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Friday, December 21, 2007

On haitus for the holidays

I'll be back after the holidays! As always, if there are topics you want me to cover, just comment and let me know!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Utilize reader statistics

The Gallup Poll website is fascinating. Okay, I admit, I’m a geek.

However, it’s also useful in gathering information about the book business, which is important for a writer.

Sometimes the statistics are a bit depressing—about 60% (depending on the house, genre, etc.) of all fiction books don’t make back their advance, for example—but other times, the stats can help writers.

This is the poll that talks about readers. It’s from 2005, but I think it’s mostly up to date—especially because the numbers are not much different from the 1999 stats, which are also presented.

Which of the following is the main way you generally select the books you read -- [ROTATED: based on a recommendation from someone you know, by choosing an author whose books you like, based on book reviews you've read, by browsing a bookstore or library, based on an advertisement you've seen, by browsing an Internet site] -- or do you select them another way?

BASED ON 855 ADULTS WHO READ AT LEAST ONE BOOK IN THE PAST YEAR


2005 May 20-22

1999 Sep 10-14


%

%

By choosing an author whose books you like

30

26

Based on a recommendation from someone you know

27

27

By browsing a bookstore or library

22

26

Based on book reviews you've read

7

6

By subject (vol.)

6

2

By browsing an Internet site

3

1

Based on an advertisement you've seen

2

3




Other

2

7

No opinion

1

1

Few people choose a book based on book reviews (7%) or by browsing an Internet site (3%), and only 2% say they were influenced to read a book by an advertisement.

Most people, 73%, say the Internet has not affected their reading habits, but 16% say that because they spend more of their free time on the Internet, they are reading fewer books. Just 6% say that the Internet has influenced them to read more, by making it easier to find out about, and purchase, books.



Bottom line:

Create a brand so readers buy simply because you wrote it.

If you think of writers like Nora Roberts, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Danielle Steel, Debbie Macomber—you know them by the types of stories they write.

You buy them based on the types of stories you like to read.

I don’t like the more intense stories, so I haven’t read much Stephen King or Dean Koontz—the ones I’ve read, I haven’t liked that much.

However, I love Debbie Macomber because her books are light, sweet, and satisfying. Those are the types of books I personally prefer.

You want your readers to automatically buy your books as soon as they come out because they know and anticipate the type of read they’ll get.

Remember that a whopping 30% of readers buy based on the author. Create your brand so that people will buy your books, knowing the kind of story they can expect.

Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth.

Basically, write a good book so people will talk to other people about it.

There’s also a marketing strategy where you make it easy for people who would be most likely to enjoy your book to get their hands on it. If you haven’t read Pyromarketing by Greg Stielstra, go and get it. Or listen to the free audiobook MP3 download on his website, www.pyromarketing.com.

You target people who’d be likely to like your book, and either give the book to them or give them a portion of it so they want to read more of it.

Those targeted people are more likely to talk about your book to other people, who will go out and buy it.

Also, make it easy for people to describe your book or your brand. My books are Asian chick lit. Robin Caroll is Southern romantic suspense. Cheryl Wyatt is special forces romance. Debby Giusti is medical technology romantic suspense.

Think of how you can brand yourself or your writing to make it easy for people to say, “Oh, I love XYZ author’s books because they’re {fill in the blank}.”

Remember that word of mouth accounts for a huge 27% of people who buy your book. This might be a larger percentage (and the percentage of people who buy based on your name will probably be lower) for debut novelists.

Some of it is not what you can control

Ultimately, there’s nothing you can do to make every Barnes and Noble and Borders bookstore carry your title. That’s up to the corporate offices and your publisher’s sales team.

You have no control over the cover art, even if they give your heroine three arms.

You have no control over the title, most of the time.

You have little control over the back cover blurb, especially if your marketing department has a specific reader demographic they’re targeting with the nature and feel of the blurb.

So while 22% of people buy books because they pick it up while browsing, you have no control over that. Don’t let it keep you up at night. (I’m Christian, so my philosophy is that God’s in control, and that helps when I start getting angsty.)

If you write the best book you can, and work hard to learn how to write even better books, people will start reading your books. That’s really all you can do. And when you get as popular as Diana Gabaldon, then Barnes and Noble will carry an entire shelf of your books.

Use your marketing money wisely.

Debbie Macomber spends about 25% of her book money on marketing. Because she makes a ton of money, that’s a lot of marketing dollars.

But her philosophy holds for lower advances, too—use only 25% for marketing.

Because the poll indicates that only 2% of people buy based on an advertisement, I choose not to spend money on ads.

Because the poll indicates that 27% buy based on word of mouth, I choose to spend more money on book giveaways and contests. People who want to read my book will enter the contests, and some of them will win a copy and hopefully tell other people.

In order to help spread word of mouth about my books (and me), I also spend time making myself available to readers and developing a relationship with them. The internet is great for this, especially blogs. My main blog, Camy’s Loft, is both inexpensive and helps develop a sense of community with my readers. I can also use it to promote Christian fiction and draw more readers to my blog to become part of my community.

My website costs a bit more (design, hosting, domain name), but it’s an easy, relatively inexpensive way for readers to find me. It’s my business card on the web, and people can explore me and my books on their own time, in their own way. They can decide if my novels might interest them, if they want to buy them.

I also am very careful about what types of promotional items I buy to give away.

While Post-It notes are useful, people use them and they’re gone. Pens are done by almost everyone, and I myself have thrown away a number of author pens because we don’t have the space for them. I’m not sure how many people actually use promotional keychains, and while there are lots of other really neat promo items—flashlights, bags, water bottles, etc.—they don’t always fit well with my brand and my novels.

Bookmarks have been handy for me because they’re inexpensive and many readers will actually use them. I also had my mom create some beautiful ribbon bookmarks with a special charm I custom-ordered that has my website on it—people are less likely to toss the ribbon bookmark, and hopefully they’ll use it, be reminded of me, and want to get my next book.

I might get other promotional items depending on demand or on any special events my publisher plans for me. For example, I ordered custom-engraved chopsticks to give away at my booksigning at the International Christian Retail Show. They were a bit pricey, but worth it because people remembered me and even went to stand in line in order to get the chopsticks (in addition to my book).

So think about how you want to spend your marketing money. Like I did with the chopsticks, try to find something unique—and hopefully usable—that people will keep and remember you by.

If you have any other comments, suggestions, or question, feel free to comment. I’m always open to discussion or other ideas for marketing and promotion for poor writers.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Characters – external conflict

Your main character’s story problem should be a big enough problem to carry them through the entire story and not be resolved until the climax. If the story problem resolves in the middle, it’s not a strong enough problem.

For romance, you also want strong conflict between the hero and heroine so they can’t get together during the story without some serious consequences. There has to be some type of relational conflict keeping them apart.

For non-romance, there should be strong conflict between the protagonist and an antagonist. Again, it should be strong enough to keep them from resolving their differences halfway through your story. They should be pitted against each other—with good reason to fight each other—all through the book, not resolving their differences until the climax.

The story problem should be deep and personal. Beyond external events, the characters have deep motivations that drive them to fight each other.

My friend Janet Dean quoted me this, which she got from bestselling author Susan Wiggs:

Think of your heroine (or protagonist), then think of her worst nightmare and make that the hero (or antagonist).

In Bayou Justice by Robin Caroll, the heroine, CoCo, is a strong woman who works fearlessly in the Louisiana bayou. But her greatest fear is being hurt again by the man she loved, Luc Trahan. The story problem is that she’s a suspect in the murder of Beau Trahan, who had been about to evict her family from their home, and who happens to be Luc’s grandfather—thus throwing her together with the man who could rip her heart out again.

In When Dreams Come True by Margaret Daley, the heroine, Zoey, fears a disruption of her life just as she and her children have settled into Sweetwater. The story problem is that her husband, who had been believed dead and who had been estranged from her before his disappearance, shows up on her doorstep and needs to be reassimilated into his own family.

In Sushi for One?, my heroine fears a relationship with a man and makes a stringent list from Ephesians to weed out undesirables—a type of personal coping mechanism. The story problem is that she keeps being thrown together with Aiden, who doesn’t meet any of the requirements on her list.

So think about your protagonist and antagonist. How can you tweak things so that the story problem becomes deeper and more personal?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Growing attraction between characters

I love romances—I write them and read them—and so I tend to be picky about how romance develops between characters.

I got two tips from a workshop given by Jennifer Crusie:

Trigger pleasant childhood sensory memories.

Early in childhood, we develop sensory memories tied to pleasant events. The cottony smell of Mama’s sewing room, or the buzzing sound of Dad running the saw in his workshop. Happy times linked to smell, sound, touch, taste, or specific visual cues.

When two people start to fall in love, one person will trigger one of those pleasant sensory memories in the other.

For example, Jenny Crusie gave a scene from her book where the heroine fried eggs in butter for the hero for breakfast. The smell of the butter brought back happy memories of the hero’s mother cooking for him.

