books with Athena

books with Athena

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Solstice, Everyone!

I'm going off to do the family thing visiting relatives with limited computer access, so there will be no Sunday post on December 26th.  I'll be back January 2. I hope you're all having fun holidays. 

Just for grins, here’s a little verse I wrote a few years ago—updated for current trends. (Sorry about the seriously clunky rhyme. Anybody have a better rhyme for “zombies?”)

Yes, we all need to learn the rules. Then we need to learn how not to follow them.


THE WRITER’S REWARD
…with apologies to Dorothy Parker

Writer, writer, never pen
Background story till page ten.
Use no flashbacks—no, nor prologue.
Never start your book with di’logue.
Set the hero’s hair on fire.
Keep the situation dire.
Write in genres tried and true
From a single point of view.
Tell your tale in linear time.
Avoid a plot that strains the mind.
No dead kids, bad priests, abuse
Or politics in your debuts.
Stick to sleuths with cutsie hobbies,
Teenage dating, clockwork zombies.
Make it light but never funny.
(Humor’s too subjective, honey.)

And if that gets you published kid,
You’ll be the first it ever did.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

How to Blog Part IV—What the #%*! Should I Blog About?

OK, sez you. I’ve finally finished my novel/memoir and I’m about to send out my first round of queries. People say I need a blog. But now you tell me not to post excerpts from my WIP or focus on my personal life. I’ve only written one book (if you don’t count that one I’ve stuffed in a drawer for now.) I’m not famous or an expert on anything special.

…so what DO I blog about!!?

To get your ideas flowing, start by surfing around the writing blogosphere. Click on some of the names of commenters on popular agent blogs—or right here—and read their blogs. Analyze the ones that draw you in and find the elements that make them interesting. Then borrow a few ideas and put them together in your own way.

(And don’t forget to leave comments. That’s how the blogging community gets to know you. Reading and commenting on other blogs is essential to generating readership. Factor that into your blogging time.)

Or you may find yourself making long comments on some subject that gets your hackles up/juices flowing. That’s the stuff you should be putting in your own blog.

The most successful blogs reveal the writer’s personality and provide useful information at the same time. They usually focus on one particular niche, although the occasional foray off topic is OK when the content is fresh and interesting.

Here are a few ideas for finding a focus for your blog:

  • Concentrate on your genre or subgenre. You don’t have to limit yourself to books. You can discuss movies, videogames, TV shows, even jewelry and costumes—as long as they relate to your niche. SciFi writer Alex J. Cavanaugh has a great blog that specializes in all things SciFi. He won this year’s Movie411 award for best SciFi blog, for good reason. 
  • Focus on your novel’s setting. Recently a country singer/songwriter who’s working on a mystery novel asked me for help with his blog. He’d been posting mostly lyrics from his songs (not a good idea because music copyright laws differ from written word copyright laws, and he might have been giving away his songs forever.) I suggested he concentrate on some aspect of his novel instead. He renamed it “Southern Life” and he’s going to blog on the setting of his planned series—the rural south. Bingo.
  • Your character’s hobbies can make a great subject for a blog, too. Write cozies about a sleuth who collects dolls? Start a blog about dolls and the history of dollmaking, and maybe review sites that sell doll-making materials. You’ll draw in a whole demographic that might not usually read mysteries, but will loyally read yours because they’re interested in the subject matter.
  • Write historicals? You’re sure to have tons of research notes you couldn’t fit in the book. A blog is a great place for them. Provide information about a specific time period aimed at history buffs, costumers, Creative Anachronists and other historical novelists and you'll draw a variety of readers.
  • Do you write for a particular demographic—single urban women, Boomers, stay-at-home moms, or the just-out-of-college dazed and confused? Focus on aspects of life of special interest to that demographic.
  • Have some great recipes that relate to your character, time period, or whatever? Write about the food in your books, or food in fiction generally.
  • Is your historical based on a real person or your own family history? You could target readers from the genealogy blogosphere and provide how-to-study genealogy info and links to historical research sites.
  • Have you written a memoir that involves caretaking or surviving a particular disease or disaster? Or does your novel have a protagonist with a disability? Reach out to others in the same situation and provide information and pep talks for others dealing with the same issues. They’ll provide a ready-made audience when your book comes out.
  • And you CAN write personal stuff—as long as you make it entertaining and funny. Think stand-up comedy rather than confessional personal diary. Romantic comedy writer Tawna Fenske somehow manages to do this in post after post.
If you want to build a readership quickly, and you have time to do some research, consider a service blog.

