Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Leave A Little Mystery

"Reality" shows, Twitter, FB posts, and Kanye West rants have taught us every thought that pops into our minds should be verbalized in public -- to as many people as possible.

What happened to keeping some things to ourselves?
Sure, I'm writing a blog entry that expresses my opinion. An opinion that some things should be kept in our own minds. That's what an internal editor is for: to stop the stupid stuff from coming out.

Same with writing. You can write all the things that pop in your head, but it doesn't go directly to the public. I don't hit the POST or SEND button until I take a breath and reread the message. Is it something to be shared? Can it benefit the reader?

Back in the 1980s, e-mail was mainframe-based, and once I pushed the keyboard's F10 button, the message was gone. I learned early to consider exactly what was written, what was shared, what my name was attached to.

Maybe that's why writing a manuscript takes me so long -- well, that and having to make a living writing other things. 

A first, I thought I would love the freedom of blasting off a thought on movies, music, politics, books, or gee, even television. But then I read what others posted and realized my opinion is really only interesting to me. 

So, like writing a book, life can use a little mystery, a bit of suspense, or some subtlety.

Wait, weren't the 50 Shades of Grey books big sellers -- those must have been coy and demure to have captured so many people's imagination.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Rush to Publish

I'm reading a mystery that is exquisite in its writing, plotting, characterization, and I'm willing to bet that most people have never heard of it. Okay, he was a 2006 Pulitzer Prize finalist for the book, so that's not a great bet.
I read a lot of unpublished manuscripts as a representative for a small publishing house, the organizer of a book festival, and the presenter of workshops on writing and publishing. I talk to publishers and agents and writers and readers. We agree that the technology boom that introduced the ease of self-publishing has created a segment of books that aren't crafted.
Crafted means the writer learned the mechanics of writing, spent time going through multiple revisions honing the elements of a well-told story, worked with an editor to get a fresh set of eyes on everything from the plot's structure to the placement of each comma.
As I read Lee Martin's The Bright Forever, I'm amazed by his skill and his art of storytelling.
When I read query letters from agents and aspiring writers, I'm less amazed by some of the samples pages submitted. I admit there are gems among the rocks, but just a few.
I guess it has always been that way. I cringe when I think of the things I submitted ten years ago. Then, self publishing was around, but it was very expensive – like $10,000 expensive. Today, a manuscript can be made into a book $300 - $4,999 depending on services the author buys.
These lower costs mean more people jump into self-publishing.

Why self-publish a novel?
You have a story you want to share that may not have a wide appeal, but is worth telling. Yes.
You wrote a manuscript, tried to query agents and publishers without success, and now want – really want – to have a finished product in your hand. Frustration in the process of traditional publishing is not the best reason to self-publish.

Writing is not about the physical book and informing your dry cleaner that you're a published author.
Writing is a verb. It's the process that is important. Results may vary, but an author must love writing.

The rush to publish is a waste of time, energy, and money.

Self-publishing companies decorate their websites with accounts of authors making millions and landing on the New York Times Best-Sellers list. Why? To entice an aspiring writer into the dream of fame and fortune, and to collect as many upfront fees as possible. IT'S A BUSINESS.

Readers become disillusioned by poorly-crafted novels. So, they tend to stick to the name-brands in novels because new authors have burned them in the past. That's a disservice to all serious writers.
Big names and personalities gather crowds. I see this at book festivals and conferences. The authors with cleavage, the 1970s sitcom actors, and the writers with the game show host personality draw crowds. The writer/craftsman sits alone. After the books are written, edited, and published, it's marketing – a completely different skill set than writing – that's important. So, yes, those highlighted CreateSpace authors may sell well.
I realize that not every writer produces a Pulitzer Prize finalist-worthy book – I know I don't. But I'm working on the craft by writing constantly.
For those of us who are not celebrities, not pretty or sexy, or not followed by 80,000 Twitter citizens, we stay in front of our computers, writing and searching out opportunities to improve our skills.
Today, I'm looking at ways to bring serious learning opportunities on the craft and art of writing. I'd love to hear where other authors struggle. Set aside the topics of publishing, marketing, selling books for a while – that's the business side. I want to learn more about the art of writing, because that's why I do this.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Top Five Ways an Editor is Worth the $$

As the publisher for a small independent publishing house and as an editor for a magazine, I see drafts of manuscripts submitted by writers that illustrate the need for an editor.