Another example was when the heroine first glimpses the hero, and he reminds her of the one person she trusts in the world, an old mobster named Joey—the visual cue triggered pleasant memories for her because she loves Joey.

In your romance, think about how you can start to develop the romance by triggering sensory memories.

The hero and heroine start to mirror each other’s actions.

Jenny Crusie mentioned this was something a college anthropology or sociology class discovered. In a bar, couples who were successful in “hooking up” started to mirror each other’s actions. If she leaned on the bar, he did too. If he crossed his legs, she did too.

Have your characters start to mirror each other in subtle ways to indicate the advancement of their relationship. It doesn’t have to be obvious and in the reader’s face, but little things will help the reader start to track the progression of the romance.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pacing, part two

There are certain elements that can slow your pacing too much, especially in Scenes. While none of these are absolute no-nos (there are few rules in writing that are completely unbreakable), most of the time, these things slow pacing too much in a story and gives the reader a chance to put the book down.

Too much introspection.

In a Scene, give your character a scene goal and make it happen. Don’t spend too much time in the character’s head, ruminating over things. Focus on action rather than thought.

You can have the character emotionally react to things that happen in the scene, but keep it short. Save the introspection for the Sequel.

Too much backstory.

While you might think the reader needs this information about the character’s past in order to understand the scene, most of the time, the reader can figure things out pretty well.

Keep backstory to a minimum. Pepper it into the scene in a single sentence here and there rather than having a paragraph or three all at once. See my article on Hook, Description and Backstory for more detail on how to pepper backstory into a scene.

Too much narrative or description.

Pacing is always stalled with a paragraph of description. While it’s important to let the reader know where and when she is in the story, you also don’t want to sacrifice pacing for description.

Description can also refer to description of a character, as well as a place, so watch for that, too.

As with backstory, pepper description into the scene and focus on the action taking place. You can describe a bar just as easily with the action that takes place inside of it as with a paragraph passively describing it.

Also, don’t just describe the setting or the character—show your viewpoint character’s emotional reaction to the setting or character. It’s always more interesting to the reader when you show a character’s emotion in conjunction with description.

Too many words.

While we like a nice poetic phrase or a wonderful metaphor, sometimes excess words will slow pacing. This is where you need to take out your most critical editor and tighten your prose to the minimal words needed to get the story across.

Poetry is nice, but unless you deliberately want to slow the pacing (as in a Sequel), don’t use it in Scenes. Be ruthless. That flowery description might be Pulitzer Prize-worthy, but if it’s slowing your pacing too much in that Scene, save it for another place in the story.

If your manuscript seems slow-paced in some areas, compare it to this checklist. Your pacing problem might be an easy fix.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Pacing, part one

First off, pacing is often a bit subjective. What one reader considers un-put-down-able could be too fast to another reader. What one reader considers lovely, poetic prose could be boring and slow to another reader.

You are not going to please everyone. Get used to it.

So how do we find the right pacing for our books?

Aim for a pace that is right for your story—fast enough to keep the reader enthralled, with “sequels” so that they can catch their breath.

Be your own critic in this case. Analyze your story’s pacing and figure out if it needs to be faster, or if it needs more breathing room.

Also depend on your critique partners. Often, an unbiased third party can tell you if the pace is too fast, too slow, or just right.

Utilize Scene and Sequel.

Dwight Swain in Techniques of the Selling Writer says that pacing is dependent on Scene and Sequel. A strong, goal-oriented Scene will increase the story pace because the reader is following the character’s scene goal. The following Sequel allows the reader to catch their breath. By utilizing Scene and Sequel, you’ll keep up a strong pace for the novel.

Length of Scenes and Sequels can affect pace, so make sure you don’t have Sequels longer than Scenes or vice versa.

How long should each be? It depends on your writing style and your story. Again, your own critical analysis and your critique partners can help you with this. Your own read-through or another reader can point out when introspection goes on for too long, or if a car chase scene is getting monotonous.

Make sure to include conflict at all times.

Donald Maass in Writing the Breakout Novel emphasizes conflict to drive the story. Even in Sequels, there is some type of minor conflict going on during the emotional reaction,

Conflict will differ according to your story, your voice, and your genre. For chick lit, conflict might be the heroine’s mother’s nagging. For a suspense, it might be a stalking serial killer. The conflict that fits with your story will be what drives the pace.

A strong conflict during Scenes and a minor conflict during Sequels will keep your reader turning pages, but will still allow them to breathe during Sequels. It will be a good pace that makes the reader stay up late to finish “just one more chapter.”

Look at your own manuscript. What does the pacing look like? Do you have Scenes and Sequels following them? Do you have some sort of conflict, whether minor or major, in every Scene and Sequel?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Before you query: To finish or not to finish

You’ve heard the saying from dozens of industry professionals and published authors: Finish your manuscript before you query an agent or editor.

But I’ve heard the very valid point from writers that often it takes 4-6 months before you hear back from a query. Why not do 3 chapters, then query, and finish the manuscript while you’re waiting? Why not get the idea out there while you’re working on it?

Here’s the reason—the agent/editor may not take 4-6 months to get back to you. They might take 4-6 DAYS. And in this industry, timing is everything.

If an agent/editor reads your query and wants the story, they might be thinking, “I know an editor who would want to see an idea like this right now,” or “This type of story idea would be perfect for an empty slot in our line.”

If you can’t send them the partial or full manuscript as soon as they ask for it—say it takes you 3 months to finish the manuscript, or let’s be optimistic, say it takes you one month. That one month might already be too late. The editor might find another idea similar to yours and contract that instead. Or the agent finds another idea similar to yours and sends it to an editor she knows is interested.

Repeat after me: Timing is everything.

Another thing to think about—you don’t want to leave an editor or agent hanging. Their time is very valuable and if they ask for a manuscript, it’s because they have time to read it and a possible slot in their stable for your writing. If you don’t send the manuscript in a timely manner, you don’t look as professional as someone who sends them the manuscript the next day.

Question: But what if you have three different ideas and want to query agents with all three ideas? Wouldn’t that be better than waiting to write three manuscripts?

Answer: What if three different agents each want one of your three ideas? Which one do you finish first? And if you choose one, your chance for the other two might be lost because it takes you 4-6 months to get the other agents the other completed manuscripts.

Question: What if an idea crashes and burns—wouldn’t it be better to know that before you write the entire manuscript?

Answer: Don’t set yourself up for disappointment and assume your idea won’t fly. Also, don’t query something if you don’t honestly think it’s a good idea.

If you need to “test drive” an idea, a contest is an easier, safer, and faster way to do it. You’ll also get more feedback from a contest than an agent or editor about what aspects of your idea might need work.

Go forth and write that manuscript!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Dialogue—interrupting

In real life, people interrupt each other all the time (especially in my family). Why not have your characters do it, too? It adds a bit of realism and depth to the dialogue, making it sound more natural.

Interruptions can also create more variety in your dialogue rhythm. It adds a nice change of pace without being too much of a hitch in the reading flow.

Now, don’t go overboard and have people interrupt each other all the time (even though we know that in real life, that can happen). Moderation is the key, as with any writing style.

Finishing a sentence:

This is a fun type of interruption, when the other character finishes the person’s sentence for them.

“This is a private Christian school, kiddo. You sure you’re supposed to be saying that kinda word around here?” Joel asked.

Bradley jerked his head around, his eyes rapidly scanning the perimeter as if they’d just come under enemy fire. “N-no. I ain’t supposed to. Good thing my teacher’s not—”

“Right behind you, Bradley?”

--From A Soldier’s Promise by Cheryl Wyatt


Cutting someone off:

This is a great device to heighten tension and conflict in a dialogue. Again, use this judiciously or else your character will sound like a jerk/witch for always cutting the other person off.

She snorted. “Some things never change. I made a mistake calling you, Luc. You’re too much like the old man to see reason.”

Ouch, that stung. “I’m sor—”

“Consider yourself warned. My family will fight you Trahans.”

--From Bayou Justice by Robin Caroll


Punctuation review:

When someone is interrupted, use an em-dash, like this: —. It’s a long dash, the length of the letter m on an old-fashioned typewriter. The short dash is called an en-dash (the length of the letter n), and that should not be used to indicate an interruption. If you don’t use an em-dash, use two short dashes like this: --

Do not use ellipses to indicate someone is being interrupted. Ellipses (three periods like this: ...) are used to indicate when someone’s voice is trailing off, but no one is speaking to fill in the gap of silence.

”It’s him, Ma. We know our own pa!”

“It’s ... it’s ...” Sophie struggled to let go of the wild surge of hope that was building in her.

--From Petticoat Ranch by Mary Connealy


Look at your dialogue passages. Can you add an interruption to vary the pace or increase tension?

Monday, December 03, 2007

When to use italics in first person POV

When do I use italics in first person POV?

