he finished his oatmeal and put on his jacket and ran out to meet his friend.

"Hi Connor," screamed Aiden energetically as he jumped off his bike and pulled his catcher's mitt from his backpack.

"What you doing?" squealed Connor awkwardly as he grabbed his baseball bat and ball from the front porch.

"Nothing much," Aiden hissed lethargically.

I know most people who've gone to the trouble of publishing a book don't write this badly, and I'm exaggerating. But I want to show the things that make a dialogue tag amateurish:

  • It's unnecessary for clarity
  • Uses thesaurus words instead of "said," which is invisible to the reader
  • Describes a series of actions that's impossible to do while saying the line of dialogue, including "hissing" a phrase without an "s."
  • Uses the old fashioned: "said he" instead of "he said."


6) Adverbosity


I'm not in the 100% anti-adverb camp. I certainly don't want to make a blanket condemnation of a useful part of speech.

Saying "the man was almost good-looking" is not the same as saying "the man was good-looking."

Adverbs can show a character's personality and they're often necessary in dialogue. Plus if you're writing from the point of view of a tentative person, adverbs are going to be part of the characterization.

BUT when you run into an adverb when you're editing, always make sure you can't do without it. One of the marks of an amateur is the use of adverbs to create drama instead of active verbs.

To see some examples of cringe-worthy adverbs, see #5.


7) Imprecise word usage and incorrect spelling and grammar


A paying customer is not your third grade teacher; they won't give you a gold star just to boost your self-esteem.

Spelling and grammar count. Words are your tools.

If you don’t know the difference between lie and lay or aesthetic and ascetic and you like to sprinkle apostrophes willy-nilly amongst the letters, make sure you find a good editor with an eagle eye.

You wouldn't hire a plumber who didn't know how to use a wrench and I'm not going to buy a book by a writer who doesn't know how to use an apostrophe.


8) Clichéd openings


I read a lot, so I've seen some things so often I get a case of the yawns when they show up. The problem with some great ideas is a whole bunch of people have had the same great idea already.

The most common is the “alarm clock” opening—your protagonist waking up—the favorite cliché of all beginning storytellers, whether short story, novel, or script. Here’s a hilarious video from the comedians at Script Cops.They say, "78 % of all student films start with an alarm clock going off."

Here's a list of clichéd openings that can drive readers away if they read like same old/same old.

I'm NOT saying you can't use them. But you need to present them in a fresh new way.

Because I like breaking rules, I open my new book, So Much for Buckingham with a "weather report," but I hope it's short and funny and different enough that readers will go on.

"Morro Bay fog did not creep in on little cat feet like Carl Sandburg's Chicago mists. It galumphed on elephant hooves and moved in for the summer. Why didn't people warn you that "sunny California" could be so gloomy?"


9) Confusing the reader on purpose


I know it can be fun to withhold the information that your characters are all goldfish in an aquarium. Or name every character in your story "Irving". Or give them no names at all. Or maybe write in the second person plural and provide no dialogue tags. Or change your character's gender in every other chapter.

This kind of stuff can be brilliant and fun in flash or short fiction, but it can't often be sustained in a whole novel. Yes, I know some great authors have done it, and yes, I've read Virginia Woolf and Joshua Ferris and Brett Easton Ellis. They did some of those things brilliantly. (Although I think anybody who can get through Woolf's Orlando deserves some kind of medal.)

I'm a fan of literary fiction, but literary writers who aren't already well-known need to earn the respect of their readers first. Showing off how clever and quirky you are isn't going to make the sale if there's no solid story up front.


10) Info-dumps and "As you know Bob" conversation


When the first few chapters of a book are used for info-dumps—telling us the names of characters, what they look like, what they do for a living, and details of their backstories—before we get into the story, you know you're not dealing with a professional.

A pro knows that exposition (background information) needs to be filtered in slowly while we're immersed in scenes that have action and conflict.

Another big turn-off is "as-you-know-Bob" conversation:

"As you know, Bob, we're here investigating the murder of Mrs. Gilhooley, the 60-year-old librarian at Springfield High School, who may have been poisoned by one Ambrose Wiley, an itinerant preacher who brought her a Diet Dr. Pepper on August third…."

Bob knows why he's there. He's a forensics expert, not an Alzheimer's patient. Putting this stuff in dialogue insults the reader's intelligence, since nobody would say this stuff in real life. (In spite of the fact you hear an awful lot of it on those CSI TV shows.)


So how do you make that sale with the "Look Inside"?



1) Remember the buyer is probably skimming.


Use lots of white space, especially in the first chapter. That means short paragraphs, unburied dialogue and lean, uncluttered prose. For more on how to write for the 21st century reader/skimmer, here's my post on 6 Tips to Modernize Your Prose.