Writing is a solitary pursuit, but editing is a collaboration – and an essential stage in the publishing process.
Nothing screams "amateur" more than a meandering, error-ridden manuscript.
An editor is important for authors trying to land a literary agent or a publishing contract, but for a self-publishing author, hiring an editor is vital. Agents and publishing houses will edit the incoming manuscript several times including using the in-house editors to make sure the work is the best it can be. A self-published author shouldn't go through the process alone.  A professional editor is a partner in crafting the story for a novel you will be proud to have your name on.

Here are the top five reasons to engage a professional editor:

1 – Developmental editing

No matter how many times you read and edit your book, there will be omissions in the plot structure. You know the characters and their motivations and where they need to be in the next chapter, so if you failed to write it, your mind supplies it for you. All the thinking and dreaming about the story, the advanced planning and the backstory plotting work against you in editing.

While developing the initial drafts, critique groups are great. Once you feel the manuscript is perfect, that's when you need the experience of an editor to bring a fresh look to the development of the storyline and the character arcs.

This is not a job for spouses or friends. You need someone who understands the mechanics of creating strong plots and the characters who move it forward.

2 – Kill your darlings

The phrase "kill your darlings" is usually credited to William Faulkner, but I have heard it from fine art painters, fiction writers, poets and even architects.

As a creator of a work, you will find some parts that are your favorites: a cleaver turn of a phrase, a saucy metaphor, an ingenious character name, or a whiplash plot twist. Writers fall in love with their own creations.
When that happens, you are reluctant to change it (or worse, delete it) when it doesn't contribute to the whole work. An editor will see these elements that may be fabulous on their own, but not pulling their weight in the manuscript.

3 – Revision reassurance

You decide to add a subplot or delete a darling character. Did it work? Did your revisions mess up other parts of the book? It could be one last minute change that cascaded throughout the work.

I saw this many years ago by a New York Times best-selling author who claimed she didn't want editors changing her books.  In the jungles of Brazil, a character was called Jack.  Jack? What happened to Christopher? One hundred pages into the story and suddenly Jack is walking in another character's footsteps. Three pages later, Jack was gone and the character was once again referred to as Christopher.
Revisions need to be checked for their effect on the unchanged sections.

4 – Line editing: grammar/punctuation

You know that you make fun of people on Facebook who post things like: "Between you and I,…" or "Leah and me offer good advice."

Do you know the difference between: there, their, they're or two, to, too? Not every great storyteller is a grammar king/queen.  If you're not, engage an editor who is. Nothing will put off a reader like finding a word usage mistake. After all, you represented yourself as a professional. The reader paid hard-earned money for the book.  You wouldn't tolerate a plumber who left a few leaks behind, just because they're so hard to find.

5 – Education

Doing is learning. Every time I have had one of my own books edited or worked with an editor to edit another writer's manuscript for Cherokee McGhee, I learn. I learned to use a semicolon successfully. I learned that a character cannot laugh a sentence ("You're not serious," Jean laughed). I learned that a mystery novel's sleuth cannot pull clues from thin air – the clue must be mentioned (or planted) before she discovers it. 

The process of revising a manuscript under the guidance of an editor is one of the best writing classes you will ever take.

An editor is an objective person who wants the manuscript to be the best it can be. She will tell you if it is ready for the public or if it still needs some polishing. Authors accepted for publication with a publishing house will have an editor assigned to them. Self-published authors can choose an editor.  Either way, the editor has the same goal as you: developing, revising, and perfecting your work for the enjoyment of the reading public.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Novel structure & pace via Kindle

I'm reading a book I wouldn't ordinarily read. This author is a NYT Best Seller. I wasn't drawn to the story, but I wondered what it was that made him soooo popular -- a bit of story analysis on my part.

Here is the Kindle progress bar:

Since I'm only 13% in, I can't say how I like the story. But the thing I noticed was the chapter lengths of the book, which can be a clue to pacing.

Kindle's progress bar shows a graphical representation of the book's length with a dot at the beginning of each chapter.

For a "big picture" person like me, this is great.

I see that the story has a fairly uniform length of chapters up to middle. [The part of the story where plot and characters are being established.]

Then things get quick. [Building to the main conflict.]

The chapter lengths vary after that until nearing the end when the chapters get shorter (and probably the pace speeds up). [The plot climax and resolution.]

This is a handy tool for writers to analyze plot construction from the masters.