The beauty of first person is that it’s immediate. It’s like constantly being in the person’s head, constantly hearing their direct thoughts.

In third person POV, direct thoughts are indicated by italics. For example:

This is from Only Uni. My heroine, Trish, has just showed up for a New Year’s party.

Here’s the original with lots of italics.

She glanced down at her dress. Well, at least the cut makes me look curvier and slender at the same time. Ha! I love how well-tailored clothes ensure I don’t have to work as hard to look good.

She kicked off her sandals—Oh look, my toes have turned blue from the cold—and they promptly disappeared in the sea of shoes filling the foyer. She swatted away a flimsy paper dragon drooping from the doorframe and smoothed down her skirt. She snatched her hand back and wrung her fingers behind her.


Here’s the revised version:

At least the expert cut of her dress made her rather average figure curvier and more slender at the same time. Trish loved how well-tailored clothes ensured she didn’t have to work as hard to look good.

She kicked off her sandals—Oh look, her toes had turned blue from the cold—and they promptly disappeared in the sea of shoes filling the foyer. She swatted away a flimsy paper dragon drooping from the doorframe and smoothed down her skirt. She snatched her hand back and wrung her fingers behind her.

No, that’ll make your hips look huge.

She clenched her hands in front.

Sure, show all the relatives that you’re nervous.

She clasped them loosely at her waist and tried to adopt a regal expression.

“Trish, you okay? You look constipated.” Her cousin Bobby snickered.


The first two paragraphs in the revised version are essentially direct thought, but in third person past tense rather than in first person present tense and italics.

I used italics for when the thoughts go deeper, and Trish is thinking to directly to herself.

A rule of thumb in novels is to use italics as little as possible. If you use italics very lightly, then when you do use them, the italics have more impact, such as in the example above. The italics serve to impact the humorous punchline at the end of the example.

In order to use italics lightly, I tend to only use them when the character is speaking to him/herself. Other types of direct thought can easily be written as third person past tense, as shown above.

In first person, the principle is the same. Use italics lightly, and only use them for emotional impact and when the character is speaking directly to him/herself.

Here’s an example from my current WIP, a young adult chick lit. It’s Amelia’s first day at a new school and she’s just met Glory, who seems nice, but Amelia can’t explain why she doesn’t warm to her:

Glory glances at my backpack. “Nice bag.”

“Thanks.” It’s leather and heavier than a suitcase. I also think it’s kind of old-person-ish, but Mom got it for me.

“What do you parents do?”

“They’re both engineers. How about y—”

“Where do they work?”

I blink at the question. Well, this is Marshall’s School for Excellence—maybe the smart kids are more career oriented than normal folk. “Mom’s at Google, Dad’s at Intel.”

Glory’s eyes widen so much, her (fake, I think) eyelashes brush the bottom edge of her bangs. “Wow.”

Her reaction causes that same zapping thing with my back, and I take a deep breath to make the muscles loosen. Stupid, what are you doing? She’s a nice person.


Most of the chapter is void of italics. The only time I used them is here, when Amelia scolds herself for being unreasonable.

Look at your own manuscript. How often do you use italics? Can you rewrite them into the narrative as non-italics?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Hiding Emotion

by Ronie Kendig from Double Crit editing service

Joan stared at the device. A bomb. She’d expect no less of those who’d come after her. Would motion set it off? Afraid to move, she prayed.

From nowhere, Joshua appeared. He rushed toward the explosive. “I’ll handle this.” He defused the bomb before she could answer.


Enjoyable? Fulfilling? I think not. Too often we write deus ex machina into our story—God from a machine (a concept derived from Greek tragedies)—where a hero/god swoops in and saves the day. Maybe that’s our way of trying to protect our character. Have you ever done that? Become so immersed in your story, that an idea pops into your head. And you think, “Oh, that would be very bad. I can’t let that happen.”

How do you respond? Do you let the “very bad” thing happen? Or do you pad protective clutter around your character and story, stifling what could very well be a powerful, emotional experience? I say, LET GO! Let your character experience pain. Allow the villain or circumstance to rip your hero/heroine’s life apart. Isn’t that what often happens in our lives? How many times have you heard friends or loved ones ask how God could allow something to happen? Pain exists. We aren’t protected (not completely) from it. Don’t let your characters hide behind your shields. Sure, you might feel the pain vicariously. But then, so will your reader.

Too often, we let superficial wounds carry the story and conflict. I mean, if it’s superficial, then I’d say it’s a boo-boo, not a wound. Wouldn’t you? Your characters (like us) are resilient. They’ll bounce back (after all, you control the ending…to some degree). Without those wounds, they can’t grow and develop. Who wants one-dimensional characters? So dig deep. Write deep. WOUND DEEP.

Double Crit is a unique freelance editing service that offers high-level critiques of fiction book proposals and manuscripts from two experienced editors. Whether you’re preparing for a conference or getting ready to submit your manuscript to editors or agents, we can help.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Actions to fit your characters

by Ronie Kendig from Double Crit editing service

The scene was set. My heroine finally knew she’d fallen in love with the hero. As they stood on a beach, he told her they’d have to keep their distance because he couldn’t focus. So, what did my feisty, independent woman do? She kissed him back.

I stopped writing. Staring at the screen, I wondered if that was right. Did it fit with her character? How do you know what is right and what isn’t? Have you done the research to understand personality styles and characterization? Without this vital research, you might have a maiden leading a crusade for women’s liberation.

Okay, sure. Anything is possible—but only with the right framework. Only if you’ve established credence to why your character is responding in such a way. For me, the above scenario proved right. My heroine demanded control of a situation. When the hero draws the line, she steps over it. Without the knowledge that my heroine had this flare in her personality, I would’ve rewritten this scene. Wrote her into compliance, per se.

Do you find yourself doing that? Forcing your character to fit your story? It’s like trying to tell a four year old child to solve an algebraic equation. It’s just not possible (yes, genius and mensa and prodigies aside…). Only by becoming intimately acquainted with your characters will you be able to write them into compelling scenarios.

Another story I wrote, the most important character trait to my hero was honor. At the end of the story, a situation has arisen where the woman he loves is revealed to be married to a man everyone thought dead. My hero had no choice by to “relinquish” his love for her. It was the honorable thing. The right thing.

Did this ending make me happy? No. I’m a consummate romantic. I love happy endings. And it sure didn’t make my crit partners happy. I think Robin had to buy a new monitor since she didn’t have the story in book-form to throw across the room. :-D But I wrote the ending that fit with the character and the story. By doing this, you will leave your readers satisfied (and maybe a little angry on behalf or your characters).

Double Crit is a unique freelance editing service that offers high-level critiques of fiction book proposals and manuscripts from two experienced editors. Whether you’re preparing for a conference or getting ready to submit your manuscript to editors or agents, we can help.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Squashing our Protective Urges

by Ronie Kendig from Double Crit editing service

I work in the children’s department at a national department store, which means I see a lot of adorable little faces smiling up at me quite often. But every now and then, I see a situation that I know is doomed to end badly. My urge is to rush to the rescue. Protect that child (and yes, the store from a law suit! LOL). We all have instincts and urges to protect others. Unfortunately, those very urges can stifle or even kill our fiction.

Recently I read a chapter for one of my critique partners. The story was enjoyable and the writing very good. However, I felt the author was protecting the heroine by not wanting to push her. How often have you done that? Go to write a scene and you stop, thinking, There is no way I can do that to my heroine/hero.

Why not? Why can’t you put your characters through the grinder? It happens in real life every day. I challenge all writers to push your characters PAST their limits, see what they’re made of. What you—as a writer—are made of. It’s not easy to release that much pain and agony on a “person” you’ve grown to love and care about. And yep, it certainly could alter your story. But here’s what you need to consider: is it going to make your character stronger? Is it going to make your ending excel? If so, then maybe you need to take that lonely, dark road. Many times story-altering changes like this will not only deepen your fiction, but grow you as a writer.

Double Crit is a unique freelance editing service that offers high-level critiques of fiction book proposals and manuscripts from two experienced editors. Whether you’re preparing for a conference or getting ready to submit your manuscript to editors or agents, we can help.

Writer...Interrupted Carnival of Christian Writers

Visit the November Carnival of Christian Writers at Writer . . . Interrupted

Monday, November 19, 2007

Christmas gifts for writers

It’s starting to look a lot like Christmas...

A few years ago, I came across an article on gifts for writers, and I expanded on it with an article of my own. If you have ideas, leave a comment and I’ll add it to the list!

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but it might help jump-start some other creative ideas. Some of these taken from All I Want for Christmas by Diana Rowe Martinez. I also have several Levenger.com products because I like them and think they’re wonderful gifts for readers/writers.

