Wednesday, May 28, 2014

On Writing

When trying to come up with something of value for today’s post, I decided to ask some of my old writing friends about writing and see if they had any ideas or suggestions they could share. They actually had quite a bit to say. Quite a bit, on the various aspects of writing, that is far more valuable than anything I could come up with this morning.

C.S. Lewis mentioned a previous post about originality. Here’s the comment:

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

My dear friend, John Steinbeck, had this to say when we discussed the post about giving up:

The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.

Anne Sexton agreed and added this:

When I am writing I am doing the thing I was meant to do.

Ray Bradbury put it a little more graphically:

If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy or both – you must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.

I love the advice I received from my dear old friend, Ernest Hemingway:

The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you’re rewriting a novel you will never be stuck.

I like Philip Martin's take on the whole writing thing:

In the end, writing skills are mostly absorbed, not learned. Like learning to speak as a native speaker, learning to write well is not just learning a set of rules or techniques. It’s a huge, messy body of deep language, inspired by bits of readings, conversations, incidents; it’s affected by how you were taught and where you live and who you want to become. For every convention, there is another way that may work better. For every rule, there are mavericks who succeed by flaunting it. There is no right or wrong way to write, no ten easy steps.

Anton Chekhov had some good advice on showing vs. telling:

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

On giving up, George Orwell said:

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.  One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

And finally, Sinclair Lewis brought it all full circle when he said:

It is impossible to discourage the real writers – they don’t give a damn what you say, they’re going to write.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Your Author Platform

Before you ask, that photo is my cat, Billy. He's a very special member of the family, and he knows it. But back to business.

I almost skipped blogging today, since it's Memorial Day, but I thought I would post this short article since it's Marketing Monday. So, let's talk about marketing. And let's be very specific and talk about marketing YOU!

We've all heard the news. If you're going to be an author—especially a self-published one—you need a platform. I wrote a previous article on this very subject, but it's so important that I wanted to post another one just to drive the point home. If you'd like to read the first one, (which is a bit more detailed and includes a good smattering of great links on the same subject) here's a LINK to it.

What I wanted to concentrate on in this post is the Facebook phenomenon. Nearly everyone has a FB presence today. And there are new pages being set up every hour of the day, even as I write this, and even as you're reading it. So, because it is such a popular social media site, and growing because it's now considered the "thing to do," you need to be there.

You can start out with a simple personal home page. Then, you can create a professional page. And it's all free. Most writers create an author page that their fans can visit and post questions or comments, or learn about the author's newest projects or releases. With your own author page, you can post the art for your new cover (that's always exciting!). Or you can include a link to your "buy" page on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. You can link to your blog where you've posted an excerpt or a character interview. You can include your YouTube videos if you have a YouTube channel. There's lots of things you can do. The important aspect of all this is that your author page will give you another marketing channel. You'll have different visitors than you have on your blog. Different friends than you have on Twitter. It helps expand your universe in a multi-directional manner.

On a personal note, my personal page is getting very close to the 5,000 friend limit that Facebook imposes. Because of that, I've created an author page. It's currently gaining some new followers. It's important that you promote your own page so you can increase the number of friends who follow you. Those are members of your potential market.

If you'd like to visit my author page, here's another LINK. I hope you'll "LIKE" it.

And just so you know, since we said at the start that we were going to talk about you, I used the word "you" (or a form of it) 39 times in this post. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Kindle Giveaway!

This seems like a very good idea for a Fun Friday.

So, yep. You read it right. I'm going to be giving away a Kindle. This should be a fun giveaway, and someone is going to end up with a very nice prize. So be sure to check back for the giveaway details in a few days. 

One thing you might want to do, so there's no chance that you'll miss out on the entry window, is to head over to the right sidebar, at the very top, and enter your email address in the form where it says FREE NEWSLETTERThat way you'll get a weekly summary every Sunday of everything we talked about during the week. Once we get to 100 subscribers, we'll get this giveaway started.

