Thursday, December 30, 2010

Writing Resolutions for 2011

Dear bloggie friends:
This is my last blog for 2010 and I am determined to be a productive blogger in 2011.

I usually don't make any new year's resolutions because they have some sort of negative connotation for me. However, I decided to have feasible writing resolutions. If I write them, I can visualize them. They become more real. Here they are (in no particular order):
  • Post at least once a week.
  • Finish my anthology.
  • Continue attending my writing group meetings.
  • Attend two literary events per month (at least, if not more).
What about you? Have you made some resolutions with regards to writing, blogging, or reading?
HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Writing Under the Mistletoe

With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season almost behind us, I started thinking about how my writing has been affected over Christmas. For some people writing is a Christmas gift all year round in that they have the gift of ease, the gift of a nimble mind, the gift of unwrapped creativity. For me this gift came in the tangible form of a publication. One of my short stories, Unraveled, was published in the Canadian Authors’ Association 2010 Anthology. It was an unexpected Christmas present after my brief writing hiatus. The holiday season is about altruism, generosity, and kindness. This selflessness starts with oneself. So why not give yourself the gift of writing and share it with a fellow writer?    

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Where do you find time to write?

Since October you've probably noticed that I haven't been posting as often as I did before. I realized that it is difficult to find the time to write (your novel, anthology, poetry, etc.,) to write blogposts, to visit fellow bloggers, to work full-time, and to keep all these tasks balanced without affecting your sanity.


While going through personal problems, I did not write a word for my anthology. I felt guilty. I couldn't come up with the right post, yet felt uncomfortable telling anyone how to make time to write.

A dear friend of mine and fellow writer told me, “You're entitled to take a break. Don't be so hard on yourself.” She's right. Although writing is one of my passions, I don't make a living from it. I have to set priorities in order to perform at the level I'm expected.

Suddenly my own choice came into view—it wasn't a matter of being perfect enough or productive enough or disciplined enough to be a writer. During my brief hiatus, I realized that I could dedicate time to my writing and my non-writing life as long as I focus on attainable and feasible goals.

It's important to acknowledge we can't have it all (at least not all at once). We have to choose.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Don't Sabotage your Success

After a short hiatus, I'm back to give you more tips on writing. I love the feature articles from the Book Marketing Expert. That's why I am sharing their latest one titled, "12 Things Authors do to Sabotage Their Success".


Writing, publishing, promoting, publicizing. It all seems quite daunting, doesn't it? Well, it doesn't have to be. First you need to start out by doing the right things and knowing what can help, or harm, your success. Keep in mind that while there is always a creative element, publishing is a business. It's important to know your business to be successful. Here are a dozen ideas that I hope will help you on your journey from writer to successful author.
1. Waiting too long to market. When it comes to marketing, some authors wait too long to get the word out there. If you're sitting on top of your publication date wondering where to start with your marketing, you're about six months behind the curve. Book marketing is what I call the long runway of promotion. A great campaign will consist not only of a focused marketing plan, but a plan that starts early enough to support the ramp up that a good book marketing campaign needs. And this isn't just for the self-published market, any book that's being released these days needs a minimum of a six-month ramp up. This doesn't mean that you are marketing during that time, but ideally you are getting ready for your launch by having a website designed, starting a newsletter, building your mailing list, building your media list, planning your events, etc.

2. Not having enough money. I see it all the time; authors spend all their money on the book process (book cover, editing, etc.) and then don't have enough for the marketing. That's like opening up a store and not having money to stock it with inventory. Before you jump headlong into publishing a book, make sure you have the funds to do so. So, how much is enough? It depends on what you want to accomplish. Be clear on your goals and market, then sit down with someone who can help you determine a budget.

3. Not getting to know others in their market. Who else is writing about your topic? If you're not sure, then you should do your research. Getting to know your fellow genre authors is not only important, but it can really help you with your marketing. How? Because most readers don't just buy one self-help book, or one dating book, they will generally buy in multiples. So getting to know others within your market can not only help you market your book, but it could also help you connect with fellow authors, and there is truth to the fact that there is power in numbers.

4. Ignoring social media. While social media may seem confusing to most of us, it's important to know that it can sometimes be a make or break situation when it comes to marketing your book. If you can't make heads or tails out of Twitter vs. Facebook, then hire someone who can help you or guide you through your choices.

5. Thinking bookstores don't matter. While it's nice to think that most of us do our shopping online and via Amazon, bookstores (especially local stores) can really help or hurt your marketing efforts. If your book isn't going into bookstores, then you'll want to get to know your local area stores to see if you can present your book to them for consideration and/or do an event in their store. Having a local presence in bookstores is important, especially if you are doing local events and local media. If the bookstore won't stock the book (and many of them won't if you're a first time author), then make sure at the very least that your book can be ordered. You don't want people walking into your neighborhood store and being told "Sorry, we can't get that book."

6. Printing too many copies. In order to get large printing discounts, authors will often print huge numbers of their books. I've seen ranges from 10,000 on up. Generally I recommend a run of no more than 2,000. You can always go back to print and likely when you do, you'll want to make changes to the book, possibly adding new testimonials, endorsements, and reviews. Also, you have better things to do with your marketing dollars than spend them on storage space.

7. Not spending enough time researching their market. If you were going to open up a store in a mall, let's say a yogurt shop, would you ever consider opening a store without doing the proper research? Probably not. Yet every day authors publish books and haven't done market research. This research, while it can be tedious, could save you hundreds of dollars in promotion and/or cover design.

8. Not hiring a professional to do their book cover. In tight financial times, it's ok to cut corners in marketing or find less expensive ways to do things. But one corner you shouldn't cut is on your book cover. Your cover is important because it's the first impression your audience has of your book. Don't shortcut your success by creating a cover that doesn't sell. In the long run, the money you save on the cover design could cost you four times that in book sales.

9. Not having their work professionally edited. Your book is your resume; not only that but it's your reader's experience as well. What kind of experience do you want to give them? If the answer is a great one (and it likely is) make sure the work you do on your book mirrors that. Your work should always be professionally edited, no excuse. If you don't have enough money to do this, then ask yourself if publishing this book is really a good idea. Perhaps waiting until you have the funds to get the book released the right way is a better idea.

10. Expecting immediate book sales. Nothing happens immediately, especially book sales. The sales process for books can be lengthy, especially when you're dealing with multiple reporting agencies. Most authors don't know that places like Amazon, Baker & Taylor, and Ingram don't all pay on the same timeframe. They all have particular cycles to how they pay. For example, Amazon might pay 90 days after the sale, whereas some folks I've talked to say that Baker & Taylor sometimes lags five months behind. What this means is that if you are pushing your book in December and hope to see the fruits of your labor in January, that timeline isn't realistic. Don't end up disappointed if your royalty statements aren't reflecting the promotion you've done. It could be that the agencies just haven't caught up with your sales.

11. Not having a website. Someone once asked me if all authors should have a website, to which I responded: does your book need a book cover? Every author should have a website. It doesn't have to be fancy, lengthy, or expensive, but it's a 24/7 sales tool and the only way to build credibility online.

12. Giving up on their book too soon. Like anything, book marketing takes time. I see authors all the time who start to grow impatient after a few months, wondering where their success is. How long will it take? That depends. But you might not be the best person to determine that. If you've been marketing your book for a while and can't figure out why nothing has taken off, spend an hour with a professional who can tell you if you're on the right track. Do this before you decide to throw in the towel. You might be inches away from success; don't give up before you do your research.

Making headway in marketing is as much about the good decisions, as it is avoiding the bad. Good luck in your publishing journey!

Reprinted from "The Book Marketing Expert newsletter," a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques. http://www.amarketingexpert.com/

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Technical Difficulties

Hi there fellow bloggers! I know I haven't been posting assiduously, but something called life took over my writing and my blogging (sniff, sniff!) in the past weeks.

Please bear with me and I promise to bring you more writing tips in the next few days. So keep checking! ;-)

With the holidays approaching, I imagine a lot of you are not posting as often as you'd like. Or, am I the only one in the blogosphere who's gotten run over by a sleigh?