• Gift certificate to any of the major bookstores--Barnes & Noble, Waldenbooks, Borders, Christianbook.com, or my favorite, Amazon.com (cheaper books, free shipping on orders over $25, and no sales tax)

• Gift certificate to Office Depot or any office supply store

• Dictionary and/or Thesaurus--one of the biggest and most comprehensive. My favorite thesaurus is the Visual Thesaurus, which you can purchase as a CD and/or subscribe to the online version, which is constantly updated.

• Gift certificate for Levenger.com--unique, practical and/or luxurious gifts for readers and writers

• Case of printer paper--white, 20lb.

• Printer cartridge

• E-book reader

• Office furniture: file cabinet, desk organizer, desk lamp, ergonomic keyboard/mouse, filing shelf, footrest

• A day with a professional organizer

• Maid service for a month/few months/year

• Laptop case, laptop backpack, or a laptop carrier with wheels and pull handle (however, one caution about this—some women are picky about their laptop bags. It’s kind of like choosing a purse for a woman—most have very specific ideas about what they want and would rather choose the style themselves.)

• Arrange an author's website--domain registration, hosting, professional designer

• A set of business cards, or arrange to have the writer work with a graphic designer to design her own business cards
I can’t stress enough the importance of a professional looking business card. I worked with two graphic designers—one to create my logo, and one to design the look of my card (Designer Girl Graphics). Then I had the card printed using an online company rather than printing it myself because the cardstock and colors look more professional.

• CDs or MP3s of recorded writing workshops from a writer’s conference

• Membership to a writing organization like RWA or ACFW

• Registration fee and/or hotel and travel costs to a writer’s conference

• New laptop or computer, printer, scanner/fax/copy machine, flatscreen monitor

• Ergonomic chair and/or footrest, ergonomic or wireless keyboard, ergonomic or wireless mouse/trackball
I’m one of the lucky ones in that I haven’t had too many repetitive motion injuries from my writing, but I’m also not taking any chances.

I made sure I got a very good chair and also a footrest that supports my lower back (which has problems from an old work-related injury). I have an ergonomic keyboard. I tried out many different styles of mice and trackballs at various office supply and computer stores until I found the one that best fits my hand and wrist, and I don’t skimp on paying good money for it.

Wireless is also convenient because I can shift my keyboard and/or trackball around on my desk, which isn’t very big, to enable me to do other types of work. However, not everyone will need/want this feature.

If buying this for a loved one, it’s a good idea to not surprise them with this gift, but to go with him/her to pick out a chair, keyboard, or mouse/trackball so you can be sure to get them one that really fits their body.

• PDA
I use mine a lot to schedule my writing. I like using the Calendar feature to figure out what blog posts I’m supposed to be posting, how many words I need to do on each day, when my deadlines are. Not everyone is digitally-minded, however—I have many friends who like to use a regular calendar instead.

• MP3 player/iPod and/or accessories—car power adapter, adapter to play the iPod via the car radio or adapter to plug the iPod directly into the speaker system, armband holder, exercise earplugs or other specialized/high-end earplugs/earphones
I use my iPod a lot. I often listen to music while writing. I also buy the MP3 recordings of writing workshops from RWA and ACFW conferences and then listen to the workshops when I’m walking the dog, exercising on a machine, or driving in my car—I have a car adapter that hooks into my iPod so that it can be heard through my car’s FM radio.


Levenger’s Reader’s Table
I want this table because it can be used while lying in bed, adjusting the table over your lap but not on it.

Levenger’s Scooter table with Laptop Landing Station
This is something I’d like to have to set my laptop on, or to use as a table for notes while I’m writing with my laptop. It’s fully adjustable.

• Arrange a writer's retreat for a weekend or a week—at a hotel nearby, an actual official retreat center, a nice bed and breakfast, a rental cottage.
A friend of mine and I did this for just a day—checked in to a local hotel on Friday, checked out on Saturday—and we got a lot done. Just the act of being away from home, without distractions, was very freeing for our creativity, efficiency, and productivity. Some writers retreat places purposely don’t have phones, TVs, or internet connections so that writers can be completely undistracted, without even the temptation of outside things. There are some cottages in the nearby mountains available for rent which also don’t have the amenities, although they’re not labeled specifically as writers retreat cottages. Other writers retreat facilities offer workshops or coaching.

• Randy Ingermanson’s Fiction 101 and/or Fiction 201 CD sets.
I took Fiction 101 at Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference and it was fabulous. It really helped me understand the basics of story structure and what makes for a strong, tight storyline and character arc. For beginning writers, this is a very good resource, especially if you are an auditory learner—you learn by hearing a lecture rather than reading a book.

• Highlighters

• Pop-up Post-it dispenser, Post-its, flags
I use Post-Its on the wall for plotting my book out, but I also use flags and Post-Its when I’m doing research, or to make quick notes to myself. I keep these all over the house. It is absolutely horrible for me when I have an idea but nothing to write it down on, and then it’s gone and I can’t remember what it is.

• Binder clips, super-size paper clips
These are useful for entering contests, when they usually require each copy of the entry be bound with a large binder clip or a butterfly paper clip.

• Small notebooks to keep everywhere and write when inspiration strikes (There are neat little notebooks offered by Levenger that are styled like a matchbook with a pencil included, about 3.25” x 4.75”, called Matchbook Notebooks.)

• A set of thank you cards for contest judges, editors, or agents
One thing I think writers don’t do enough is SEND THANK YOU CARDS. To editors and agents even when they reject you, because you’re developing a relationship with them and you don’t want to come across as a disgruntled Prima Dona writer.

Also, send thank you notes to contest judges—a very under-recognized breed—who give their time to judge your entry. I don’t care if they gave you the lowest score, they still took the time to read it and give feedback. You don’t have to agree with the feedback, but at least be courteous, even (and especially) if the judge wasn’t as courteous to you.

• Gelpens

• A creativity journal

• A special pen: Montblanc, Waterman, or a more inexpensive rollerball or fountain pen (Levenger.com has a few cheaper ones)
There’s a possibility that your writer might be picky about her pens. Some like them lighter, some like them heavier. Some like a thick barrel, others like a thin barrel. Some like them short, other like them long. A good pen can be nice to autograph books with, but there’s also the possibility that a writer will want a more flamboyant pen for signings.

• A nice business card case or a case for bookmarks
I give out tons of business cards and bookmarks at conferences. I typically give out both—bookmarks to other writers, business cards to editors and agents.

• Blank disks/CDs for backing up files or giving away (I’m thinking of handing out CDs with free stuff when I go to a booksigning—free short stories, novel excerpts, etc. For a while, I was also using CDs to back up my files.)

• A USB flashdrive for backup and storage (I love these things, they’re so small, light, and inexpensive.)

• An external hard drive backup, or a subscription to an online backup service.
I can’t stress enough what other authors have told me—back up everything OFTEN. I use Mozy.com to back up my files—it’s free up to 2GB, and if you use this link to sign up for the free service, you get an extra 256 MB and so do I. There are also online subscription services like .mac which automatically will back up all the files on the computer at a certain time each day.

• Aromatherapy—candles, a cold diffuser, an electric low heat diffuser, a candle diffuser, or a warm oil diffuser, plus a variety of essential oils.

• A bath set or one of any of these things—soaps, bath salts, bath fizzies, bath oils, towels, exfoliator, an over the tub rack to hold books or snacks, bathrobe (for pampering and brainstorming)

• Little clip-on nightlight for late-night reading or scribbling. (There’s also a neat alternative in the Levenger LightWedge, which has a magnifier attachment. It also comes in LightWedge Magnifier paperback size.)

• Bookweight for holding books open flat

• Clipboard—fancy or engraved/personalized

• Large water bottle so she gets her full water quota while writing

• Healthy snacks: almonds or other nuts, fruit (fresh or dried), popcorn, pretzels, beef jerky, trail mix, etc.

• Not-so-healthy snacks—M&Ms, bite-sized candy bars, Dove chocolate, Dove ice cream bars, etc. Her favorite chocolate or candy, pick your poison. ;)

• Home-made or store-bought writer’s fodder—fudge, truffles, cookies, brownies, biscotti, muffins, cake, Chex-Mix, caramel popcorn, chocolate dipped pretzels, candy/caramel apples, candied walnuts/almonds, cheese and crackers, sweet breads, cinnamon rolls/buns, individual frozen pizzas, apple cider or mix, hot chocolate mixes, wine/alcohol.

• coffees or teas, a tea cup and saucer or just the cup, a large mug, an insulated mug

• Coffeemaker for one

• coffeemaker that brews into her favorite insulated mug

• Tea kettle (there are some nice ones with special handles or in bright colors and designs)

• Electric hot water pot (my favorite is the Zojirushi 3 liter electronic hot water dispenser)

• Tea pot or tea cup or both (especially if she loves tea cups and pots, several nice bone china pieces can be found inexpensively at flea markets or online)

• Mug warmer

• Gift card to Starbucks, Jamba Juice, or her favorite beverage place.