My field guide to the writer's life has more on plot:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Reviewing for Pleasure & Revenge

New authors ask me how to react when a reviewer seems to have a wooden stake to drive through their new novel or how to review other authors’ books. The questions make me evaluate how I regard reviews.

First, each book has qualities that may not work for me, but are probably the reason other readers love it. The very aspect that one reader enjoys, another will dislike. I know that and remind myself when I see reader reviews of books – other people’s and mine.

That’s the part of reviewing that’s hard for me: being an author. I want to say only encouraging things to other authors. I’ve been there. No one wants to read a harsh review of their work.

A review is, after all, one person’s opinion. My friend Brenda would often recite, “Opinions are like a$$#*les; everyone has one and it usually stinks.”

So, on sites like Amazon or GoodReads, I tend to not write reviews unless I’m crazy-infatuated with a book, and then I’ll keep focused on what I think other people will find interesting about it. 

Giving stars is difficult too. For a while, I gave 5-stars to every book I enjoyed, but it occurred to me that 4-stars are “great” and 5-stars means a book is “perfect.”  That was the performance evaluation criteria we had in the corporate world – I was always disappointed if I didn’t get a perfect evaluation.  Donna, my director, would remind me that I did not “walk on water.”

No book “walks on water” either. A 4-star review is a compliment to the work. I know I see a lot of all 5-star reviews. Moms and friends are kind to their writers. ;-)  Also, some authors have achieved teen idol status, so gushing reviews are common for household names or pretty writers. I like to read and to write well-thought reviews about what was enjoyable about the novel. A written review takes time and effort; I appreciate those for my own work and try to return that to others.

We can’t always be syrupy in admiration for a book, but if I find a book doesn’t speak to me, I stop reading and move to the next one on my list. I don’t release brimstone onto the author. A rabid, hateful review demonstrates more about the reviewer than it does of the targeted book.

That’s what I tell new authors about reviews. If the tone is harsh, the review is about something more than the book. It was written to be hurtful to the book’s author. Julia Cameron says “blocked creatives” can be very spiteful to those who are achieving what they long for.

Focus on encouragement and refinement when reading or writing a review from someone not of your relation! The old adage “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all” is a good rule for reviewing (and in life).

Monday, July 22, 2013

Giving it away...

Give-away of a free Audible.com audio book of "Fingering the Family Jewels - A Derek Mason Mystery" to a "like" on my Facebook author page. 

On July 25, a secret committee will choose a random person who has "liked" my author page for a free download of the audio book. 

Go ahead and "like" me. It's free and you might win an audio book.


Or if you would rather, you can buy the audio book from Audible.com:

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Independence Day -- Celebrating the Independent Press

It's the 4th of July, and that made me think of Independence...And independent publishers and the uphill battle to get our books known by the public.

Just as we're shopping local to keep diversity and uniqueness alive, I say let’s help promote the mid-list authors and the independent publishing houses.

I saw this article on an e-mail from THE BOOK MARKETING EXPERT NEWSLETTER and thought it would be wise to share:

Feature Article: Readers: How You Can Help Your Favorite Authors
Okay readers, listen up. This one is for you. Being an author isn't easy, in fact it's a pretty tough job. We write our books for you and, in return, we'd love a little help now and again.
Most of my articles are around marketing, social media, and advising authors on what they can do. Often I am sure that authors read these pieces and feel like they need a nap. Yes, there's a lot to be done, but you shouldn't go it alone. Your readers can be your best ally to help you market and readers, listen up: it's not easy being an author in a world where everyone can get published.

Often readers do want to help, but aren't really sure what to do. Also, there's a bit of a mystique around authors. Many readers think, "Well, the book has been published, they probably don't need my help." But this couldn't be further from the truth. Authors (especially those who are starting out) do need our help. Here are a few things you can do to help support your favorite author and for authors, don't hesitate to post this list somewhere on your website. If you need help (and who doesn't) you need to ask for it.

* Review the book: I've been doing an experiment with a book that I published anonymously. I included an email address for readers to write to share their thoughts on the book and I was shocked at all of the emails I got. Most of them complimentary (whew) and many of them asking when I'd write another book (something every author wants to hear). I would write them, thank them and ask them if they had the time, would they consider reviewing it on Amazon. This has netted me over fifty reader reviews. Authentic opinions about the book, written by a reader. Fantastic, yes? Readers are some of the best resources for reviews. If you are an author, ask for a review. You might even include a note at the end of the book to your readers inviting them to review it and telling them why. I'm surprised that many readers don't do this, it's not because they're lazy but because they wonder if their opinion matters. Guess what? It does! Like a book? Please review it. Even if you don't like it review it, too. Most authors welcome feedback if it's constructive. Always be positive.