And be sure to leave a comment below and let me know if this is a prize you would be interested in.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Breath of Life

Today is Writing Wednesday. So let's talk about the art of writing, and let's specifically talk about those pesky characters that inhabit the settings you've created. 

I received a call from my sister last night. She is also a writer and has her own blog right HERE. You should visit her some time and tell her I sent you. She does write some darned good posts over there. But, back to our conversation, which actually turned out to be the basis for this post. The phone call went something like this:

"Are you characters real?" she asked.
"Well, they're real to me."
"Yes. They seem real to me, too," she replied."But what makes them real?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, some of the characters in the stories I read just don't seem real. Others do. I'm wondering if the author writes them in such a way that they don't seem real. I mean, does the author do that on purpose?"

I didn't have an answer for her. We talked for a while about it, and the name of Neil Gaiman came up along with the button-eyed-other-mother in Coraline. This character seemed very two-dimensional and not very "real" to me when I met her—at least not real in the same sense that Coraline seemed real. 

After giving it a bit more thought, I felt confident that, with Neil's writing talent, he must have created those not-so-real images intentionally. But, I wasn't 100% certain of that. Perhaps, if Neil reads this blog, he can answer that question personally for us. If you know Neil, please ask him to visit us and leave a comment with the answer we're looking for.

Since we didn't come up with a real answer to the question, our conversation ended and we hung up. But the remnants remained in my head, and a related question started festering and pestering the back of my brain. It was simply this: How do you breathe life into a character and make them into a real person in the reader's mind? What are the ingredients of life that you need to include? I knew some research was in my immediate future before I could put it to rest. Much of the following information was gleaned from an article compiled by writing coach Jessica Morrell. I think she's done a very good job on covering some of the basic elements. In fact, her website is a wealth of information on writing. I highly recommend it. Click HERE and bookmark it for later perusal.

The suggestions below will get you started.

1. Create characters a reader has never met before.
Bring your characters onto the stage with pizzazz, make them memorable, solid and consistent from the first moment they come into view—bigger than life. Whenever possible, bring your characters to life through all the five senses. Don't be lazy and only show us what the narrator sees.

2. Ingredients of a great character
Characters are formed from a group of traits that are consistent and memorable. As you bring your characters to life, first create a base of dominant and important traits. These traits will remain consistent throughout the story and will be important to the events of the plot. It is best to open with a scene, event, or description that displays these traits. Our first impressions of a character should convey one or more of his or her dominant traits. Examples of these traits: strong, intelligent, brave, clever, self-assured, rash, headstrong. Second, add character tags and traits such as smoking, fidgeting, quality of voice that complement and deepen the main traits. Third, add more traits that reveal the complexity of your character. These are traits that appear contradictory, but only appear after the dominant layer is officially established.

3. Use action to reveal character
Whenever possible, characterize through action. Show your characters talking, debating, reaching decisions, doubting, hesitating, or pulling out all the stops. 

4. Larger-than-life characters 
Make your main characters somehow extraordinary or bigger than life. They should stand out in crowd—although that doesn't necessarily mean they must be flashy, just unforgettable. Fictional characters are made of heroic proportions. There is generally something exaggerated or enlarged about who they are. They are important and memorable.  While they can share some traits with your family members, friends, or neighbors, they are much more compelling and vivid. The reader must believe that they are unique, unusual, special, one-of-a-kind.

5. Showing off your characters
Luckily for fiction writers, techniques for revealing character are many. Characters are portrayed via exposition, description, narration and action. Characters are portrayed by conflict with their environment, conflict with other characters, action, self-discovery, self-realization, and change. Dialogue tags can reveal character including physical traits, appearance, mannerisms, habits, expressions and gestures. You can also reveal a character through a self-portrait or confession, anecdotes, dialogue, tastes, interests, possessions, setting, the opinion of others, thoughts, introspection and decisions. (You might want to visit THIS POST regarding dialogue and vocabulary.)