• Anti-virus and/or anti-spam software (recommended in Consumer’s Reports: BitDefender Standard, Zone Labs ZoneAlarm Antivirus, Kapersky Labs Anti-Virus Personal, Norton Antivirus)

• A GPS system so she can find her way home after brainstorming in the car again and getting lost (don’t laugh, this totally happens)

• Fingerless gloves for when her hands get cold while typing at the computer

• Socks, shawl, blanket, and/or sweater for when she gets cold—you guessed it, while typing at the computer

• A space heater to warm her office during cold days

• A book weight (thanks to Mark Goodyear for this idea)

• Hire a transcriber or assistant to type up what she dictated on tape, or rough draft notes (thanks to Leticia for this idea)

Gift coupons are great gifts for the busy writer! Anything you can do to give the writer time to write is always welcome. Some ideas:

• A load of laundry

• An hour of babysitting

• Walking the dog

• An hour of errands/shopping

• A sink of dishes

• One cooked meal

• Vacuuming for the week

• Cleaning the bathroom, or kitchen counter

• Mopping and/or sweeping the floors for the week

• Clearing the living/family room

• A wildcard, any chore of the writer’s choosing

I hope this series of posts was useful! Make sure to leave this list around the house in case your significant others still haven’t a clue what to get you. ;)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Cliche characters

I just got back from vacation so I'm gearing up for more posts.

In the meantime, here's a post on cliche characters and contests at the Seekerville blog.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Internet marketing – blog tours, part 9

After the blog tour:

Take a breath and rejoice—it’s done!

Take time to thank everyone who participated. If anyone did a book giveaway, remind them to draw the name and give you the mailing address (if you’ll be mailing the books to the winners).

Now look at see what could have been done better.

Did it take way too much of your time? Consider hiring someone to do the emailing and blog posting for you next time. You’ll still need to do the interview questions and write guest blog posts, however, so schedule time in for that. Or maybe you don’t care about original content and would be happy with just the book blurb and your bio on a bunch of blogs during a few days. Decide what you want and how much time you’re willing to spend on it.

Did you get people their interview questions or guest blog posts in time? If not, then try to schedule more time for yourself next time before the blog tour starts. Also, what I do is do the interview the day I receive it (or the next day if it’s late in the evening when I get it) so that I can get it out of the way and sent off as soon as possible. If someone asks for a guest blog post, I also try to write it that day or the next so it’s done quickly. That way, I only had one or two things to write each day rather than 10 interviews to complete the night before the blog tour started.

Did you write your daily blog posts ahead of time? If you didn’t, consider doing that for next time.

Were you prompt on emailing people? Maybe you need a daily reminder on your computer.

Were there several people who mis-posted or didn’t post at all? Remember who they were so that you know who you can count on for your next blog tour.

If you do your blog tour in conjunction with another group like the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, try to encourage people to email you to get original content for their stops on the blog tour. I had several people in the CFBA who were stops on my blog tour (and got a link on my Blog Tour Schedule) because they posted original content.

Now gear up for your next tour!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Internet marketing – blog tours, part 8

During the blog tour:

Permalinks: During the blog tour, post on your blog each day and link to the blog hosting you for that day. When the blogger has put up your post, change the link on your daily blog post and your Blog Tour Schedule to the permalink for that particular post.

For example, before the tour started, I had:

Alison Strobel Morrow interviews my chick-litty self, and I give the original blurb for Sushi for One that I used for my proposal.

The link to Alison’s blog was just her main blog page, http://alisonstrobel.blogspot.com/.

However, after she posted the interview with me, I changed the link to http://alisonstrobel.blogspot.com/2007/09/sushi-for-one_14.html, which is the permalink on her blog for that particular post.

Alison Strobel Morrow interviews my chick-litty self, and I give the original blurb for Sushi for One that I used for my proposal.

That way, when people click on the link to Alison’s blog, it will take them directly to the post with the interview.

I changed the links on both my post for day fifteen of my blog tour, and also the main post of the full Blog Tour Schedule.

Visit your blogs: For each day, visit the blogs on your tour and leave a comment, thanking them for posting. You can also answer any questions commenters may have posed.

Correct for any mis-posts: Things will always crop up. Just keep your cool and remember that it’s not a big deal.

Sometimes someone will forget to post. Just email them and ask them if they’re going to post that day, or if they’d like to post a different day. Then change the dates on your Blog Tour Schedule, and your daily blog tour posts.

Sometimes a blogger will not be able to post on their scheduled day. Just ask them if they would post on a different day, and then change the dates on your Blog Tour Schedule, and your daily blog tour posts.

Sometimes people will post on the wrong date. Just change the dates on your Blog Tour Schedule and your daily blog tour posts.

Some people will drop out of the tour, never answer your emails, and never post when they’re supposed to. Just erase their link from the Blog Tour Schedule and your daily blog tour posts.

Next: Debriefing

Monday, October 29, 2007

Internet marketing – blog tours, part 7

Logistics, continued:

The Blog Tour Schedule, continued:

If you have a blog, prepare a post for each day that will highlight that day’s blog stops. You can pre-date the posts so that they’re ready to just post when the day arrives.

Here’s an example of day thirteen on my blog tour. I pre-wrote each day’s post (day thirteen, day fourteen, etc.) so that as each day came, I just posted and didn’t have to worry about writing anything. Essentially, I just copied the short sentence from my blog tour schedule.

Email reminders: Ahead of time, write an email for each person on the blog tour to remind them that they’re posting “tomorrow, [Month, date].” Save these emails as drafts so that you can just click and send the day before the blogger is scheduled to post for your tour.

In these emails, resend your Interview questions or Guest Blog post, and also resend .jpgs of you and your book cover.

Giving away books: This is an option you can offer to your bloggers. They can give away books however they like—most will say to post a comment on the post about you and they’ll draw a name out of a hat on a certain date.

If you give your bloggers this option, be prepared to either mail them an extra copy of your book or have them email you the mailing address of the winner so you can mail the winner their copy directly.

Next: During the blog tour

Friday, October 26, 2007

Internet marketing – blog tours, part 6

Logistics:

Make sure you’ve scheduled everything on either a spreadsheet or a calendar.

For each day of the tour, make sure you have written down which blogger, their blog address, and whether they’re doing a review, interview, or guest blog post, or a combination of all three.

Also write down if you’ve received the interview questions yet. If you haven’t, email them to remind them to send them to you so you have time to get the answers back to them in good time.

Also write down if you’ve written their guest blog post yet. Try to get that done before the blog tour even starts.

Pictures: Make sure you’ve emailed everyone .jpg files of yourself and your book cover so they can post them with the review, interview, or guest blog post.

The Blog Tour Schedule: If you have a blog, prepare a draft of a post that will include all the stops on your blog tour. Link each stop to the blogger’s blog address so your blog readers can click on it to get to the blog.

If you don’t have a blog, you can also email your Blog Tour Schedule to any email loops you belong to which allow you to post about those sorts of things. Be sure to adhere to the guidelines for each of your email loops. In your email, do the same thing as above and link to each blog address on the tour.

In addition to listing the dates and the blogs, I also try to write a short sentence to entice the reader to come to that particular blog. Since I have original content on each blog, I can say something different for each stop on the tour.

Here’s my blog tour post as an example (you have to scroll down to the end because I added the interview excerpts after the tour was over). To a few email loops I belong to, I sent both the schedule list AND the link to the updated schedule on my blog.

Next: Logistics, continued

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Internet marketing – blog tours, part 5

Content, continued:

Guest blog posts: The blogger will ask you to write a short blog post, often on a topic of their choosing. Usually the topic is in line with the blog’s theme or the blogger’s interests.

Sometimes they’ll say to just blog about whatever you feel like. Even when given carte blanche like this, try to aim the blog post toward the blogger’s theme.

For example, when blogging for Sharon Hinck, I wrote about superheroes in my life since her theme is “The Superhero in all of us.” When blogging for Mary DeMuth, I wrote about authenticity since Mary’s blog is very authentic. I also managed to sneak in info on my writing and my books, since the blog tour is essentially to get the word out about you.

Try to keep your guest blog posts SHORT. I try to aim for 250 – 500 words. Do NOT run on for more than 750 words maximum, and only do that if the blogger has asked you to address several things in your blog post.

Scheduling:

Some blog tours schedule one person per day. Others let the bloggers choose whichever day they like, and there will be a few gaps.

Still others do a combination of both—bloggers can choose dates, but if someone asks you for a date, you try to schedule at least one person for each day on the tour. For my blog tour, I ended up with at least one person for each day, and some days had several people because they chose that particular date.

Some people will ask for several dates—that’s fine! Sometimes they will send lots of interview questions and break the interview up over two days. Sometimes they will post both a review and an interview, or a guest blog post and an interview, or a combination of the three options you’ve given them.

In general, Monday through Friday are the best days to post, with lower traffic over the weekends. If someone chooses to post over the weekend, you can request that they keep the post up over Monday so that you get maximum exposure. However, if they choose not to, don’t get upset. Remember, it’s their blog and they’re doing you a favor.

