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!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

8 Query Letter Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

8 Query Letter Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

Along with writing my own books, I work with a publishing house that publishes novels of experienced, award-winning authors along with emerging authors. Part of being a small publisher is helping new writers sharpen the craft of writing and allowing them to experience the art of storytelling.

To get to that point, a writer has to introduce the manuscript to an agent or publisher with a query letter. This is one area where most writers struggle – the query letter is a business sales letter.

Writers use it to introduce their work to an agent or publisher, and hopefully, to get a commitment to send more of the manuscript for evaluation.  Both experienced and novice writers struggle with this. Like any good business letter, there are aspects that should be avoided.

Here are eight mistakes that I’ve seen in just the past three months (along with some real-life examples).

1.    Don’t start with what you want.

You are offering something that the publisher/agent will discover that they want.

NO: “I am interested in having my recently completed a 74,000-word mystery titled Deathly Deadbeats published by Cherokee McGhee Press.”

YES: “My recently completed a 74,000-word mystery Deathly Deadbeats features an off-beat amateur sleuth who tracks down men behind on their child support payments, but…”

2.    Don’t query your first novel outside your country. 

I have received several queries from South Africa, Israel, India and the United Kingdom.  Small publishers, who usually take first novels, have so many queries that the added complexities of working with foreign authors make them an easy rejection. Not fair, I know – but it’s a business.

3.    If you receive a rejection from a publisher, don’t turn around and send a query for another manuscript. 

This makes it look like you have a computer full of old manuscripts – even if you do, always query with the one that best fits the publisher/agent’s list.

4.    Don’t re-query a year later thinking the agent/publisher won’t remember and maybe accept the exact same manuscript this time around. 

I read all the queries. I have a process of tracking what comes through the mail. This shows that the author is not working on his craft and a new manuscript; he just keeps shotgunning the same manuscript to every e-mail address he can find.

As in dating, the same in publishing: “No means no.”

5.    Watch for wishy-washy lead sentences. Start the query with confidence.

“I’m seeking a publisher who is willing to consider publishing my first novel, Dancing Trees.” A publisher “willing to consider” would be the first logical step, but don’t put that as the focus. If the publisher is taking query letters, it is willing to consider manuscripts.

6.   Don’t query a manuscript that’s not appropriate for the list. Know the agent/publisher’s genres.

I receive queries for books on business or textbooks or poetry – we publish fiction. That’s not hard to decipher; it’s in the submission guidelines.

7.   Don’t describe yourself. It’s the manuscript that is being evaluated.

“I am a Paul Newman/Kirk Douglas looking Jew with long hair and beard that is observant and has done serious time.”  Am I supposed to be impressed, afraid, cautious, or introduce him to my sister?

8.   Do not query a self-published book (that includes a book that has been an eBook)

Self-publishing or subsidy publishing a manuscript in paper or eBook format is considered a published book. The “First” Worldwide, North American, or whatever print rights have been used. We have found a book’s original publication usually taps out its initial sales potential, and that first period of sales is when the book recoups the publisher’s investment.  Most paper and/or eBook publishers only consider unpublished works.

So, if you decide to self-publish, that book is technically published. Most publishing houses will not consider it.

That last one is a big one as aspiring authors have more opportunities to self-publish.  Even something like SmashWords makes your manuscript “published” and not eligible to be considered for original publication by another publisher.  This is usually in the contract and could become a legal issue if you try to conceal the fact.

These are just a few of the things to watch. More information on creating the perfect query letter to snag a publisher is in my new “field guide to the Writer’s Life” – SUNSETS & SEMICOLONS.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Audio book of

Fingering the Family Jewels – a Derek Mason Mystery

My first novel Fingering the Family Jewels has landed on virtual bookshelves as an audio book! This is exciting to hear my own words read/acted by a professional actor. Andy Babinski does a fantastic job in the narration with Derek, Aunt Ruby, Daniel, Mark, Gladys and all the rest.
I’ll say it again: Andy Babinski is a jewel (in a great way).    He gives life to the words I wrote in a way that I couldn’t have imagined.  He’s got a great voice and style.
I feel lucky to have found ACX (who matches authors with narrators/producers) and Andy Babinski.

The cool thing found was that the chapters average about 16 – 19 minutes each. That’s perfect for a daily commute or exercising at the gym or walking at lunch.

Get your ears ready for an aural delight!
The audio book is available on Audible.com, iTunes, and Amazon.com





Win an Autographed Copy of the Print Edition of Fingering the Family Jewels

Listen to the audio book and win an autographed copy of the printed book.  Write a review for the audio book.  That will enter you into the drawing. 

You can e-mail me at Greg Lilly to let me know you've posted a review at one of the sites selling the audio book.
I’ll draw a name from the “hat” of reviewers on February 15 and mail the winner an autographed copy (Collector’s edition) of Fingering the Family Jewels – A Derek Mason Mystery, Book 1.