2) Introduce the protagonist on page one


Tell us what she wants and why she can't have it. Make us care about the main storyline of the book right away.


3) Give us immediate conflict.


This doesn't mean plunging us into the middle of a battle scene. It can be as simple as an author getting a bad review on Amazon, which is how I open So Much for Buckingham. Camilla's response to a silly review on page one is the inciting incident for the entire catastrophe that ensues.


4) Present several characters right away.


Starting with one person musing is a snooze, and a cast of thousands will just overwhelm the reader. Give us two, three or four characters who have interesting quirks and one we can really care about.


5) Break up your story into short chapters with great endings.


I love to see several chapters in an opener, especially if different chapters present different points of view. Here's a fantastic guest post from Jessica Bell on how to write chapter endings.


What about you, Scriveners? Do you think in terms of the customer who "looks inside" when doing your final edit? Do you find it changes the way you write? What are your pet peeves when you look inside a book you're considering for purchase? Are you willing to buy a book that seems amateurish if it promises to have a good story?

A note to European readers: Apparently the EU now requires disclosure of the cookies that Google uses for its analytics to gather stats for this blog. So you readers in Europe and the UK probably see a big gray banner across the top of the blog. If you hit "got it" the gray thing will disappear, they tell me. 


BOOK OF THE WEEK



No Place Like Home 
99c this week on all the Amazons, and Nook






"A warp-speed, lighthearted comedy-mystery"...Abigail Padgett
"A fun, charming novel about the rich and less so" ...Karen Doering
"A cross of dry British humor and American wackiness, and it all adds up to a fun read." ...Deborah Bayles.


And NO PLACE LIKE HOME IS ALSO  AN AUDIOBOOK!!

Narrated by award-winner C. S. Perryess and Anne R. Allen (as Camilla)

Set in San Luis Obispo. Great for that morning commute...

Nearly 8 hours of hilarious entertainment!

Only $1.99 if you buy the Kindle ebook--that's three bucks for both!


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest $4,000 in prizes. Entry fee $10 per poem. Submit poems in modern and traditional styles, up to 250 lines each. Deadline: September 30.

BARTLEBY SNOPES CONTEST   $10 FOR UNLIMITED ENTRIES. Compose a short story entirely of dialogue. Must be under 2,000 words. Your entry cannot use any narration (this includes tag lines such as he said, she said, etc.). These are the only rules. 5 finalists will also appear in Issue 15 of the magazine. Last year they awarded $2,380 in prize money. Deadline: September 15.

Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers  Entry Fee $15. A prize of $1,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 20 copies of the prize issue is given quarterly for a short story by a writer whose fiction has not been published in a print publication with a circulation over 5,000. Using the online submission system, submit a story of 1,200 to 12,000 words. Deadline: August 31. 

Creative Nonfiction magazine is seeking new essays for an upcoming issue dedicated to MARRIAGE. TRUE STORIES about marriage from any POV: happy spouses, ex-fiancees, wedding planners, divorce attorneys. whoever. Up to 4000 words. $20 Entry fee. $1000 first prize. Deadline: August 31. 

"I is Another" Short Fiction contest FREE! UK's Holland Park Press seeks unpublished short fiction, 2,000 words maximum, inspired by Arthur Rimbaud's famous declaration "Je est un autre" -- "I is another". Write a story in the first person about someone who is not you but which is about a subject close to your heart. Therefore the storyline will really matter to you but the story should not be autobiographical. It should have a strong theme such as betrayal, sorrow, lust, jealousy or revenge. £200 prize, plus publication Deadline: August 31.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

SPEED KILLS...OR DOES IT? How to Write Fast(er) without Going Bonkers

by Ruth Harris


As the Romans said (and the Olympics borrowed for its motto): Citius, Altius, Fortius. Or, as we say: "Faster, Higher, Stronger."

Sometimes publishing seems to be an Olympic event or at least it feels that way.

Vroom. Vroom. Everyone wants to write faster. To publish more books. To keep up with/get ahead of the competition. To be a Jackie Stewart of the keyboard. A Dale Earnhardt of word count.

But, hang on, you might say. It's not a sprint. It's a marathon and marathons take time.

Or, you might have other objections:


1) I care about my work and I care about my readers. I want to share my best possible efforts and "the best" doesn't come easily or quickly.

You're right, but what we're talking about here is getting a draft written fast, not about the finished product.

2) I don't want to publish any book before it's ready and editing and revising take time.

See above.

3) I've taken part in NaNoWriMo so I can show you proof positive that anything I write fast is garbage.

So what? No one except you ever has to see it. Ever hear of that amazing process known as "fixing it later?"

4) If I write fast, won't I add to the "tsunami of crap?"
Yes, of course, you certainly can, but "crap," like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder. Lots of people who write what you or I or Maxwell Perkins might consider crap are enjoying writing it, publishing it, making readers happy and making money in the process.