Next: Logistics

Monday, October 22, 2007

Internet marketing – blog tours, part 4

Content, continued:

Interviews: The blogger emails you about 5 questions to answer. This enables the blogger to ask questions that tie in to their blog’s theme if they choose. For example, my blog is light, funny, and quirky, so I’ll ask quirky questions when I send interview questions.

Make sure that even if people ask the same questions, that you don’t just copy and paste answers. Make each answer original writing. If you can, give a different spin on the answers for each blog.

For example, I was often asked how I came up with the idea for the Sushi series. My answers from three different blogs is below:

From Robin Caroll's blog: What was your inspiration for Sushi for One?

I promise it wasn't my family! My grandma (and my parents, and my other relatives) are nothing like Grandma Sakai. GS was a conglomeration of stories I heard from friends about their parents/aunties/siblings/grandparents. Of course, once I had Grandma Sakai, what better than to pit her against Christian single women in her family with as much backbone as she has?

From Amber Miller's blog: What gave you the inspiration for this book?

I actually thought up all the cousins' personalities at the same time, so I "knew" all of them before I even wrote Sushi for One. I made Lex as good at volleyball as I wished I was. :) Then I went into her family situation and her personality and thought, "What would be the best and worst things that could happen to her?"

Then I applied Donald Maass' WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK and asked, "How can I make things worse?" I'm so evil. :)

From Erica Vetsch's blog: Can you tell us a little about how the story went from idea to published novel?

People have asked me if Grandma Sakai is based on my own grandma. No, she’s not. However—unfortunately—she’s a conglomeration of my friends’ aunties, mothers, and grandmothers.

I think lots of people can relate to at least one relative who’s always pestering the single people in their family about getting married and having kids. Sometimes it’s amusing, sometimes it’s downright annoying.

I wondered what would happen if the Buddhist matriarch of a family fell down hard and heavy on a close-knit group of cousins who all happened to be Christian.

I also wanted the cousins to be not-your-average chick lit heroines—I wanted them to be characters that readers would relate to and yet find intriguing. So I made one a jock, one a flirt, one a cactus, and one a doormat. The Sushi Series was born.

Camy here: You can see how I had a slightly different spin on each question, to make each blog on the tour unique despite the fact they asked similar questions.

I also tailored my answers to the particular blog: Robin is a strong personality who writes strong heroines, so I brought out Grandma Sakai’s strong personality in my answer. Amber’s interview was geared toward writers, so my answer was focused more toward writers. And I tailored Erica’s answer more toward the entire series rather than just book one.

Next: Content continued, guest blog posts

Friday, October 19, 2007

Internet marketing – blog tours, part 3

Content:

The best blog tours have completely original content on each and every blog.

You can have a blog tour where each person posts the same pre-written interview or just the blurb of the book and your bio, and those are still good blog tours because the large number of blogs that post about you and your book is still generating some internet buzz.

However, you ideally want an interesting, interactive blog tour, one where people will visit every single blog on the tour. For that to happen, you must have original content at each “stop.”

This requires pre-planning on your part. When you email your friends to ask them to be part of your blog tour, give them three options: to post a review, to post an interview with you (where they email you about 5 questions to answer), or to post a guest blog post written by you about whatever topic they prefer.

If you do your blog tour in conjunction with another group like the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, try to encourage people to email you to get original content for their stops on the blog tour. I had several people in the CFBA who were stops on my blog tour (and got a link on my Blog Tour Schedule) because they posted original content.

Try to return your interview answers or the guest blog post in good time. I try to request the questions and return them before the blog tour even starts. You must make sure you give the blogger enough time to format the post before posting it. Some bloggers will post at midnight the day they’re supposed to post, so you must get them the content at least two days before, but that’s pushing it, in my opinion.

Reviews: This means the blogger commits to reading your book and writing the review before it’s their date to post.

Now, you also have to realize that your blogger friend has the right to give you only a so-so review, because it’s their blog and their review. You still have to link to them because they’re part of your blog tour.

However, most of the time, your friend will give you a pretty good review. Just be prepared in case you don’t get lots of gushing.

Next: Content continued, Interviews

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Internet marketing – blog tours, part 2

Setting up a blog tour, continued:

Important etiquette: Generally, if someone agrees to be part of your blog tour, you are required to send them a free copy of your book to read.

If they want to give a copy away on their blog, then you provide another copy for them to give away. Another method is to have them email you the mailing address of the winner, and you can send the winner their copy directly.

Pictures: Make sure you send everyone .jpg files of your book cover and you so they can post it on their blog.

Central website: Mary DeMuth recently had a blog tour where she had a central website page that included everything for the tour. This is an excellent tool and I intend to use this next time. Her centralized website included:

--links to pictures that people could use
--book blurb and links to buy her book
--link to excerpt
--the Blog Tour Schedule
--canned interviews people could use
--links to examples of reviews and interviews
--detailed instructions and HTML code for those so inclined

I probably wouldn’t include canned interviews because then people all post the same content (I’ll be talking more about content in the next post).

I also would link to my centralized website from my blog and/or website so it’s easy to find—I lost the email with the address and had to search for it to get the information on Mary’s tour. I might even make it a post on my blog so that it’s easier to find.

However, this idea of a centralized website was fabulous and I intend to cannibalize it in future blog tours.

Next: Content

Monday, October 15, 2007

Internet marketing – blog tours, part 1

Because of the nature of the web, blog tours have become an effective marketing tool. However, like most marketing strategies, it’s hard to quantify how effective it is in terms of sales.

Regardless, blog tours are low cost and get the word out (buzz) about you and your book, and that’s never a bad thing.

Also, if you’ve got a website contest going on, a blog tour is a great way to get the word out about it, because you can mention the contest at each blog on the tour.

Please use the following guidelines to help you schedule the time you’ll need for the blog tour. You’ll need time the month before the tour in setting it up (contacting people, writing guest blog posts or answering interview questions), and you’ll also need time during the tour to email reminders, to post the daily stops on the tour, to comment on each blog on the tour, and to correct any mis-posts.

Setting up a blog tour:

You can hire a publicity company to do this for you, or you can hire a virtual assistant privately to set it up for you. Most of the time, with these two options, they will send out an e-blast to a bunch of bloggers, and some will agree to host your blog tour on their blog. They usually post the book blurb and your bio, but not much else.

You can also go the cheap route and set it up yourself, especially if you know a lot of people who have blogs. This also gives you more control over the content in the blog tour.

In setting it up yourself, you simply email your friends who have blogs and ask them if they’d be willing to be part of your blog tour. Give dates—typically a good blog tour lasts anywhere from 2 weeks to a month, sometimes longer. Some blog tours are shorter—3 days—so it’s up to you how long you want your tour. A longer tour typically means softer internet buzz about you over a longer period of time, while a shorter tour means a strong internet buzz about you over those few days.

I will usually email friends at least a month before the tour starts, ideally 6 weeks so that I can send books to each blogger in plenty of time (see the next post about sending books) and have lots of time to answer interview questions and write up guest blog posts.

Each person who agrees to be part of your blog tour then picks a date that they will post about your book. An alternative is to ask each person to commit to posting during a certain week of the tour, and then in your Blog Tour Schedule, list the bloggers by week.

Next: Setting up a blog tour, continued

Friday, October 12, 2007

THE SELF-SABOTAGING WRITER Part III

by Sara Mills from Double Crit editing service

Welcome back for the final installment of THE SELF-SABOTAGING WRITER. Today we’re going to use me and my writing as an example. A bad example.

In the first full-length novel I ever wrote, I had a lead character named Maggie. She was strong, she was tough, she was smart, she was sweet and she was beautiful. My critique partners called her Spy-Barbie.

SIGH.

It took me a while to understand why this was a bad thing.

Maggie was a perfect character. She was as plastic and fake as Malibu Barbie. She was the woman I want to be, with no faults, no vices and no warts.

She was possibly, the most boring character I have ever written. She never struggled with the choice between good and bad, she never woke up cranky in the morning and she could eat more than a starving truck driver and never get fat.

THAT IS JUST NOT POSSIBLE!! (Ahem, I may be over-reacting slightly to that last part. Moving on.)

No one could relate to Maggie because she was perfect and she never struggled with anything.

It’s like the difference between James Bond and Jason Bourne. They’re both spies, and both famous characters. James Bond is the equivalent of Spy-Ken. He does what he needs to do and always arrives back in time for pre-dinner martinis. The character of Jason Bourne on the other hand, has to open a map while fleeing across Europe because he gets lost.

Characters aren’t interesting in their perfection, they’re interesting in their faults. Birthing characters with failings, a crooked nose, or a bad sense of direction will help readers relate to your character. It gives your character internal conflict, and it will give your story life.