How do you keep up with your writing and your blogging at this time of year?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Are you a grateful writer?

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the US, and I miss celebrating this beautiful day with my family and friends (since I now live in Montreal).

I am thankful for having the creative bug. That's right! I am thankful for my ability to create stories that touch my readers. I am thankful for having a writing support group, for having wonderful mentors, and for having great readers, YOU, fellow bloggers!

Today, pause for a moment and think of all the things you are grateful for. I bet you can find more than three wonderful things in your life. Although we have this great tradition, we shouldn't have to wait 11 months to give thanks. We should be thankful every single day.

Happy Thanksgiving Day to everyone in the US!

What are you thankful for?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hook your Reader!

Every author/mentor I’ve met at writing workshops agrees on one important factor: the story’s hook. Without it, chances are you’ll lose your reader. Agent Paula Balzer also agrees by saying that whether you are writing a memoir or fiction, having a strong hook is essential. This applies to nearly all books. She advises to practice these three exercises for defining your book's hook:

1. WRITE YOUR OWN COVER COPY
Good back-cover or jacket-flap copy is so essential to a book’s success that publishers often begin working on it before a manuscript is even completed. With this in mind, carefully read the cover copy of three of your favorite memoirs. How does each description hold up with your perception of what the memoir is about? Do you now look at the book from a different perspective? Now, try writing your own cover copy. You’ll quickly find you need to rely on the hook to capture the essence of your story in such limited space. What did you discover when you boiled your story down to a few paragraphs? Does this sound like a book you’d like to read?

2. PUSH YOUR THEME TO THE LIMIT
List 10 things that are unique to the situation you want to write about. What makes your divorce different from your neighbor’s? What makes your bout with cancer different from everyone else’s? Keep in mind that the answers don’t always have to be literal or terribly deep. Did your husband tell you he was leaving you via Facebook? Did your chemotherapy bring you not a life-altering epiphany, but a special bond with the sweet child in the next room? What range of emotions does your list hit? Is it funnier or sadder than you anticipated? Is there something there that would make an especially good hook?

3. SHIFT YOUR FOCUS
Select five different starting points for your memoir. Make a list of the key plot points from the five new starting positions. How does this exercise change the scope of your story? Which important components change? What track does the memoir follow when starting from a different position? How does each new story feel? Where does each one end if you start from a different place?

Will your readers be hooked with your story / book?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Don’t judge a book by its cover, or should you?

Book publicist Scott Lorenz, President of the public relations and marketing firm, Westwind Communications, advises authors to get involved in the production of their books from beginning to end.

As a book publicist and book marketer, Scott Lorenz says that he cannot caution authors enough. Do not underestimate the importance of a book cover’s design. Not only do potential book buyers judge a book by its cover but so do members of the media. I have personally seen a major book reviewer for a large magazine hold a client’s book, run her fingers over the cover and say, “I’ve not heard of this author or publisher, but this book looks very nicely done, tell me more about.” Conversely, I’ve heard a reviewer quickly respond “We don’t review self-published books,” because the cover screamed cheap!

While we often hear, “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” everybody—book buyers, reviewers, media and consumers alike—most certainly do judge a book by its cover.

Here are some important items to consider when making decisions on book cover design:
Use a subhead to create more description. If you have a 10-word title, you have not properly named the book in the first place.
Check with Google on the words that are most searched on your topic. To do this, type in the word that best describes your book in the search box and then see what the next most important or popular words are in that list. That ranking is very relevant marketing- wise so try to use those words in your title or subtitle.
Visit book stores and look at the covers of all types of books. What catches your eye? Look at the book face and look at the spines. Which ones are readable and why?
Will it play on Amazon? Go to Amazon.com, BN.com, Borders.com and search on competitive books in your space. Notice the book covers that catch your eye and the ones that do not. If your cover does not show up well in an Amazon thumbnail then you are going to lose sales.
Contrast. Don’t let your graphic designer get started without keeping contrast in mind. The reason black ink works so well on white paper is because it produces the best contrast possible. Yellow ink on green paper in a small font simply does not work.
How does your book look in black and white? Not every publication will be printing it in color.
Font size. Many designers are young with great eyesight. But your buyer may not be able to read the tiny font some designers insist upon using. Be practical.
The spine. Can you read it from five feet away? If not, neither can browsers in a book store.
Blurbs. Keep them relevant and short. The best highway billboards are 5-11 words because motorists are driving by at 70 m.p.h. Guess what? Consumers are driving by your book sitting on a table at the same relevant speed. The human mind cannot comprehend too many words at a glance. So give them short, sweet blurbs. If you are in love with your blurbs, than print them all in full on the last inside pages of the book.
Consider including a mention on the cover of a forward written by a famous person. “Forward by Barack Obama” or “Forward by Oprah Winfrey” or “Forward by Best Selling Author John Grisham.”
Do not overlook creating content on the back inside flaps because consumers pick up a book after looking at the spine, front cover and back and then open the book to find the price or more information.
Print your cover out on a laser printer. Don’t just review your cover on a computer screen which will make it look considerably better. Print it out actual size and make a determination using that printed version.
Pictures are worth 1000 words. Use photos and illustrations to describe what would take too long to explain.
When choosing a book design ask yourself how the cover will look on your website home page. Consistency and redundancy are important so you’ll want to use the same design elements on your website that you do on your book cover. For this reason, I suggest using the same designer for your book cover and for your website if possible.
Show your cover designs to as many people in your target group of potential readers. Get their reactions and opinions. It costs you nothing and you’ll likely find out something you did not realize before.

Bottom line: Get involved early in the entire book publishing design process and get at least three creative concepts for the front cover, back cover, and spine. Don’t let it be the last thing you do.

And finally, the most important rule in book publishing and marketing – Know Your Reader! All books have a target reader and in all genres there are varying degrees of readers. Targeting the reader who is most likely to purchase your book is critical. Authors who know the demographics of their readers are equipped to assemble the fonts and graphics best able to grab the reader’s eye and instantly convey the message that “this book is for you.” When you work with your graphic designer on the book covers and spine, your chances of success are greatly increased. If your designer does not welcome your participation, hire another designer.

To learn more about Scott, visit http://www.book-marketing-expert.com/ or send him an e-mail to: scottlorenz@westwindcos.com

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How to rescue your story: Fix the Plot

Isn't it a great feeling when we finish our novel / story? We've all been there, right? But, how about when our editor tells us the plot is weak or is not good at all?

On her Writer's Digest article on August 3, 2010, Laura Whitcomb tell us how to fix the plot without starting over.
1. THE PLOT ISN’T ORIGINAL ENOUGH. Go through your pages and highlight anything that you’ve read in another book or seen in a movie. In the margin, write where you’ve seen it. Quick notes like these can help you detach from unintentional imitation.

2. READERS ALWAYS KNOW EXACTLY WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN. This may be because you’ve chosen a plot point that’s overused, or because you keep giving away the answer in advance.

3. THE PLOT IS BORING. Take each page and imagine what different writers might do with the same plot. After thinking of wild ideas to make the story more interesting, you begin to come up with workable ones that are just as stimulating, but better suited to your book.

4. THE PLOT IS ALL ACTION AND THE FRENZIED PACE NUMBS READERS. Let them breathe. Give the readers a little downtime now and then in your action story. Look back at your favorite action novels. Notice the conversations, summarized passages, meals, introspection and releases of emotions that are set in between the car chases, shootouts and confrontations. List them. Then give the readers a chance to breathe in your own manuscript. Find the dramatic respites that come from your characters’ needs, flaws and strengths.

5. THE PLOT IS TOO COMPLEX. Often, a complex plot can be trimmed into a sleek one by cutting out some steps. When deciding whether or not to simplify the plot, ask yourself over and over again, “Why does she do that? Why didn’t she just do this?” Making a plot less complicated doesn’t have to make it less clever.