* Video reviews: If you're ready to take this a step further, why not offer a video review? Amazon lets you do this and I know, as an author, I would be thrilled if someone reviewed my book on video! If you do this, send the video clip via Dropbox or YouSendit and keep the clip to under a minute. Hold up the book and smile!

* Photo sharing: This is another thing that I would love so much. A reader holding up my book, snapping a picture and posting it on social media! This is a fun, visual way to share your love for a book. Even better, snap a picture where you're reading it. Taking a book on vacation? Why not show yourself enjoying the book (cover out!) reclining in a hammock or sitting somewhere sipping espresso (Paris?). If you don't have any travel planned, take a picture anyway. Authors love, love this so much!

* Local bookstores: Though it may seem like every author who is published gets a shot at bookstore shelf space, the truth is that most don't. If you've found a book you love and had to buy it on Amazon because your local store didn't carry it, tell them. Bookstore managers have told me if they get multiple requests for a book they will consider stocking it.

* Reading groups: This is often a tough one for authors to get into. Reading groups are a fantastic way to get the word out about your book but many are tough to reach and often pick their books months in advance. Unlike The Pulpwood Queens which has a website and a strong online presence, most local book clubs don't have that kind of exposure but their regional reach can be fantastic. If you know of a local book club let them know about this book and then put them in touch with the author. It's a quick thing to do and I speak from experience when I say that any author would be very, very grateful to have this kind of a connection.

* Buy the book for a friend: This is pretty basic. If you love the book you just read, buy a copy for a friend. I do this almost every year for Christmas. If I love a book, I gift it. When you gift it, remind the person to review it.

* Social Media: Sharing has become part of our lives. We share good and bad news but when was the last time you shared what you are reading? Here's where that great picture you just took of you reading a book can come in handy. Or even better, hop on over to Goodreads or Library Thing and share your love for this author to the millions listening there.

* Bookmarks: Most authors will get things printed up like bookmarks, postcards, etc. Bookmarks are especially fun because despite the eBook surge, many of us are still reading printed books. Email the author and see if he or she will send you a stack of them that you can share with your local library or bookstore. Leave them at the counter or pop them inside of similar books. Sort of like Amazon's "Other customers also bought" which pairs up similar titles. I know of a few times when this has happened, meaning readers contacting authors and the authors are blown away and grateful. Again, this takes very little effort. Ask for the bookmarks and the next time you're at a bookstore drop them off. Easy and the authors will really appreciate the local exposure.

* Authors on tour: It's not often that authors tour anymore but if you have someone coming to your area why not offer to help them get the word out? Maybe drop off fliers, or if you are so inclined, call your local paper and let them know this author is coming to town and as a reader, you'd love for the paper to do a story on it. Getting a heads up about an author coming to town from a reader can be ten times more effective than even a well-polished pitch. Why? Because the media is serving the local community and if a resident is sharing an idea, they're bound to listen.

* Libraries: Authors can have a tough time getting into libraries so why not buy an extra book and donate it? Then let the author know that you did this so they can let readers know where they can check out the book at a local library. I know most authors would love to have a reader do this. It's impossible to reach everyone and most authors don't have the budget to do a library pitch on top of everything else. Many will submit their books to publications librarians read and hope for the best. Having a local connection is a fantastic way to get a book some local exposure.

When I've offered these tips in a session sometimes someone will pop up and say, "But big named authors don't need this kind of help." That's possibly quite true, but if you're only reading big names you're missing out on a whole crop of wonderful new writers. And, candidly, most authors, no matter how big they are will appreciate the help. The publishing world isn't just shrinking for the little guy, it's shrinking for every author. As a reader, you have a unique opportunity to make a difference and help out an author who has poured his or her heart and soul into a book. As an author, if you need help from your readers ask. Post this article on your website or excerpt pieces of it that you feel best fit your needs. Even better, create your own list. When you ask for help, you might be very pleasantly surprised by the results.

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Contact Information for the Book Marketing Expert

--- Hope you have a safe & happy Independence Day.
Thank you to all the men and women who have served our country!