In addition, allow me to remind you that writing slowly and agonizingly can also result in crap. Pretentious crap. Boring crap. Unreadable crap.

Besides, there are all the obvious upsides to writing fast.


  • Your productivity soars. Where there were two books, there are now four. Duh.
  • You get into the zone, that magic place where writing goes so effortlessly you don’t know where the twists, turns and brilliant dialogue is coming from.
  • You outrun the inner scold, that mahatma of negativity that rains on your parade and tells you you're not good enough, not talented enough, that you're a phony and a faker.
  • You don't give yourself time to censor or second-guess yourself.
  • You avoid wasting time by 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 fast increases your chances of 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 source of creativity. They are the ones who come up with the unexpected (even to the writer!) plot twist and dazzling solution to a problem you thought unsolvable.
  • Watching 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 and the fact that there's "something" where once there was nothing builds confidence.
  • Writing fast frees you from the endless, soul-numbing editing-revising trap.
  • Last of all, writing fast is a sensible approach in these days of self-publishing because new books help sell old books. Just ask Joe Konrath or Dean Wesley Smith who writes about writing at pulp speed.


Before we get into (sane) ways to increase your speed, it's important to understand why you aren't writing as productively as you'd like to.



1) Are you really slow or are you yourself putting the brakes on? 

Are you slowing yourself down by listening to the no voices in your head? That prune-faced seventh grade teacher? That parent for whom nothing was ever good enough?

Psychologist Leslie Becker-Phelps offers a practical approach to deflecting self-criticism based on cognitive behavioral therapy. She tells how to turn self-criticism into compassionate self-awareness that will help free you from the trap you create for yourself.

2) Do you allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good?


Do you plod along, spending hours searching for the "perfect" word or trying to write the "perfect" sentence, paragraph, first sentence, last sentence? Are you getting nowhere? And not fast?

This thorough guide explains the roots of perfectionism and lays out a concrete guide toward taming the runaway perfectionist that's getting in your way.

Just remember: your book has to be good. It doesn't have to be perfect. In fact, it can’t be perfect because nothing is perfect or even can be. Fact of life, just like the birds and bees, (but not as much fun).

3) ID your working style: steady, spurt, sprint.


  • Sprinters can't (and shouldn't) expect to keep up a killer place all day long. Sprints are short races for a reason. No one can go full steam ahead hour after hour after hour.
  • Spurt workers tend to write in extremely productive bursts. They also need a few days off to regroup and catch up with themselves between intense writing sessions.
  • Steady writers work at an even pace. A hundred words a day or a thousand words a day every day, those words add up.
Once you ID your working style, you will have an idea of how many words/how much speed you should realistically expect from yourself but, before you start, you need to have some idea of what you're going to write.

4) Face to face with the “O” word.


No way to escape it, but if you want to write fast you have to Do It. You know exactly what I mean, it’s the writer's version of The Big O. Outline.

In order to write fast, even pantsers need a road map. An outline does not have to be that godawful clunker from grade school with Roman numerals and tiered indents.

An outline can be as simple as a hand-written list or a scribbled synopsis. Or it can be a version of any one or more of the following ways of getting your ideas down and wrangling them into some kind of usable shape:

  • A logline or one of its relatives. Anne's tips on writing the dreaded synopsis...and its little friends: the hook, logline, and pitch will start you off on the right track.
  • The elevator pitch. Author Kayelle Allen offers a fill-in-the-blanks template.
  • The blurb you write before you write the book. Joanna Penn's tips on how to write a back cover blurb are practical and inspiring.
  • A genre cheat sheet so you know what your readers expect and can make sure to keep on track.
  • Here are 6 different outline templates you can apply to romance, scifi, fantasy, literary fiction and any other genre you can think of.
  • Libbie Hawker's popular guide to outlining for pantsers: Take Off Your Pants. Libby's outlining technique applies to any genre and will help you improve your writing speed.
  • Bestselling author of the Costa series, David Hewson explains his method of outlining novel-length fiction and tells how he brainstorms story and storyline possibilities.
  • Scapple (Mac only. $14.99 with FREE trial) is a simple app perfect for brainstorming and making connections between any or all of the kinds of ideas (plot, character, setting, incident) you will need to write a book. If you've ever scribbled down ideas all over a piece of paper and drawn lines between related thoughts, then you already know what Scapple does.
  • How to Write a Book in Three Days: Lessons from sword-and-sorcery master, Michael Moorcock, is inspiring and practical.
  • Rachel Aaron's How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day is another source of inspiration and down-to-earth advice.
  • 5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter has helped many writers up their speed. The author, Chris Fox, has also created an app (Mac only) to accompany the book.
  • Roni Loren always thought of herself as a Slow Writer but deadlines compelled her to change her ways. She was surprised by the impressive increase in her speed and blogged about what she learned here.