6. Creating emotional impact
In Practical Tips for Writing Popular Fiction, Robin Carr gives the following advice on creating emotional impact via characterization:

'...but they are still just people on the page until your reader relates or understands or believes, or all three. This relationship between reader and character is an emotional experience. Delivering emotion is a tall order. And, it's not just learning to write about emotionally charged situations or learning to describe emotions. It means creating the EXACTLY RIGHT emotions for the particular happening. Sometimes they are subtle. Sometimes a slow tear traveling down a dusty cheek can cause a wrenching in the gut even more succinctly than screaming rage. For this, the writer must know himself well...' 

Carr goes on to recommend that a writer read a novel with the sole purpose of picking up emotional connections. She suggests that as you read you learn to recognize an emotional response in yourself. You may also want to analyze exactly how the writer brought about the reaction.

So there you have what my quick research discovered. I'm certain there is a lot more info out there and other great suggestions and things to keep in mind that will help breathe life into your characters. Feel free to leave a comment on anything that's worked for you in your writing. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Newsletter News

In case I didn't mention it previously, I have decided to create a new schedule for my blog posts on this site. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Here's my logic behind it:

MARKETING MONDAY: Topics related to sales and marketing of your books and yourself as an author. 

WRITING WEDNESDAY: Topics related to writing. This is a huge area so it might include anything.

FUN FRIDAY: This might include contests, giveaways, anything of a lighter nature that doesn't require so much concentration. 

So there you have it. That's the future as we see it at this point and those are the days you can look forward to seeing something new and exciting (hopefully) on this page.

And since this is our first MARKETING MONDAY, the first new and exciting thing I wanted to mention today is my most recent discovery of MAIL CHIMP. It is a FREE service that you might want to check out, especially if you're interested in providing your friends, followers, customers, etc., with an update on your activities, products, work, whatever. (That's a marketing exercise.) Mail Chimp is an opt-in program, so there's never any spam involved. If you take a look to the right, near the top, you'll see a sign-up form. Just enter your email address and you will receive a copy of my newsletter every week. 

There are a lot of possibilities with a newsletter and a large mailing list. (Mine is currently quite small, since I just started it. I hope you will sign up so it can grow a bit more.) Anyway, as I was saying, I can see some potential with a newsletter. For example, if we have a giveaway here on this site, I can announce the details, and the winner, via the newsletter.

So, that's today's topic. Wednesday, I'm going to post an article about openings and beginnings, so be sure and check back for that. Meanwhile, feel free to sign up for the newsletter and share this post with your Facebook and Twitter friends. 

Keep writing!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Formatting Your Kindle eBook

The last time we were together, we talked a bit about publishing your own eBook. Since that's a recent topic of discussion, and since there were quite a few hits on that post, I wanted to continue with that subject and expand on it a bit more today.

If you’re planning on publishing your work as a digital edition (eBook) and selling it through Amazon, here’s a brief primer on some very basic things you need to know in order to give your finished product the professional appearance it deserves. This is not an advanced narrative on .html coding (which you don't really need to know) but rather a few pointers that most beginners will find helpful in getting their manuscript into a professional form. If nothing else, it will provide you a good starting point for avoiding most of the common mistakes that first-time publishers make.

The following information is taken from my new How-To manual on the same subject, and it's written with the presumption that you’re using Microsoft Word as your text editor. If you’re using something else, you’ll have to translate these instructions into the language of that software. So let’s begin.

First of all, you don’t need to include a bunch of returns to get your curser from the end of one chapter to the start of the next. In fact, you don't want to do that. Instead, after the period in the final sentence of your first chapter, hit one return. Then go to the top tool bar and select INSERT, BREAK, PAGE BREAK. That will force the chapter heading to the top of the following page when it’s viewed on an e-reader. Then go back and delete all of those extra returns. If you want to see all of the formatting symbols, go to the top menu bar and click on the paragraph symbol. (It's that little thing that looks like a backward capital P.) That will make everything show up. It's an on-off toggle, so clicking it again will turn them off.

The next item, and one that a lot of authors have issue with, involves paragraph indents. If you’ve created your document using tabs for your indents, don’t remove them. You can format the document to create the indents you need. Following is the simplest and quickest way to accomplish this, but it’s going to involve a little clean up at the end.

