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:

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?

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?

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,, 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 or send him an e-mail to:

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.