Double Crit is a unique freelance editing service that offers high-level critiques of fiction book proposals and manuscripts from two experienced editors. Whether you’re preparing for a conference or getting ready to submit your manuscript to editors or agents, we can help.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

THE SELF-SABOTAGING WRITER Part II

by Sara Mills from Double Crit editing service

I could have gone the rest of my life without knowing that.

Have you ever met someone who’s a chronic over-sharer? There are lots of people like that. People who feel the need to tell you more than you ever wanted to know about their life story.

Writers can do that too. They can bog the reader down in a character’s backstory explaining everything, from why they hate cheese to telling about the day they got their first bee sting. And it’s boring. All of it.

On the other hand, have you ever met one of those people who doesn’t burble out their life story in one sitting, but the few details that they do share are captivating. Like when they tell you about that time they were on a nuclear submarine in the Bering Sea… That makes me want to know more, how about you?
As a writer, you need to do the same thing.

It’s your job to make people long to hear the story you have to tell. You can’t do that when you toss in important facts about your character amid an info dump that includes that the heroine had chicken pox when they were five, they took too many courses the first year of university, they hate answering machines, sing in perfect pitch and once partied with the Rolling Stones.

After the first two things, a reader just stops caring. Your characters can have an amazing and varied backstory, but share from that history only when it’s going to really add to your characters mystique and motivation.

Stay tuned for SPY-BARBIE, part three of my series on THE SELF-SABOTAGING WRITER.

Double Crit is a unique freelance editing service that offers high-level critiques of fiction book proposals and manuscripts from two experienced editors. Whether you’re preparing for a conference or getting ready to submit your manuscript to editors or agents, we can help.

Monday, October 08, 2007

THE SELF-SABOTAGING WRITER Part I

by Sara Mills from Double Crit editing service

Self-sabotage. I’m not talking about ‘accidentally’ deleting your My Documents folder in a fit of post-critique frustration or sending a nasty email to an editor, I’m talking about writers unintentionally sabotaging their own stories. I’ve found three main things that writers do that works against them in their story.
The first one is letting the reader know what’s going to happen before it happens.
Have you ever watched a movie with a friend and it’s getting a little tense, the music is building and you’ve got that pillow ready just in case you need to cover your eyes, and then the friends bursts out with “He does it. Strangles her, but she’s not really dead. She’s going to shoot him and everyone lives happily ever after.”

SIGH. It’s like deflating a balloon. Pfftt, there goes the tension and it slides neatly into annoyance. I find that writers often do the same thing in their stories. They’ve got a nice mood going, some tension, the reader is enthralled in the scene and with one sentence, they blow the whole thing. Tell what’s going to happen before it happens. I’ll give you a slightly ridiculous example.

The door creaked open, sending in a cold rush of air. A shiver creaked down Terry’s spine. He watched as the two men walked into the room. They were probably Russian assassins here to murder the American diplomat with AK-47s cleverly concealed under their jackets.

Yes, it’s ridiculous, but it illustrates the problem with revealing information too soon. As a writer, you are not a giver of information as much as a keeper of information. You should dole it out as sparingly as possible, keeping it horded until you have no other choice. Let the action tell the story and wring every last drop of tension out of your story that you can.

Stay tuned for OVERSHARING, part two of my series on THE SELF-SABOTAGING WRITER.

Double Crit is a unique freelance editing service that offers high-level critiques of fiction book proposals and manuscripts from two experienced editors. Whether you’re preparing for a conference or getting ready to submit your manuscript to editors or agents, we can help.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Characterization and Garnishing

by Ronie Kendig from Double Crit editing service

My husband won a gift certificate to one of Dallas’ finest restaurants. They had a waiting list out the wazoo. We won’t mention the Lamborghinis or Ferraris at the valet parking (bet those attendants enjoyed their jobs!). Everything delivered to our table had the best presentation and garnishing, along with respect. All together, these finer elements made up the most impressive meal I’d ever had in my life.

We need to learn from the restaurant industry. We want our readers to go away satisfied, ready and willing to trust us as writers when our next book comes out. So, how do you garnish your story? How do you impress a satisfying story upon your reader? You start with your character, having interviewed them and defined their personality, you add quirks, obsessions, or paralyzing fears. These garnishings make your character tangible to your reader. That’s the sprig of parsley on your $100 steak, the shaving of chocolate on your tira misu.

In the years I’ve been editing and critiquing, the one thing that strangles a story is flat characters. Granted, there are only so many ways you can walk a dog, but the attitude in the story is what grabs the editor by the throat, demanding they finish reading. Since Camy is so kind to host us, I’m make a point of reference to one of her heroines who had a thing for disinfecting everything. I can clearly remembering critiquing her story and loving that person, identifying with her (although I’m not really OCD about germs). This helped set her book apart, helped me remember her character.

So, get back to your rockin’ story and bring your character to life with a sprig of parsley or a shaving of chocolate. Deepen them, making them satisfying and set apart!

Double Crit is a unique freelance editing service that offers high-level critiques of fiction book proposals and manuscripts from two experienced editors. Whether you’re preparing for a conference or getting ready to submit your manuscript to editors or agents, we can help.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Characterization and Psychology

by Ronie Kendig from Double Crit editing service

Last time, we wrote about ice cream and characterization. Did I make you hungry for more (pun obviously intended)? Well, let’s feed that hunger with some healthy sustenance. Psychology—the protein of solid characterization. No, seriously. You heard me right. In order to write compelling characters, you need to have strength in the way you ‘draw’ them. You need to understand that character.

I understand people. Maybe it’s a gift, maybe it’s my degree. I’m often able to see past the action to the source that triggered the reaction. And that is exactly what we need to do in our writing. Scramble up some eggs, er emotion, and craft your character in a compelling way. Add some sausage (yeah, the artery-clogging stuff)—quirks—for flavor. Recently, I encountered a scene where I floundered, wondering what my heroine would do in response to a situation. Not knowing her well enough impeded the “feel” of that scene and made me realize I’d lost touch with my heroine. So I stepped back, grabbed my archetype book, and dug into rediscover my heroine.

The archetypes, whether you call them that or personality types, define a character’s personality, actions, emotions, and reactions. There are many different names given to the types. Some include Type A, introvert, extrovert, sensitive, thinking, sanguine, melancholy, the warrior, the hero, the maiden, etc. Those personality types need to be understood to know what is believable or realistic for your character to do. If your heroine is not an aggressive personality type, it’s probably not very likely she’ll confront the person railroading her. Without this protein in your writing, you’ll find your plot weak, the motivations flavorless, and your characters lifeless. So, add some psychology/protein and give your writing a boost!!

Double Crit is a unique freelance editing service that offers high-level critiques of fiction book proposals and manuscripts from two experienced editors. Whether you’re preparing for a conference or getting ready to submit your manuscript to editors or agents, we can help.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Characterization - Founder’s Favorite

by Ronie Kendig from Double Crit editing service

I love ice cream. Not just any ice cream. I’m addicted to Cold Stone—and not their plain Jane flavors. Mix it up. Make it unique. Founder’s Favorite blend with cheesecake ice cream instead of regular. And I’m just as picky when it comes to my characters. James Scott Bell in his book Plot & Structure says not to let your character “plop into your plot like plain vanilla.” If your reader does not care about your character, they won’t finish the story, which means that great scene you have planned for page fifty-seven will never get read. The most important part of any story is the character.

So, how do you make a Founder’s Favorite or a Strawberry-Banana Rendezvous? How does one get past blasé and thrill until the reader needs an oxygen mask? The key, of course, is your character. Have you interviewed your main character? Had a chat with her over a latte? Inquired about his relationship with his father over a juicy burger? No? Why not? They’re the ones with the answers! Seriously—sit her down, ask her what her career goals are, why she’s doing what she’s doing. When he reveals he’s going to UC San Diego for his master’s, ask him why he chose UCSD over UCSF. When my heroine informed me that she was an underwater archeologist, I asked why she chose that over marine biology. Those tiny little elements of inquiry make a HUGE difference in how your character will respond to each situation.

Digging deeper, layering your story with in-depth characterization, makes the difference that tugs at the reader, makes them care—shows a relatability that will be the chocolate sauce on your Founder’s Favorite. A story to be savored. An author who can be trusted.

Double Crit is a unique freelance editing service that offers high-level critiques of fiction book proposals and manuscripts from two experienced editors. Whether you’re preparing for a conference or getting ready to submit your manuscript to editors or agents, we can help.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Scene goals

I’ve had a couple people ask me about scene goals.

Basically, your point of view character should have something they need to accomplish when they walk into that scene. It could have something to do with the character’s External Goal, or it could not.

For example, Grissom needs to find Sarah, who’s been kidnapped by the psycho miniature killer (bear with me, I just watched the season premier of CSI). This is his External Goal. But when he goes into the interrogation room to question the suspect, his scene goal is to get the psycho killer to tell him where Sarah is. (For you CSI fans, you know he doesn’t get his information and he fails his scene goal, but he hasn’t failed his Story Goal. Yet.)