  • Profile agents who represent your genre. Casey McCormick does this for agents who rep YA. She takes the info. from agency websites, interviews, articles and blogs and compiles them into easy-to read form. Basically she does your research for you. (Thanks Casey!) Other genres sure could use somebody like this.
  • Review books in your genre. If you write thoughtful reviews, you’ll immediately become everybody’s best friend. Every published novelist is dying for reviews. Danielle “First Daughter” Smith has a great review site for children’s books.
  • Review books about writing. There are a ton of them out there. You could start with the ones you’ve got on your shelf right now. How helpful are they to a writer in your genre? What classics are no longer helpful in today's marketplace?
Or you can be uncreative like me and write about writing. Mostly. A huge number of writers at various stages of our careers blog about our creative process and all aspects of the writing life. Join us. Writers are book readers (or we should be) so you have a ready-made reading audience.

Ending your posts with a question is a good way to generate comments. Anybody out there have more suggestions for subject matter for new bloggers? 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

How to Blog Part III—14 Blogging Pitfalls New Bloggers Should Avoid

I’ve had such great responses to the first two posts in this series, I have to take a minute to welcome all the new blogfolk—and thank everybody who has commented and/or retweeted the links. I’m also very honored by the shout-outs I’ve had from media professionals like Gary Canie and Kaze and Ras at the 3:17 AM blog 

Mr. Canie says the blog is your #1 marketing tool. It’s the face you present to the world. Use it well. Make it a “hub” for your online presence, as Writers Digest editor Jane Friedman suggests. Here are some pitfalls you might want to avoid if you want to keep that hub professional and sustainable..

1) Starting to blog too soon. I don’t agree with the people who pressure every newbie writer to fritter away precious writing time on the Interwebz. Don’t get me wrong: in order to be a marketable writer, you DO need a blog or interactive website (one you can control yourself vs. paying a professional geek every time you want to update.) It’s how you establish your “brand.” But until you’ve been writing for a few years, you probably won’t have a clue what that’s going to be.

What if zombies invade the second draft of what started out as a cozy mystery? Or a Victorian romance veers into steampunk? What if Rosa Lee Hawkins decides to become dark, brooding R. L. Hawk? Now she’s stuck with that pink, lacy blog—plus the betrayal her romance-loving followers will feel.

You don’t need a marketing tool until you’ve got something to market. Don’t worry about a blog until you’ve finished your first novel and/or had a couple of stories published.

2) Trying to maintain too many blogs. One is plenty. Two if the other is a group blog. Anything more and you probably won’t be able to keep them up. If somebody visits your profile and randomly clicks on one of your five blogs and it hasn’t been updated since you posted that weepy eulogy for Heath Ledger—you just stamped “unprofessional” next to your name.

3) Not listing an email address on your profile. A blog is essentially an advertisement for you as a writer. Why advertise a product that’s not available? Unless you’re being actively pursued by a cyberstalker, there’s no reason not to offer contact information.

4) Making commenting difficult. Those word verification things are a barrier to commenters. I’ve never used them and never met a spambot. If you monitor your blog regularly, you can remove spam yourself (I think I’ve had three spammers in a year and a half of blogging.) And as for insisting on moderating all comments—especially if you don’t get around to them for days—that’s pretty much saying, “I don’t need no stinking comments.” Unless you’re currently battling major troll attacks, don’t do this.

5) Mundane, unfocused blogposts. “Today I went to the dentist, then picked up some groceries and cooked my husband’s favorite meatloaf,” will snoozify anybody who isn’t a member of your immediate family. Remember this isn’t a personal journal.

6) Whining. Resist posting rants about the unfairness of the publishing industry. Or how lame that famous writer’s work is compared to yours. It’s OK when you’ve had a big disappointment to ask for the emotional support of your friends, but don’t give specifics and never rail against the agent/editor(s) who spurned you. Remember the first thing an agent will do if she’s interested in your query is Google you. She probably just had lunch with that editor you called Mr. Poop-for-Brains.