6. THE PLOT IS TOO SHALLOW. Sometimes as writers we get caught up in the action. The symbolism. The metaphors. The witty dialogue. The great character names. The slick descriptions. Sometimes we ride these skills over the surface of the story and forget what’s really important. If you or your first readers (friends, family, agent) complain that the novel feels insubstantial, step back and ask yourself these questions: Why am I bothering to write this story? Why does the outcome matter to the characters? How do the characters change? How did my favorite book affect me the first time I read it?

7. SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF IS DESTROYED. Readers need to buy into the reality put forward by what they’re reading. You may go too far with a plot point or not far enough with preparing your audience for that plot point. If something that sounded right when you outlined it is coming off as farfetched even to you, look back at the stepping-stones that led to the event. If your murderer turns over a new leaf at the end of act two, make sure you’ve given her reason to.

8. TOO MANY SUBPLOTS MAKE THE PLOT OVERLY COMPLEX. If you start to feel weighed down by your numerous storylines, start cutting them. List the subplots (shopkeeper with a crush, neighbor’s dog that tears up the garden, accountant who threatens to quit every day), and then list under each title all the ways it’s necessary. Only subplots that are so vital that you could not remove them without destroying your novel get to stick around. Be bold.

9. THE SEQUENCE IS ILLOGICAL. Sometimes the sequence set down in an outline starts to show its true colors when you’re writing the chapters. If you feel the order of scenes or events in your story is off, list each scene on a separate index card and, in red ink, write a question mark on every card that doesn’t feel right where it is in the story. Shuffle the cards. I’m not kidding. Mix them up completely. Lay them out again in the order you think they might work best, giving special attention to those with red question marks. Something about these scenes tricked you the first time. This time, really look closely at the proper place for those tricky bits.

10. THE PREMISE ISN’T COMPELLING. If you fear that a mediocre premise is your holdup, take out a sheet of paper. Make a list on the left-hand side of everything that’s dodgy in your present premise. Then write a list down the right-hand side about all the things that work great in the premise of a similar favorite book, play or movie. See where you might make the stakes higher, the characters more emotional, the setting more a part of the overall plot. Remember: The premise should make your readers curious.

11. THE CONCLUSION IS UNSATISFYING. Once again, write a list of what bothers you about your conclusion, and next to it, a list of what worked great about the end of your favorite novel. Do you have to create more suspense before you give the readers what they’ve been craving? Do you need to make the answer to the mystery clearer? Does the villain need to be angrier, or perhaps show remorse? Unsatisfying conclusions are usually lacking something. Whatever that is, make your story’s ending have more of it.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Brief Lesson in Scene Writing

Raymond Carver said, “There are significant moments in everyone's day that can make literature. That's what you ought to write about."

Do your scenes captivate the reader? Are your scenes memorable? Do you weave your scenes so that they move your story forward?

A scene is written so that it seems to occur in real time as if the reader were watching and listening to it happen. It's built on talk and action and is dramatized, not described or summarized (although exposition and description exists along with action). Each scene has specific reason for occurring at the point in the story -- something needs to be proven, established, or revealed. A scene exists to enrich or reveal characters, provides information about the plot, and pushes the plot forward.

A scene contains:
• a distinct time and place
• a specific conflict
• the main character wants something
• emotional reversal
• TIP: Include a good dialogue (if necessary), tension, reactions to what is taking place or being said, movement, gestures. Try ending scenes at a cliffhanger moment or high note.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Who’s Counting?

Do you worry about word count when you write? I usually don’t, unless I’m entering a contest where the word limit is enforced. A long time ago, one of my fellow writers asked me what the word limit for children’s books was. I didn’t have an answer at that time. So I did some research and found these guidelines in the Writer’s Digest.

ADULT NOVELS: COMMERCIAL & LITERARY
Between 80,000 and 89,999 words is a good range you should be aiming for. This is a 100% safe range for literary, romance, mystery, suspense, thriller and horror. Anything in this word count won't scare off any agent anywhere.

Now, speaking broadly, you can have as few as 71,000 words and as many as 109,000 words. That is the total range. When it dips below 80K, it might be perceived as too short—not giving the reader enough. It seems as though going over 100K is all right, but not by much. I suggest stopping at 109K because just the mental hurdle to jump concerning 110K is just another thing you don't want going against you. And, as agent Rachelle Gardner pointed out when discussing word count, over 110K is defined as "epic or saga." Chances are your cozy mystery or literary novel is not an epic. Rachelle also mentions that passing 100K in word count means it's a more expensive book to produce—hence agents' and editors' aversion to such lengths.

In short:
80,000 - 89,999: Totally cool
90,000 - 99,999: Generally safe
70,000 - 79,999: Might be too short; probably all right
100,000 - 109,999: Might be too long; probably all right
Below 70,000: Too short
110,000 or above Too long
Chick lit falls into this realm, but chick lit books tend to be a bit shorter and faster. 70-75K is not bad at all.

SCI-FI AND FANTASY
Science fiction and fantasy are the big exceptions because these categories tend to run long. It has to do with all the descriptions and world-building in the writing.

With these genres, I would say 100,000 - 115,000 is an excellent range. It's six-figures long, but not real long. The thing is: Writers tend to know that these categories run long so they make them run really long and hurt their chances. There's nothing wrong with keeping it short (say, 105K) in these areas. It shows that you can whittle your work down.

Outside of that, I would say 90K-100K is most likely all right, and 115-124K is probably all right, too. That said, try to keep it in the ideal range.

MIDDLE GRADE
Middle grade is from 20,000 - 45,000, depending on the subject matter and age range. When writing a longer book that is aimed at 12-year-olds (and could maybe be considered "tween"), using the term "upper middle grade" is advisable. With upper middle grade, you can aim for 32,000 - 40,000 words. These are books that resemble young adult in matter and storytelling, but still tend to stick to MG themes and avoid hot-button, YA-acceptable themes such as sex, drugs and rock & roll. You can stray a little over here but not much.

With a simpler middle grade idea (Football Hero or Jenny Jones and the Cupcake Mystery), aim lower. Shoot for 20,000 - 30,000 words.

YOUNG ADULT
Perhaps more than any other, YA is the one category where word count is very flexible.
For starters, 55,000 - 69,999 is a great range.
The word round the agent blogosphere is that these books tend to trending longer, saying that you can top in the 80Ks. However, this progression is still in motion and, personally, I'm not sure about this. I would say you're playing with fire the higher you go. When it gets into the 70s, you may be all right—but you have to have a reason for going that high. Again, higher word counts usually mean that the writer does not know how to edit themselves.

A good reason to have a longer YA novel that tops out at the high end of the scale is if it's science fiction or fantasy. Once again, these categories are expected to be a little longer because of the world-building.

Concerning the low end, below 55K could be all right but I wouldn't drop much below about 47K.

PICTURE BOOKS
The standard is text for 32 pages. That might mean one line per page, or more. 500-600 words is a good number to aim for. When it gets closer to 1,000, editors and agents may shy away.

MEMOIR
Memoir is the same as a novel and that means you're aiming for 80,000-89,999. However, keep in mind when we talked about how people don't know how to edit their work. This is specially true in memoir, I've found, because people tend to write everything about their life—because it all really happened.

Coming in a bit low (70-79K) is not a terrible thing, as it shows you know how to focus on the most interesting parts of your life and avoid a Bill-Clinton-esque tome-length book. At the same time, you may want to consider the high end of memoir at 99,999. Again, it's a mental thing seeing a six-figure length memoir.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Character We All Love to Hate

Who says villains only belong in mystery thrillers? Remember Mr. Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights? He’s the type of character we love to hate. He was not your typical villain but he had some rogue traits (for some he's the Byronic hero, for some the hero, take your pick). Your villain can be smooth or despicable or both. This character can be anything…he/she just has to be credible. As writers, we have a responsibility to our readers: create believable characters.

Hallie Ephron says, “Create a villain that captures the imagination of your readers and challenges your main character throughout your novel by using these three techniques.” On July 12, 2010, the Writer’s Digest published Ephron’s article titled “3 Techniques for Crafting a Better Villain”.