Here’s an example from Single Sashimi, the third book in my Sushi series (I just turned in the macro edits for this puppy, so it’s fresh in my mind): My heroine Venus is on her way to her cousin’s house to indulge in chocolate truffles. Her determination to have chocolate within the next hour is her scene goal, which has nothing to do with her External Goal for the story (starting her own company). Lots of things happen to prevent her from eating her chocolate right away (obstacles), although she eventually accomplishes her scene goal and has those truffles.

Now, chocolate is a very minor sort of scene goal, but what it does is introduce tension and focus for the scene. The obstacles in the scene that interject to prevent her chocolate craving are actually important, because they convey information to the reader and move the story forward. However, since these conversations block her scene goal by preventing her from having chocolate, the information is more interesting than if I’d just had Venus have a conversation on the telephone.

Look at your scenes. Does your viewpoint character have a scene goal? If not, can you add one? It doesn’t have to be major—it can be something as minor as a craving for chocolate.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fictioon 101 and 201 sale

I just got this message from my friend Randy Ingermanson. If you're an auditory learner, this is a fabulous writing series and a great deal:

Today, September 27, 2007, I am running a rare event:
a 24-Hour Special on my two top-selling products,
Fiction 101 and Fiction 201.

These are my flagship products. I've taught these courses
at writing conferences across the country.

Last year, I created them as software products that run
in any web browser. They let you SEE my notes and
HEAR me lecture.

Fiction 101 and Fiction 201 are available on CD or as large
electronic downloads.

The reason for this 24-Hour Special is to celebrate freedom.

Recently, I've outsourced the CD distribution to Kunaki.com.
That means FREEDOM for me from the drudgery of packing CDs
in envelopes and mailing them off. It saves me MONEY, which I
can pass on to my customers in lower prices. I have already cut
the price of the CDs by about 20%.

To celebrate that FREEDOM, I'm slashing the price of a CD by
ANOTHER 50%. Just for today, September 27, 2007.

I rarely run a 24-Hour Special, but when I do, hundreds of
people typically take advantage.

Many of you already have Fiction 101 or Fiction 201 or both.

If you don't have one of these and you want it,
TODAY is your chance.

To learn more about the 24-Hour Special on Fiction 101
or Fiction 201, click here:

http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com/links/24.php

Best regards,
Randy Ingermanson

Randy Ingermanson
President and CEO of Ingermanson Communications, Inc.
2210 W. Main St., Suite 107, Box 103
Battle Ground, WA 98604

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Traveling

Hey guys,

I'll be traveling and at the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference for the next couple weeks. I'll try to blog writing tips I hear at the conference, but no guarantees. I should be back in business on Friday, September 28th for sure.

Camy

Friday, September 14, 2007

Hooking your reader to your character

When I start a novel, I give the author about three chapters for me to like the main character. I’m actually pretty generous—in a bookstore, your average book buyer reads the first page, maybe the second. Usually not more than that.

Depending on how fast they read, the first page or two takes approximately twenty seconds.

That’s it. You need to hook your reader into the story and give them a character they can like within those first few pages.

In Writing for Emotional Impact, Karl Iglesias lists these three “categories of appeal”:

* We care about victims—characters we feel sorry for

* We care about characters with humanistic values

* We like character with desirable qualities


Victims—You don’t have to just think stalker victim here. Don’t we love the underdog? The downtrodden? The kid who gets beat up in the schoolyard? The man without enough money to pay for coffee? The woman beat up by her husband? The teenager who can’t read?

Humanistic values—Show your character doing something nice or being heroic. Helping someone else, being kind to children or animals, rescuing someone.

Desirable qualities—These are personal traits (versus humanistic values) that don’t necessarily influence another person in the opening scene, but which are qualities most people admire and respect. The character is someone the reader would like to be—powerful, glamorous, courageous, passionate, clever, skillful, athletic, persistent, rebellious.

Your first pages are your most vital. Make sure you start with a character who will hook your reader.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The lowdown on marketing for writers, part two

Okay, we talked about brand. Now buzz.

Internet marketing is like regular marketing, there's really no way to know if it's doing a whole lot of good. But it's stupid not to do internet marketing because it's so easy and cheap.

Website—This is a non-negotiable. All writers must have a website, whether you’re published or not. It’s your business card on the web. Keep it updated once a month.

Blog—Only blog if you enjoy blogging. Too many people blog who don't really like it, and I think that a bad blog is worse than none at all. If you don't like blogging, don't let anybody make you feel guilty for not blogging. Only do what you like doing, because life's too short to waste on stuff you don't want to do.

Email loops and forum boards—This is something unpublished writers need to start doing early. And I'm not talking just writers loops and boards, but non-writing loops and boards. And if the loop topic touches on your brand, all the better.

Participation is key—you have to be a willing and frequent contributor. Again, if you don't like it, then don't do it. But if you do like it, then the contacts you make, especially on a non-writing loop, will help create buzz for you when you do sell. It's like magic—suddenly you have all these people who knew you before you were published and they're thrilled for you. They're an automatic readership who will buy your book and talk about it, who are most likely to love it when they read it.

Say your brand is New York humorous women's fiction with some mystery, but you always incorporate a NY restaurant. You can join a loop or forum board about NY restaurants. If Colleen Coble weren't published yet, she could join a loop on Rescue dogs. I've joined some knitting loops because I love it and my next books will incorporate some knitting.

Newsletter—start one now, even if it's only your friends. YahooGroups is free and easy, or you can think ahead and get a paid newsletter service with lots of features. If I'd been smart, I'd have started with a paid service rather than YahooGroups, but I'm also pretty happy with YahooGroups because they're easy to use and most people can receive emails from YahooGroups. I can also build my readership to as large as I want with YahooGroups without problems because they're such a huge system.

Commit to sending a newsletter quarterly, just something short, giving the scoop on your writing. Also, give some kind of "value added" in your newsletter, something people will get free out of it, that has something to do with your brand. Give free stuff.

I have free short stories for my newsletter subscribers, and because I like to promote Christian fiction, I also give away a free book each month to my subscribers—they email me if they want to enter. Other authors give away small cheap but cute things that are in their brand.

My suggestion—write a few short stories in your brand and make them available only to your newsletter subscribers. That way people can not only read your writing and like it, they have a reason to sign up for your newsletter.

Internet Marketing is all about interaction with potential readers. Anything you can do to find and interact with readers will help you in your internet marketing campaign.

It also helps if you start this before you're published. The people who know you now will be most excited for you when the book hits the shelves, and, in the words of Pyromarketing (Greg Stielstra), they're your driest tinder. They are most likely to buy your book and like it.

Questions?

Monday, September 10, 2007

The lowdown on marketing for writers, part one

Marketing is two things for an author: brand and buzz.

Brand: This is where you decide as an author what to write so that you stand out in the market.

Jenny Crusie is the queen of real-life snark.
Tom Clancy is spy action.
John Grisham is legal thrillers.
I am Asian Christian chick lit.
Robin Caroll is Cajun/Southern romantic suspense.
Cheryl Wyatt is military action romances.
Deeanne Gist is slightly edgy historical romances.
Brandilyn Collins is small town suspense.
Colleen Coble is small town romantic suspense with animals.
Donna Fleisher is angsty military women's fiction.

This is the hardest part for writers to figure out. You have to actually tweak your writing so that your books will stand out from all the other pitches editors hear.

If you have a solid brand, editors are much happier to read your stuff because you're classified in a certain file in their heads. They can sell you easier to the VP of Sales and VP of Marketing because you're branded. An editor may love you but they're dictated to by Sales and Marketing, which is why so much good writing is not contracted.

It's not just looking at what you've written, but also looking at what you're willing to write, or willing to revise. Branding isn't just looking at your completed manuscripts and trying to find a common theme--it's looking at your own desires in writing, what you're willing to write about, how you can tweak your writing so that it's more marketable.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Scene transitions – POV, time, and place

When you start a book or any new scene, you’re setting your reader down in a completely new place, often in a new time, sometimes with a new character. Make your point of view character, time, and place obvious in the first couple paragraphs.

You don’t need long descriptions of the new room the heroine is in, or to tell the reader that we’re now in the hero’s head, or to let the reader know that six months have passed. These things can be conveyed with a well-chosen phrase that immediately triggers a certain picture in the reader’s head.

For example, say the previous scene ended at night in the hero’s POV.

###

A girl could choke on the cholesterol in the air.

She stood in the doorway to the diner, cringing beneath the sticky cloud of bacon grease mingled with the perfume of over-cooked eggs and maple syrup.


The reader immediately knows it’s (a) the heroine, (b) a greasy diner, and (c) the next morning.

Go through your manuscript and look at scene openings. Can you add a well-chosen sentence or phrase that will clue the reader into POV, time, and place?
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