7) Making the blog about one book and/or posting cute observations from your character’s point of view. Yes, I know some bloggers have managed to sustain this kind of tour de force for a while—but what happens when your editor has you change the character’s name? Or that series doesn’t sell and you move on to something else? You want a blog to establish your career—not lock you into a box.

8) Mommy, Mommy look at me! Make sure everything you post has a purpose beyond begging for praise. If you do post creative work, ask for criticism (although, as I said, writing forums are better for this) or use it as an example of how you worked out a knotty problem.

9) Blogging too often. Blog gurus tell you to post once a day or more, but their advice isn’t aimed at creative writers. We have other priorities. I suggest once a week, with an occasional mid-week post for important announcements (like when YOU SIGN WITH AN AGENT! Yay Sherrie Petersen!) Most blogs burn out after two years. But you want yours to be a platform to support you for the long haul. (And believe me, the road to publication is one loooonng-ass haul.)

I’m relieved when my favorite bloggers cut back to a few posts a week. That way I have some hope of keeping up.

10) Focusing on follower numbers. Go for quality not quantity. This is about making friends who (hopefully) will become loyal fans. If you treat people as a commodity, they’re not going to care about you, either.

11) Spamming other bloggers. Visiting random blogs and saying, “This is a swell blog. Come visit mine” is creepy. If there’s a discussion going on about prologues and you’ve just written a post about how Nathan Bransford says prologues are an annoying form of procrastination, by all means mention it. But it has to be relevant to the discussion.

12) Writing posts that are too long, dense, or address more than one topic. 79% of web users scan rather than read. Long posts are off-putting. Break them up with lists, bolding and lots of white space. If you want to write about several topics, use separate blogposts.

13) Letting blogging take over your life. You CAN’T read all the top publishing blogs and comment on all your friends’ blogs every day. Choose one or two days a week and let go of the guilt.

And as for your own blog, remember two words: SLOW BLOGGING. Here’s a link to the SLOW BLOG MANIFESTO See my post on the subject here. Feeling burned out? Going on vacation? Just post a notice that you’re taking a break. You can keep your blog alive without giving up your own life for it.

14) Apologizing for not blogging. I don’t read on if a post starts with, “So sorry I haven’t blogged since September, but my mom came to visit and we had the kitchen remodeled and the dog ate my mouse….” I'm not your third grade teacher. I don't care. Next time you miss a few posts, tell yourself you didn’t FAIL to blog; you SUCCEEDED in joining the Slow Bloggers.


A writer’s blog should exist in service to your creative work, not the other way around. To quote the late, great Miss Snark: “Your job is to write. Blogging is not writing…There's a lot to be said for sitting down with your ownself and writing. Nothing, literally NOTHING replaces that.”

Friday, December 10, 2010

Blog of the Week!

This has been named blog of the week by the very cool bloggers at 3:17 AM. They're a couple of impressive guys--one a writing teacher and the other a marketing guru.

They like my "modesty and gentle irony.' Aw shucks. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Top 10 Trends in Children's Books

I know a lot of my followers write YA/MG—so here’s a list of the top ten 2010 trends in children’s publishing—just released by Scholastic’s editors.

1. The expanding Young Adult audience
2. The year of dystopian fiction
3. Mythology-based fantasy (Percy Jackson followed by series like The Kane Chronicles, Lost Heroes of Olympus and Goddess Girls)
4. Multimedia series (The 39 Clues, Skeleton Creek, The Search for WondLa)
5. A focus on popular characters - from all media
6. The shift to 25 to 30 percent fewer new picture books, with characters like Pinkalicious, Splat Cat and Brown Bear, Brown Bear showing up in Beginning Reader books
7. The return to humor
8. The rise of the diary and journal format (The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dear Dumb Diary, Dork Diaries, The Popularity Papers, and Big Nate)
9. Special-needs protagonists
10. Paranormal romance beyond vampires (Linger and Linger, Beautiful Creatures, Immortal, and Prophesy of the Sisters)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