TAKE THE TIME TO PLAN AHEAD
Some writers know right from the get-go which character is guilty. They start with the completed puzzle and work their way backward, shaping the story pieces and fitting them together. Others happily write without knowing whodunit until the scene when the villain is actually unmasked. Then they rewrite, cleaning up the trail of red herrings and establishing the clues that make the solution work. Thus, having a plan up front can save a whole lot of rewriting in what should be the home stretch.

CREATE A VILLAIN WORTH PURSUING
You can’t just throw all your suspects’ names into a bowl and pick one to be your villain. For your novel to work, the villain must be special. Your sleuth deserves a worthy adversary—a smart, wily, dangerous creature who tests your protagonist’s courage and prowess. Stupid, bumbling characters are good for comic relief, but they make lousy villains. The smarter, more invincible the villain, the harder your protagonist must work to find his vulnerability and the greater the achievement in bringing him to justice.

Must the villain be loathsome? Not at all. He can be chilling but charming, like Hannibal Lecter. Thoroughly evil? It’s better when the reader can muster a little sympathy for a complex, realistic character who feels her crimes are justified.

So, in planning, try to wrap your arms around why your villain does what he does. What motivates him to kill? Consider the standard motives like greed, jealousy or hatred. Then go a step further. Get inside your villain’s head and see the crime from his perspective. What looks to law enforcement like a murder motivated by greed may, to the perpetrator, be an act in the service of a noble, even heroic cause.

Here’s how a villain might justify a crime:
• Righting a prior wrong
• Revenge (the victim deserved to die)
• Vigilante justice (the justice system didn’t work)
• Protecting a loved one
• Restoring order to the world.

Finally, think about what happened to make that character the way she is. Was she born bad, or turned sour as a result of some early experience? If your villain has a grudge against society, why? If she can’t tolerate being jilted, why? You may never share your villain’s life story with your reader, but to make a complex, interesting villain, you need to know. By understanding how the villain justifies the crimes to himself, and what events in his life triggered these crimes, you give yourself the material you need to get past a black-hatted caricature and paint your villain in shades of gray.

MAKE THE CRIME FIT THE VILLAIN
There are many ways to kill off a character. You can have him shot, stabbed, poisoned or pushed off a cliff. You can have him run over by a car or bashed in the head with a fireplace poker. You get the picture.

The first issue to consider is: Would your villain have the expertise and capability to commit this particular crime you’ve conceived for him?

Here’s an example: Suppose there’s a novel about a surgeon who, up to Page 302, has been the soul of buttoned-down respectability. Suddenly, on Page 303, he leaps from a hospital laundry bin and mows down his rival for hospital director with machine-gun fire. Never mind that up to this point in the novel the guy has done nothing more than attend board meetings, get drunk and obnoxious at a cocktail party, and perform heart surgery. Now suddenly he’s The Terminator? The behavior doesn’t fit the character. If he stabbed, poisoned or pushed his rival off the hospital roof, the reader might swallow it. The author might get away (barely) with the shooting if hints were dropped earlier that this surgeon once served in military special forces.

Choose a modus operandi that your villain (and all your suspects) might plausibly adopt, and establish that your villain has the capability and expertise required. A murder by strangling, stabbing or beating is more plausible if your villain is strong and has a history of physical violence. If your villain plants an electronically activated plastic explosive device, be prepared to show how he learned to make a sophisticated bomb and how he got access to the components. If a woman shoots her husband with a .45 automatic, be prepared to show how she learned to use firearms and that she’s strong enough to handle the recoil of a .45.

The second issue to consider: Is the rage factor appropriate for the character’s motivation? The more extreme the violence, the more likely the crime is to be fueled by hatred and rage. A robber shoots a victim once; an enraged husband pumps bullets into the man who raped his wife until the ammunition runs out. A villain may administer a quick-working deadly poison to a victim he wants out of the way, but a villain who loathes his victim might pick a poison that’s slow and painful—and hang around to watch.
Adjust the violence quotient to match the amount of rage your villain has toward her victim.

Do you create likeable or despicable villains?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Top 10 Productivity Pitfalls for Writers to Avoid

Happy Friday, fellow bloggers!
I hope you had a productive writing week. Today I'm recycling a helpful article I found from Pushcart Prize nominee, author and poet, Sage Cohen. She writes the following:

When you find time to write, you want to make sure you’re making the most of whatever time you have. With that in mind, here are Sage Cohen's productivity pitfalls you should avoid.

The top 10 productivity pitfalls you should avoid:
1. Unclear big-picture vision. Without an idea of where you’re headed, it will be impossible to set realistic goals and measure your progress along the way.
2. Lack of short-term goals. You can’t hit a target you can’t see. Knowing your daily, weekly, monthly and annual goals (both practical and aspirational) can help you keep moving in the right direction.
3. Fear. Risk is the hinge on which productivity turns; if we aren’t in danger of failing, we aren’t growing. When we let fear prevent us from taking steps that could bring our writing dreams closer, we limit our opportunities to succeed.
4. Trying to force productivity. Understanding your writing rhythms and honoring them is the key to finding and sustaining a flow you can count on.
5. Shabby systems. If you can’t find the latest draft of your essay, can’t keep track of what you’ve pitched and to whom, and don’t remember that great idea you had last week, you’re limiting yourself needlessly.
6. Lack of awareness about time: If you’re not aware of how you’re spending time, what your time is worth, how you might devote more time to writing, or what you intend to accomplish in each chunk of writing time you do have, you’re not maximizing this most precious resource.
7. Transition turbulence. Work to establish rhythms for everything from sitting down to the blank page to completing a writing session, so that shifts from one project to the next don’t leave you in a lull.
8. Perfectionism. If you wait for your work to be perfect, it (and you) may never leave your desk. Focus, instead, on professionalism—doing the best you can, learning along the way, and understanding that mistakes and failures feed every success.
9. Isolation. Without a social, professional and community context, we’re far more likely to get discouraged, lose our way and miss out on opportunities.
10. Negativity. It’s easy to focus on the negative in writing and in life. But when we turn our attention to what’s working and what we appreciate from moment to moment, our sails turn into the wind.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Versatile Blogger

Another blog award, yaayyy!!! I can easily get used to this. ;)
Thank you to my fellow blogger, Joanna St. James who blogs at Joanna St. James-Bionic Writer. She was kind to pass on the torch to me.

Now, I'm supposed to follow some rules when accepting this award.

Award Rules:

1. Thank the person who gave you this award and provide a link to their blog
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Pass the award along to 5 other bloggers whom you have recently discovered and whose blogs you think are fantastically versatile/ resourceful/functional/adaptable.
4. Contact those bloggers you’ve picked and let them know about their award.

Seven things about myself:
1) I love writing short stories.
2) I would love to appear in either The Colbert Report or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to talk about my book (when it gets published, of course).  :))
3) I have a great sense of humor (even though my blog is kind of serious).
4) I am a vegetarian.
5) I love animals.
6) I love traveling.
7) I still believe in the goodness of humanity (in spite of what I see in the news).

The Five Recipients of the Versatile Blogger Award are:
1) Sharon Mayhew at Random Thoughts
2) Doris Plaster at Hold my Hand
3) Cathy Bueti at Artsy Butterfly
4) Old Kitty at Ten Lives and Second Chances
5) Kelly Howarth at One Word Pundit

There are so many wonderful blogs out there but I can only list five. Next time!
In the meantime, please visit these wonderful and inspiring blogs. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Choosing a Point of View

How do you know which POV works best for your story?

I’m revisiting four short stories I wrote a while ago. I thought they only needed a little tweaking. Boy was I wrong! I asked my mentor to read them and give me his overall impressions. Although they're somewhat tight, he said they could be tighter if I change the POV of two of my stories.

He said, “When it comes to POV, it all depends on what you're trying to do with your story. If your story relies on bringing out the internal states of a character, how that character is feeling, what she is thinking, etc., then a first-person POV usually works best. If the story depends on a more objective outlook and/or on more than one character's way of looking at and doing things, then a third-person POV (omniscient) is usually best.”