Now that you're feeling inspired and have prepared yourself to write, it’s time to start.


  • Coffee (or Red Bull) works for some. Loud music for others. Vivaldi's The Seasons for still others.
  • An external deadline can help: a contract (if only with yourself) or even a promise to someone else—including the dog who is in need of a walk.
  • Setting a word target, a time target, a scene target adds focus in the form of an achievable goal. 
  • Do you respond better to the kiss or the whip? If the first, promise yourself a Dove Bar at the end of your just-get-it-down writing session. If the whip, then no dessert for you tonight unless you get your quota filled! 
  • Shut the door, turn off the phone, quash the internet, go to full-screen mode, do whatever you have to do to get the job done. Adapt Nora Roberts' approach: you will permit interruptions only in the case of “blood or fire.”


In your new world of Writing Fast, there are a number of possible outcomes:


  • Might be much better than you think and just needs a light edit. Yay! Treasure the moment because you get to feel you're better than you think and that faster doesn't mean crappier.
  • Might be pretty good but needs a careful edit. OK, editing is part of the job of being a writer so get on with it.
  • Might be dull, drab and needs major, butt-in-chair revision. That’s OK, too, because revision is also part of the job.
  • The aaargh! draft: So what you wrote is real crapola and needs a four-corners rewrite? Don’t let that get you down and don’t forget: It ain’t the writing it’s the rewriting. Professionals know it and the aaargh! draft is the perfect case in point.
  • Even worse than the aaargh draft is draft so putrid it threatens the integrity of the time-space continuum. We've all been there, done that and it's why keyboards come with delete buttons. Just because you wrote it doesn’t mean you have to publish it or even that anyone else has to see it. See if there's anything you can learn (or steal), then trash the d*mn thing and move on.
  • Saving best for last: OMG! Did I write that? It's just about the best feeling a writer can have and, when you write fast, you outrun your insecurities and second guesses, your tendency to "fix" and fiddle, you're also raising the odds of the OMG!-Did-I-write-that? outcome.

Now that you are writing fast(er) and at a speed that feels sane to you, stand up and take a bow.

As the Romans used to say: Accipe rosas, relinque spinas.

Accept the roses, leave the thorns.


What about you Scriveners? Are you a fast writer like Ruth, or are you a sloooooow writer like me (Anne)? Ruth wrote this post partly to help me with my sluggish writing skills. Do you find you can write faster with an outline of sorts? Or are you like me and write a careful outline and then completely ignore it? Have you tried any of these tips to get you up to speed?  


BOOKS OF THE WEEK


We have two FREE books to offer you this week!

Ruth Harris's New York Times bestseller Love and Money is FREE!





Amazon US, Amazon UK,
 Nook, Kobo, iBooksGoogle Play.

"Richly plotted and racing to a shocking climax, this glittering novel is first-class entertainment." --New York Times 

"Sophisticated and entertaining. I couldn't stop reading." --Rona Jaffe, author of The Best Of Everything

Also FREE: Michael Harris's Gripping Memoir




Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks | GooglePlay


Catch-22 with radiation! Area 51 meets Dr. Strangelove!

"A gripping memoir leavened by humor, loyalty and pride of accomplishment. A tribute to the resilience, courage and patriotism of the American soldier." —Henry Kissinger


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS



BARTLEBY SNOPES CONTEST   $10 FOR UNLIMITED ENTRIES. Compose a short story entirely of dialogue. Must be under 2,000 words. Your entry cannot use any narration (this includes tag lines such as he said, she said, etc.). These are the only rules. 5 finalists will also appear in Issue 15 of the magazine. Last year they awarded $2,380 in prize money. Deadline September 15.

Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers  Entry Fee $15. A prize of $1,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 20 copies of the prize issue is given quarterly for a short story by a writer whose fiction has not been published in a print publication with a circulation over 5,000. Using the online submission system, submit a story of 1,200 to 12,000 words. Deadline August 31. 

Creative Nonfiction magazine is seeking new essays for an upcoming issue dedicated to MARRIAGE. TRUE STORIES about marriage from any POV: happy spouses, ex-fiancees, wedding planners, divorce attorneys, whoever. Up to 4000 words. $20 Entry fee. $1000 first prize. Deadline: August 31. 

CRAZYHORSE SHORT-SHORT FICTION AWARD $15 Entry fee.  $1,000 and publication. Three runners-up. All entries considered for publication. Submit one to three short-shorts of up to 500 words each. Deadline July 31.

DIABOLICAL PLOTS  NO FEE. A new online journal that publishes original fiction, one story per month. Genres: science fiction, fantasy, horror (everything must have speculative element, even horror). 2000 word limit. Pays .06 cents/word. Deadline July 31.