How to Blog, Part Duh: 13 Steps for Establishing a Popular Writing Blog

Last week I wrote about how to set up a blog and got some great responses—like from this guy. So here’s some more of the stuff I wish I’d known before I started blogging:

  1. If somebody comments, respond in the thread. I did not know this for, like, months when I started out. If any of you who commented early are still reading in spite of my cluelessness—I apologize. Some bloggers respond via email, which is kind, but responses in the thread stimulate discussion and generate further comments.
  1. Don’t be a voice crying in the wilderness. To have a friend, you gotta be one. Follow and comment on other blogs. It’s called social networking. Go out and be sociable! Looking for stuff to post about? Respond to other people’s blogs on your own. Instead of leaving a long comment in that anti-prologue thread, write your own post on the pros of prologues and leave a link
  1. Blog on the same day(s) each week, so people will know when to visit. FYI, I recently read Wednesday and Thursday are the biggest blog traffic days. (Worst days: Saturday and Sunday. So I have a Sunday blog. I might change that.)
  1. Stay on message. It’s OK to post the occasional personal stuff if it’s interesting—like your cat winning the “ugliest pet” award, or the fact you have the world’s most evil, draconian health insurance policy, but keep the majority of your posts focused on your niche topic(s).
  1. Use headers that describe your content. Titles like “It’s Wednesday” and “So Sorry I Haven’t Been Blogging” won’t snag a lot of readers. 
  1. Be sparing with posts of your creative work. If you want critique, you’ll do better visiting writers’ forums like Absolute Write or AgentQueryConnect. People don’t tend to read fiction posted on blogs (even by famous published authors.) Save the fiction for the occasional blogfest or contest, but otherwise, keep your WIP to yourself, especially if you’re a newbie. You don’t want that sucky first draft hanging out there in cyberspace. Trust me on this.
  1. Join in blogfests and contests or conduct your own. A blogfest is a non-competitive mass sharing of work. One blogger will announce a topic, say “first kiss scenes,” and anybody who wants to join in signs up. On the given day, everybody reads each other’s posts and makes comments. It’s a fun way to meet new writers and get acquainted with their work. A blog contest can be anything from a random name draw from a list of commenters to a competition for the best steampunk haiku. Prizes are usually a book or maybe a critique from the blogger. Rewards for the host blogger are an increase in traffic and more followers.
  1. Make sure your “tags” are search-engine friendly. List as many topics as possible, including names of people you’ve mentioned. Those tags are what attract Google’s attention. (This is what geeks mean when they talk about SEO.)
  1. Link to other blogs. This is friendly and it also gets the attention of search engines. In fact, a weekly round-up with links to some of your favorite blogposts of the week is a great way to get readers and notice from the Google spiders.
  1. Post an announcement when you go on hiatus. If you have to skip a few posts, leave a message letting readers know when you’ll be back. A blog that hasn’t been updated since your rant about the totally lame conclusion of Lost is worse than no blog at all. You’re trying to impress people with your professionalism, remember? NB—if you do lapse for a while, don’t post a long list of excuses when you get back. Bo-ring.
  1. Don’t let your best posts fade into cyberspace. Link to them in a sidebar. Blogger has a gadget that makes a list of your most popular posts. If you want to know which ones those are, Blogger also has a “stats” feature, or you can download Google Analytics.
  1. Ignore the rule-makers who tell you to “monetize.” If you’re a creative writer, you’re in this for platform-building and networking, not the ten bucks or so a week you could get for letting Google post annoying stuff in the margins. Many of the ads in Google’s writing category are for predatory self-publishing outfits and bogus literary agencies. You do NOT want your name associated with those people.
  1. Remember the #1 rule of blogging is the Golden one. Offer the kind of post you like to read. Not too much about you. No huge, indigestible hunks of text. Save the negativity for your private journal. Keep it short, sweet, informative and reader-friendly, and pretty soon you’ll have a bunch of friendly readers.
How about you, fellow bloggers out there? Any tips to add?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Kudos for My "How To Blog" Post

An Internet marketing guru Gary Canie likes my blog! He says you can start a blog before Christmas if you follow my directions. You can watch his video recommending me right here. Thanks, Gary!

No, I've never heard of him before. Life on the Interwebz can be so fun!