When you begin to write a story, whether a short story or a novel, you first need to know from which point of view the story will be told. You can always change this once the story is written or just doesn’t work out the way you had intended, but it’s best to plan from the beginning.

No set rule for points of view applies when writing. A writer usually sticks to the POV that feels comfortable. If you are a beginning writer, try writing several paragraphs, including dialogue, from each POV. You will know immediately what feels right for your way of storytelling.

Have you experienced POV confusion? Do you know from the get go which POV will work best for your story or novel?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Word on the Street

On September 26, 2010, I attended the 21st Word on the Street Book and Magazine Festival in Toronto, the largest festival of its kind in Canada. Every year the festival showcases the best in Canadian writing, while offering diversity for every literary taste. This year the festival, which took place in Queen’s Park, added three new publishing houses: Random House of Canada Ltd. with McClelland & Stewart, and Penguin Group (Canada).

The festival invited special guests such as best-selling Canadian author and Man Booker Prize winner, Yann Martel (Life of Pi). He was the festival headliner on the Scotiabank Giller Prize Bestseller Stage to present his newest novel, Beatrice & Virgil.

The tents were crowded with people of every age and nationality. I volunteered at the Guernica Editions tent. This Toronto-based publishing house publishes books in English, French, and Italian. Guernica publishes poetry, anthologies of short stories, essays, and literary fiction. I couldn’t resist, so I bought seven books at amazing prices. It was a pleasure meeting a couple of authors who have published with Guernica Editions. Poet Karen Shenfeld is launching her latest book, My Father’s Hands Spoke in Yiddish, on October 17, 2010, and Elana Wolff’s recent collection of short essays on contemporary poems, titled Implicate Me, was released this year.

Many book aficionados came to the Guernica tent because they knew Karen and Elana, having read their work.

Being surrounded by books, authors, and nature on a sunny autumn day was a wonderful experience!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Your Manuscript: Nine Rules to Follow

It's been two crazy weeks! Work, projects, and a few curve balls life threw at me have interrupted my writing and my blogging :(

Don't you just hate it when your writing takes the backseat?

I promise to fill you in regarding my trip to Toronto for the Word on the Street Book Festival. In the meantime, I will share these nine pointers I got from the Writer's Digest on September 28, 2010.

Here’s editor Anica Mrose Rissi’s list of what you can do to increase your book’s chances of making it out of the slush pile and into the spotlight.

1. Revise, revise, revise! I don’t want to read your first draft, ever. (Tip: Your novel isn’t ready to send to me until you can describe it in one sentence.)
2. Start with conflict and tension to raise questions, arouse curiosity and (like musical dissonance) create the need for resolution.
3. Start with the story you’re telling, not with the back story. Throw the reader directly into a conflict and let her get to know your characters through their actions. (Yes, this is another way of saying, “Show, don’t tell.”)
4. Give the reader something to wonder about and a sense of where the story is going—of what’s at stake.
5. Avoid explaining too much too soon. And, don’t be obvious. Trust your readers. Trust your characters. Trust your writing. If you find that chunks of your story need to include long explanations, go back in and write those chunks better, until the story explains itself.
6. Make sure your story has both a plot arc and an emotional arc. Cross internal conflict with external conflict. Give your characters moral dilemmas, and force them to deal with the consequences of their choices.
7. Read your dialogue out loud. When revising, ask yourself, “What is the point of this dialogue?” (Just as you should be asking, “What is the point of this sentence? What is the point of this scene?”)
8. Use adjectives, adverbs and dialogue tags only sparingly. (See “trust your readers,” above.)
9. Make sure your details matter.

Friday, September 24, 2010

LEARNING FROM FAILURE

While reading some blogs last week, I noticed that two of them mentioned the word failure. An author even asked if not sticking to a goal was a failure. Sometimes we focus too much on this word, thus we forget the end result.

I’ll share an excerpt from the Media Education Foundation transcript, an interview with Peter Elbow, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Massachusetts. This is what he said about failure:

During that whole time, I was worried about my writing and I kept a kind of a journal. I kept taking notes. I kept writing myself letters about what was going on my writing, especially when things got tricky, when I got stuck, when I wandered into a swamp in my writing and I couldn't figure out how to get going again. I would take out a separate piece of paper and write myself a note. Not a pep talk but an attempt to be perfectly empirical. What happened? When did I first start getting stuck? What led to that? Can I figure out what train of thought got me down a blind alley? What was going on with my language? What was going on with my thinking? What was going on with my feelings? And when I got going again I would try to remember to and write myself another note, how did I get out of here? What was the turning point? Was there something I did that helped me get out of this stuck point? Well I wrote myself those notes for three years and kept slipping them in a folder until that folder got to be very fat and full of notes some of them written on the back of envelopes, but I was getting very interested in what was in there. I didn't have much time to explore it, but that folder of notes to myself is what turned into my first book about writing and turned into my first study of the writing process.

Dr. Elbow’s first book on writing was entitled Writing without Teachers. He is also the author of four other books on writing and the writing process.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ten Changes in Publishing since 2000

Dear writers, readers, fellow bloggers, and everyone in between:
As you already know, my blog is dedicated to giving tips and advice based on my own experience in the writing and publishing industry. I also like doing some research and sharing pertinent articles with you. Well, my latest post is the case. I did some digging and found this great article in the Writer's Digest regarding the changes the publishing industry has gone through.

When WritersMarket.com started in 2000, the writing industry was different. You'd search the web (on dial-up connections) for new results about your favorite publishers or agencies. The term social media didn't exist - Facebook didn't even start until 2003. Here are a few other things that have changed since WritersMarket.com launched 10 years ago:

1. Many publications and publishers accept electronic submissions, whether via e-mail or online submission forms.
2. More than ever, writers have to brand themselves.
3. Writers must do the work of marketing and promoting themselves to agents, editors, publishers, and--ultimately--readers. (Wondering how? We recommend Get Known before the Book Deal.)
4. Personal sites and blogs have made it easier than ever for writers to develop an audience.
5. Ad-based print resources (i.e., Magazines and Newspapers) have struggled to adjust to the Internet with new content strategies and pricing models. (Market Watch, exclusively for WritersMarket.com subscribers gives you insight on the latest changes.)
6. Due to the tough economic times, publications are relying more and more on freelancers. (With over 8000 listings, WritersMarket.com can help you find these opportunities.)
7. The proliferation of online content has opened up more opportunities than ever for writers from all backgrounds.
8. There are more online tools than ever to help writers research and write more efficiently and knowledgeably.
9. Social media offers easy and ground-breaking ways to network with publishing professionals, other writers, and potential interviewees. (If you're not already a member, join the Writer's Digest Community. You'll become a part of a supportive and creative community dedicated to the art and craft of writing.)
10. Businesses and organizations now rely on great content to attract new customers, sell products, and spread important messages--the trend of content marketing. (Wonder how much you should charge for this content? The "How Much Should I Charge? Rate Card" gives you answers!)

One thing hasn't changed: Great writing is always in demand. You can use WritersMarket.com to find those opportunities.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Seven Secrets to Getting into Libraries

Reprinted from "The Book Marketing Expert newsletter," a free e-zine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques. http://www.amarketingexpert.com
In an economically challenged climate guess what starts to soar? Libraries. The library market is strong and getting stronger. If you haven't made libraries part of your target market you should. And despite all the book buzz online, it's still nice to get your book onto a library shelf. For most of us, this seems like an exclusive right devoted to an exclusive group of best-selling authors. While some piece of this is true, the reality is that if you have a good book, you can get into the library system. Here's how.
First, why would you care about hitting the library market? Because in a slow book sales season, as we've seen in the past few months, libraries are a great way to get to your reader.

1. What they buy: Each library gets a budget and they can spend it any way they want. Unlike Barnes and Noble, where their book purchases are often dictated by publishers or a sales order from their corporate office, libraries operate independently of each other. Libraries will generally buy hardback and trade books and tend to shy away from mass market paperbacks, but if you're in the latter category, don't let this deter you. There's still a lot of wiggle room when it comes to library orders and a few creative ways to get into their system.

2. Getting to know your local library: If you want to get into your local library it's important to get to know them, so dust off your library card, stop by and introduce yourself. Get to know who you're selling to.

3. Library websites: If your local library has a website, see if there's a place to make book recommendations. If you have local fans, encourage them to do the same on their library websites.

4. Library events: If you've been trying to get into your local bookstore to do an event but haven't gotten much traction, why not consider doing a library event (or two)? It's a great way to get "into" your local library, become acquainted with them, meet your local readers, and well, you know - get more exposure for your book. Many libraries also have reading groups that you might be able to participate in.

5. Reviews: Most libraries look to review sources for their selections as well. Consider submitting your book to the following publications for review: Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and Forecast. These publications are largely ready by libraries and often librarians will buy based on a good review in one of these publications. You don't need to get reviews in all of them (though wouldn't that be great?) - getting a review in one of them should be more than sufficient to catch the eye of a ready-to-buy librarian.

6. Popularity: Librarians like to stock what's popular, even locally. So if you're doing a lot of local events, talks, or speaking gigs, make sure and let your local libraries know. Also, if you're going to do TV or radio be sure and alert your library, thus giving them sufficient time to order the book.

7. Distribution: It's important to know how libraries get the titles they stock. First off you'll need to get the right distributor for your book. Both Quality Books and Unique Books have programs that can help you access the library market.

Quality Books Inc. http://www.quality-books.com/

Unique Books Inc. http://www.uniquebooksinc.com/

Baker & Taylor: http://www.baker-taylor.com/ (technically they are a wholesaler but can also help you access the library market)

There's also a nifty little site that will help you locate libraries in your neighborhood and around the world: http://www.libdex.com (libraries worldwide)

Libraries might not seem as "glamorous" as the store window of Barnes and Noble, but libraries have considerably more staying power. Once your book is in their system it's in there for as long as your book is in print and the library sees there are readers for it. Also, consider the reorders as your local library will (hopefully) bring in more than one copy. Libraries are a not-to-be-overlooked part of your marketing campaign, and if you missed the review window, don't fret. You might still be able to gain some interest via events and local popularity!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Get out there and promote yourself!

As you already know, writing is only a small part (and the best part) of being writer. Published authors will tell you that you have to do the legwork if you want get published. I decided to write this after a friend asked me to be her agent. I was flattered of course, because that showed her confidence in me. At the same time, it reminded me about the importance of networking.

I’d like to remind aspiring/emerging writers that being a bit more aggressive (audacious) will get you a mile further in your writing career. I’ve known some emerging writers whose writing can lead them to a brilliant career as authors. However, they are shrinking violets. Have you ever seen a shy politician? My point exactly! I’m not saying you should be a braggart or a kowtower; instead be a writer with good public relations (P.R.) skills.

Let me give you the perfect example. Recently, a former mentor and published author (let’s call him Matt) told me he met an emerging writer (let’s call him John) at a literary event. After being introduced, they both talked about their work. John expressed his passion for fiction and poetry. Matt’s curiosity was piqued and immediately asked John to email him a couple of poems. Matt was impressed with the poems and deemed them worthy of publication. The result: Matt asked his publisher if he could also include John’s poems in the anthology where Matt’s work was to appear.

So next time you feel like hiding under a rock at a literary function, think of my tips for Public Relations 101:

• Attend literary events every chance and go out of your way to introduce yourself.

• Participate in writing workshops.

• Befriend your mentors.

• Keep in touch with the people you meet at events, workshops, readings, etc. (they may know an agent or publisher).

• Talk about your work without being arrogant.

• Most importantly, never, never, badmouth or gossip about your peers or mentors. It’s unprofessional and it can only jeopardize your writing career.

• Promote yourself using the available tools such as a business card or press release.

• Remember the importance of an online presence for public relations—a web site, a blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.

What P.R. skills do you find work for you?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Paperback, Hardcover, or eBook?

When it comes to books, I'm an old-fashioned gal. I like to flip the pages when I'm reading. I like the smell and feel of the book. I know some people love e-books for their convenience and price. I was surprised to learn that a lot of people still love paperbacks. I read in Publishers Weekly that Barnes & Noble recommends paperbacks. Read the article below from September 7, 2010.

Starting this month Barnes & Noble is extending its B&N Recommends program (www.bn.com/recommends), which it launched four years ago for bestselling hardcovers like Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’s Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, to include trade paperbacks.

“Trade paperbacks are the format of choice for many of our bookstore customers,” said Patricia Bostelman, v-p of marketing for B & N, “and we’re excited to be able to expand the Recommends program and suggest great titles selected by our knowledgeable and passionate booksellers.”

Each month buyers will choose two paperbacks, either reprints or originals, one in fiction and one in nonfiction, which will be featured in B&N stores across the country. The September selections, on sale today, are: Jeannette Walls’s Half Broke Horses and Sue Monk Kidd’s Traveling With Pomegranates.

What about you? Which one do you prefer?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Short and Sweet

It's Labor Day, yet I have a pile of papers on my desk. Nevertheless, I still owe it to my fellow readers to write a new post every so often. I'll keep it short and sweet with this helpful article from G. Miki Hayden that appeared on the Writer's Digest on September 3, 2010.

Half the difference between what works and what doesn’t in fiction has to do with how the words are phrased. If you want to be a polished writer, remember these rules for smoother and more powerful writing.

1. Use appropriate and frequent paragraph breaks.
Readers want breaks. That’s why text is divided into paragraphs to begin with. A skillful writer can always find a spot to put in a hard return. If you can't, look again; you can so.

2. Use only one name for a character.
If the character, Ron Carpenter, is a doorman, call him either Ron or Carpenter, but not both. And be careful about referring to him as ''the doorman.'' Although that seems like a good substitute for the name that has been repeated so often, unless his occupation is more than clear, the alternation between name and job title can be confusing.

3. Choose entirely distinct character names.
Don’t name your two lead characters Stan and Steve. Sure the names are different, but readers can’t always track that fact—especially when they pick up the book three days later to read again.

4. Don’t use slang unless you clarify it.
I’m pretty well-read but when I came across the phrase "seven deadliest" with the assertion that they built to felonies, I thought this was a special law-enforcement phrase and not a way of referring to the Seven Deadly Sins.

5. Limit your use of possibly offensive language.
Reasons exist for characters to swear. But remember that, nowadays, most books are bought by women and many women don’t like swearing for the sake of swearing (even in gritty or naturalistic novels).

Do you have a special method to polish your fiction?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Is your prose too “pretty” for your readers?

Last night I met with a friend to discuss the story she’s recently written. We talked about how the misuse of adjectives and adverbs can affect our prose in a negative way. Lucky for me, I kept an article from William Noble, author of Noble’s Book of Writing Blunders (2006). Below you’ll read the abridged version of his article originally published on July 4, 2010 in the Writer’s Digest.

Learn how adjective and adverbs create redundancy and promote lazy writing and see how you can make your writing direct, vivid, and descriptive without making your readers want to get rid of your book.

Raymond Carver acquired a reputation as a short story master due to his attention to detail. Rarely, if ever, was a word or a series of words purposeless and uncertain. His prose was tight and emphatic, and his phrases never dangled or were superfluous. His craftsmanship honed his work to its essence. There aren’t many Raymond Carvers in this world, but each of us can learn some important things from the way he approached his writing. Sentence structure and punctuation were crucial, the proper word was essential, and what was omitted as important as what was inserted.

This brings us to adverbs and adjectives. Clearly, Carver would cast a suspicious eye on these forms of speech because many times they add little to what is already on the page. Frequently, they are not important, and in a short story, that means they have no business there.

Many inexperienced writers throw in “pretty” words to make their prose more dramatic and meaningful. But such cosmetic touch-up often turns out to be redundant or simply uninspiring. Take adverbs such as “lovingly” or “speedily” or “haltingly.” They each point to some circumstance or emotion or movement, yet do they offer solid impact? He whispered to her lovingly… She zoomed around the oval speedily… He stuttered haltingly…

In the last two instances, the verbs themselves provide the acting and the emotion in the sentences; the adverbs merely underscore what the verb has already described. Is it possible to “zoom” without doing so speedily … or to “stutter” without doing it in halting fashion? These are redundancies, and they do little for the prose except to give it an awkward cast.

The stone sank quickly… The fire truck bell clanged loudly… How else would a stone sink but quickly? How else would a fire truck bell clang but loudly? The key is to gauge the relationship of the adverb and the verb it modifies: Are they saying essentially the same thing? If so, there is a redundancy, and the adverb should come out—fast!

It isn’t only redundancies that adverbs can generate. They also encourage lazy writing. Take the earlier example, “he whispered to her lovingly …” I suppose he could whisper many things, including words, which are loving, but somehow the adverbial tail seems a lazy way out. By using “lovingly” the writer is really—and we’ve heard this before—telling instead of showing. Far more dramatic would be to write:

He whispered words of love … my sweet, dear lover, my angel … he purred his contentment, his joy …

No adverb here, and the drama is enhanced. I’ve shown those things that he whispered lovingly, and the reader has to be more involved in the story.

It has become a cliché to use the adverbial tail time and time again. In addition to minimizing the dramatic effect of the action, it grinds on the reader’s ear (remember, readers “hear” as well as read). All those words ending in “-ly,” not doing much for the sentence, not creating much of a word picture … Who could blame readers for wondering why the words were there in the first place?

And who could blame these same readers for laying the book aside? “Most adverbs,” says William Zinsser, “are unnecessary.” He’s right. And when it’s important to prettify your prose, there are better ways to do it.

Are you guilty of prettifying your prose?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Does your blog represent who you are?

Ah, the wonderful world of the blogosphere! You love to pour your souls on the pages of your blog. But, are you doing yourself a favor or disservice? Your blog can be seen as your public persona, a representation of your professional self. Blogs nowadays are your reputation so guard it well. If you use the blog for fun, make sure that your posts are not going to compromise your personal or professional life in any way. You often read in the newspaper about Facebook horror stories such as houses broken into, pedophiles befriending children, teens exposing themselves, and employees badmouthing their bosses just to mention a few. Like Facebook, your blog is a double-edged sword. Be mindful of what you say and how you say it. You don’t know who’s reading your blog. When in doubt, remember the Six Degrees of Separation Rule which refers to the idea that everyone is at most six steps away from any other person on Earth, so that a chain of, "a friend of a friend" statements can be made to connect any two people in six steps or fewer. And with all the “followers” you have in your wonderful blog, hmm you’d better think twice before you publish the next post. Our private lives should be, well, “private.” Don’t you agree?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Is your narrative smooth sailing or failing?

Last night I read part of a short story I found on a website. The story had typos, was cliché-laden, and the narrative was stagnant. This was a reminder to both my friend and me as we continue to edit each other’s work. We hate editing but after discussing how on earth this story made its way online, we definitely realize how crucial editing is.

Historical novelist, Sara Sheridan reminds us of some techniques that help the narrative of a story.

1. Think of your story as a storyboard, like a comic or graphic novel. Run through it action by action. Anything in your text that isn’t part of the storyboard simply isn’t pacey enough. If you have pages and pages of description, you’re asking a lot of your reader. They won’t stick with you. But give them something to see happening, and they’ll stay up all night with your book.

2. Consider the tone of the narrative voice of your story.
What vocabulary have you used? Ornate language can distract a reader or evoke a particular place or time, so it’s a tightrope of which you have to be aware. Also, what is the balance between prose and dialogue? To assess this, read chapter endings in isolation to check that the narrative voice is compelling. That might sound odd. After all, no one is going to only read the endings of your chapters. But this is a great way to get a sense of the narrative voice of the whole book.

3. The easiest way to improve narrative drive is to simplify your verbs as much as possible.
In English we have a huge amount of tense formations and a high proportion of irregular verbs. It’s astoundingly easy to use three or four words where one will do. Keep it simple—make every word count. Stick to the simple present, past, and future where possible. If you can write in the present tense your prose will have especial immediacy.

3a. Be very careful of deluging your reader with adjectives.
It is far more evocative to use the action to create a description and a reader, in any case, can only process so much description at once. Choose your adjectives carefully and use them sparingly.

4. Editing.
Unlike writing itself, publication is a team activity. You have to edit. I have learned more from working with editors than from reading or going to any kind of course. There is a sense in which the act of writing the book often makes you less able to comprehensively edit it. Novice writers are often ambivalent about editors, and think their book is perfect. No one’s book is perfect. I’d say that it’s absolutely worth getting an appraisal from a professional editor. However painful it’s going to be, ask for any criticism, and ask about suggested changes to narrative drive specifically. Your book won’t sell without it!

Does your narrative have what it takes? Ask fellow writers and friends and when in doubt, hire a professional editor. I have! Boy, did I learn tons in the process.

Original article appears as a guest post in the Writer’s Digest on August 17, 2010.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Make your writing a fun workout!

Today was Writing Day for me. After a two-week hiatus, my hand was a slug, dragging the pen over the paper leaving a blue trace of nonsense. This is the reason my fellow writers and I meet twice a month. It helps us get our creative juices flowing. As I’ve written in my previous posts, my writing group is my fun workout (No dumbbells involved!). Today we had three writing prompts and we chose two. We timed ourselves: fifteen minutes max. We read the stories out loud and gave each other feedback. Then we repeated the process with another prompt. This served as our warm up and, boy were we ready! The rest of our meeting was used to continue our work in progress.

Fellow writers you can have fun doing this exercise even long distance. One of my best friends who’s an aspiring writer asked me for writing prompts. I told her I’d include her in today’s Writing Day group even if she lives in the US. Well, it worked! She sent me her work via email. I printed copies of her story for my group to read and we later gave her feedback.

So, because we had so much fun doing it together, why not let you in the fun as well. I’ll share with you the three prompts we used. Choose one and give yourself fifteen minutes (No cheating!). You’ll be amazed at your own creativity. Remember: Absolutely NO editing!

I want to hear from you. Everything! Let me know if this was a good exercise, if it was fun, and if it gave you energy to write some more (e.g. your WIP).

Writing Prompts:
• Write a story about an empty glass.
• Write about the color of hunger.
• Write from the point of view of a clean sock that was mistakenly placed in the hamper.

HAVE FUN!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Do you research your facts?

A fellow writer asked me to read one of her short stories. She told me she was having a hard time finishing this one because she needed to do a lot of research on the topic (one that she is not familiar with). Like her, I find myself in the same predicament. My latest tale involves some medical terminology and illness that I have little knowledge of.
I was lucky to find “Three Strategies for Solid Research,” an article by bestselling novelist, Gayle Lynds. She says that before you can incorporate your research into your writing, you first need to be as smart as possible about the research itself. Ms. Lynds reminds us of the following research strategies:

1. Develop a system for tracking your legwork. “Take a digital camera with you, photograph everything, dictate notes … never lose anything. Never lose anything,” says David Hewson, international bestselling author of the Nic Costa thrillers. “I keep a journal on every book I’m writing that notes down ideas, locations, characters, themes—and I keep a running diary on the book as I’m writing it. This is separate from the draft, so it acts as a left-brain perspective on the whole exercise.”

2. Get in the habit of vetting your research as you go—particularly research conducted online. Verify facts from multiple reputable sources before you record them. This way, you’ll already know that all your notes are accurate when it comes time to incorporate them into your work.

3. Be wary of cutting and pasting research nuggets directly into your manuscript. You don’t want to become guilty of plagiarism by letting someone else’s words get inadvertently mixed in with your own. If you do feel the need to paste in a block of research while you’re writing, be sure to highlight the copied text in a different color so you can go back and remove or rewrite it entirely later.

(Article reprinted from the Writer's Digest, July 20, 2010)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

THE RESULTS ARE IN: The winner of the Summer Writing Contest is…

I would like to thank all participants in this year’s Summer Writing Contest. Since this was a privately organized contest, there was no monetary compensation. However, the prize was a great opportunity to work with Canadian author and poet, Michael Mirolla who’s also editor-in-chief and publisher of Guernica Editions. He was kind enough to donate his valuable time to work alongside the winner.

The contest was a great success and some emerging writers have asked me if I’m having another one in the fall. I am working out details with possible sponsors in order to have cash prizes. I’ll keep you posted so keep reading my blog.

The winners were chosen by author Michael Mirolla.
1) First Prize Winner: “A Walk in the Snow” by Colette Vidal
2) Second Prize Winner: “Brian’s History” by Dan Saragosti
3) Third Prize Winner: “Garbage Day” by Marijke Vander Klok

Although there were a lot of good stories, we could only choose the best three. Thanks for your submissions and keep writing!

Monday, August 16, 2010

And the Award Goes to...

Another blog review under my belt and I want to return the favor to my fellow bloggers. Ms. C was very kind to award me with The Versatile Blogger Award. Thanks Ms. C! (To visit her blog, click here)

There are 4 rules that come with the award:
1 - thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them when creating the award post
2 - share seven things about yourself
3 - pass the award on to 15 recently discovered blogs
4 - contact the bloggers to let them know about the award

Seven facts about myself and they’re in no particular order (almost):
1) I love animals
2) I am a vegetarian
3) I love traveling (I want to be fair here to all the countries I’ve visited, so I’ll keep my favorite destination(s) a secret)
4) Writing has become my second passion
5) Blogging has become an addiction (LOL!)
6) I’m a social butterfly
7) I have a fascination for foreign languages
I've chosen 7 of my favorite bloggers for this award based on the quality and message of their blogs (it was really difficult for me to choose as I like a slew of blogs out there). For those I have listed, please don't feel obligated to follow up on the rules of the award. By the way, the nominees are in no particular order.

Drum roll please!

1) One Word Pundit, for her inspirational posts.
2) The Giraffability of Digressions, for her quirky posts, keen observations on everyday life, and for her love of giraffes.
3) Writers in the Sky Podcast, for her professionalism and willingness to help other writers.
4) Artsy Butterfly, for her lovely posts, photographs, and creativity.
5) NouveauWriter, for her insightful posts.
6) Thomasinatafur, for her dedication to helping businesswomen.
7) Metamorphosis, for her positive attitude and creative soul.

Please click on each of their names in order to visit their blogs. Congratulations to the winners!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Myths and lies that can turn into a horror story

It’s Friday the 13th and it’s a lucky day for us writers! That’s right! We’re lucky to get great tips from Matt Mikalatos, freelancer and author of the novel Imaginary Jesus (BarnaBooks, 2010). For those unpublished writers out there, forget 13 is an unlucky number. I say 5 will be your unlucky number if you don’t follow Mikalatos’ advice.

Mikalatos says that writers tend to be creative in many areas of life, so it's no surprise that they can get creative with the truth. Here are 5 lies unpublished writers tell themselves and the truths that can get them published.

1. THE RULES DON'T APPLY TO ME.
I write amazing first drafts. If there were a contest for first drafts, mine would win every time. So I told myself, "Writing is not rewriting." Other people might have to do multiple drafts, but my first drafts are so solid I could publish them as-is. For years I believed this. So if there are some rules that you think don't apply to you, think again. It might be the rule preventing you from getting published.

2. AGENTS AND EDITORS HAVE IT IN FOR ME.
Ah, those blood-sucking agents and editors. I'm pretty sure they have meetings in a secret underground lair where they talk about how jealous they are of my writing skills and how they should team up to keep me from being published. If you're getting rejected it's because you still have work to do either as a writer or as a marketer.

3. I'M NOT A MARKETER, I'M A WRITER!
Which is exactly why you aren't published yet. You have to do the hard work of writing a spectacular query and proposal. Notice that you have to "write" the query and proposal. You're not being asked to do an interpretive dance or draft blueprints to a rocket ship. It might not be your style, and it might be hard work, but being a published author is hard work, complete with e-mails you don't want to answer, deadlines, accounting and marketing!

4. I SHOULD SPEND A LOT OF TIME FANTASIZING OVER WHERE I WILL BE PUBLISHED NOW THAT I'VE WRITTEN TWO CHAPTERS OF MY NOVEL.
It is way more fun to read Writer's Market over and over—memorizing the publishers and agents—than it is to write your book. And while this is good practice for when your book is ready to shop, if the fantasy-to-writing ratio tips toward fantasy, it's time to get back to writing. Unless you are writing a fantasy, in which case you are probably fine and keep up the good work.

5. I'M A BETTER WRITER THAN MOST PUBLISHED AUTHORS.
If you're like me, you love picking up a book from the "Top 10" rack, flipping it open and cringing at the terrible prose. But this author (who is, keep in mind, a worse writer than you) somehow got a contract, got published and is selling well. I said this most often before I had finished writing the first draft of my first novel. Perhaps it's just that the "hack writers" out there actually finish their books.

These are a few of the lies that I wish someone had confronted me with when I was an unpublished writer. Now, here's one last truth for you: You can do this. Work hard, keep writing, improve your craft and be persistent. We're all waiting to read your masterpiece!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Do you know how to approach a publisher?

Last week, I talked about agents and what they look for in writers. Today, I want to mention the other important aspect of the writing industry: finding a publisher.

I decided to write about this topic when one of my friends shared that she’s just finished her YA novel (kudos to anyone who realizes this feat). Like her, some fellow bloggers have posted in their blogs that they’re fishing for publishers. So, I went fishing myself for a good article that gives us pointers on how to approach a publisher.

Lynn Serafinn, Personal Transformation Coach, Speaker, Talk Radio Host, and Author of The Garden of the Soul, wrote an article on how to approach a major publisher.

Lynn says that in her experience, there are seven main factors to consider in your decision to approach a publisher:

1. Discipline. Could you make a commitment to meet writing deadlines if given them? Have you transcended the trap of only being able to write when you are "inspired," or can you sit down and get into the groove when you need to?

2. Stylistic maturity. Is your writing style "mature" (well past the embryonic stage)? Could others easily talk about your style and your message as compared to other books? Is your style powerful and developed enough that editors would not want to change it significantly?

3. Emotionally prepared. Are you ready to "show up" as a public image? Are you ready to be seen and critiqued? Are you ready to speak transparently on a global level? Are you ready to release your vision, regardless of whether people like it or not?

4. Identity. Do you know who you are as a writer and as a person? Do you have a clear idea of your "public image" (i.e. who you are to your readers, fans and audience)? Can you stand calmly within the wisdom of your own identity when dealing with a publisher?

5. Platform. Do you have a well-established platform (i.e. a large fan base of people who know your name and your writing)? This is undoubtedly one of the major factors publishers will consider when you approach them, and something that will make it much less likely for them to try to "reshape" your image.

6. Marketing. Do you know how to reach your audience? Do you understand principles of marketing? Can you explain how you would market your book to publishers in a way that would make them say, "Hey, this one has some great ideas"?

7. Time commitment. Are you ready and able to commit LOTS of time to promoting your book? Is your life free or flexible with regards to family or other work commitments? Could you travel frequently without disrupting the rest of your life?

Lynn went on to say that speaking for herself, in 2009, when she went to publish The Garden of the Soul, she'd say she had these covered about 75 percent. But, in her opinion, 75 percent wasn't enough for her to approach a publisher at that time. Before she approached a publisher, she wanted to be able to give her full 100 percent. Then the time would be right . . . at least for her.

"When I wrote my proposal this year, I felt it to be truly a transformative process. I realized when I was writing it that I had finally reached my "100% Ready" place. I knew who I was. I felt I could write at the drop of a hat. I had a platform. I understood marketing. And most of all, I had already written my book and I completely believed in it."

"Being a self-published writer was absolutely the best thing for me when I had chosen to do so. The experience helped me develop as a person, as a writer and as a businesswoman. But now that I have firmly established my platform and really know who I am as a writer, I feel confident about making the shift to working with a publisher over the coming year. At the same time, I also have the confidence that I am able to flourish as a proud indie author, and enjoy the ride on my own as well."

"I hope you found these reflections and pointers to be of value in your own journey as an author."