STEP ONE: Go to EDIT, SELECT ALL. Obviously, that’s going to highlight everything in the document. But doing it this way is much faster than doing one paragraph at a time. Now that we have everything selected, we need to let the software know what we want it to do with the paragraph indents.

STEP TWO: Go to FORMAT, PARAGRAPH. This will open a new window with several options. You’ll need to specify the choices you want. The top item is ALIGNMENT. Make sure it’s either set to LEFT or JUSTIFIED, whichever you prefer. I personally think the justified alignment reads better.

The next section is the paragraph indentation. The first window asks for a value. Don’t enter anything in this area. To the right of that box is a drop down menu. Click the arrow and select FIRST LINE. When you do that, the default value that should pop up in the next window is .5”. I usually change this value to .2". And that’s it for that part. Click OK.

At this point, you’ll need to go back through your document and adjust anything that shouldn’t be indented. Some of these areas might include chapter headings, copy that you want centered (which will still be centered, but it will be moved to the right of center by whatever indent you selected). You’ll also need to check your first and second pages, which typically contain the title, the copyright, the ISBN data, etc. Be sure to use the PAGE BREAK at the end of those pages as well, and get rid of all those extra returns.

The next thing you’ll need to do is check the indents you just specified. You may discover that some of your paragraphs are indented twice the amount you wanted, since we didn't remove the hard tabs. Word will typically ignore those tabs since you’ve formatted the paragraph, but sometimes it will lose its mind and give you a double indent. Just delete them if you see any.

Next comes page numbers. If you’ve inserted them, you need to remove them. Since the Kindle screen is a different size than an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, which is typically what most writers set their default page size at, and since readers can vary the size of the type on their screen, you really have no idea where the pages are going to break. We really don’t need a page number appearing in the middle of the screen. So just delete them. Also delete any headers or footers you’ve added to your Word document. Finally, when you’re ready to save, save your file as a .doc document so you can modify it later if necessary. Later, when you get ready to covert your book to .mobi, you'll need to save it as an .html file.

We've covered a lot of material here in a short amount of space, and it may sound a bit confusing. If you want a lot more detail (with screen shots) and some tricks on the proper method for adding graphic elements such as chapter heading icons, charts, photos, etc., you may want to download a copy of my new eBook that will give you a more complete and detailed version of everything you need to know. 

Here's a LINK if you'd like the complete step-by-step directions for getting your book formatted, converted, and uploaded to Amazon.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Are you published yet?

As technology grows in leaps and bounds and the economy continues to stagnate, many industries are changing—including publishing.

It seems the team members associated with the various houses within the traditional publishing industry—especially those who work either directly or indirectly in the acquisitions arena—have become an increasingly selective and subjective group. They have raised the bar, and it almost appears that nothing submitted to them with less potential than another Harry Potter is even being considered by the acquisitions editors. Fortunately, that situation is changing.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not a modest person when it comes to my writing. In fact, I will look you straight in the eye and state, quite matter-of-factly, that I am an excellent storyteller. And I'm certain there are those of you reading this who are also excellent writers. I know for a fact that there are tons of unpublished manuscripts out there that are equal to, or better than, a lot of the published books I've read. It drives me crazy that publishers are letting so many good books remain unpublished. The good news is that the old world where traditional publishers ruled with an iron hand and maintained complete control of everything is quickly fading into history. 

Times have changed. The old system that we lived with for so many years is no longer the only way to get a book published. The recent advent of digital publishing and POD (print-on-demand) changed the model. So, a couple of years ago, I decided to ignore the rejection letters and to publish my books myself. 

And you can do the same thing. Each of us now has the option of taking matters into our own hands and becoming our own agents, publicists, editors and publishers. And, with today's technology, it's a doable endeavor. In addition, it can be done with practically no cost.

If you're a writer, you're going to fall into one of two groups: those who have published your own book, and those who haven't. If you're in the latter group, it may be because you're not yet up-to-speed on how to go about it. If that's the case, I'm going to remove that excuse by providing a link at the end of this post to a new book I've just published (it's a 99-center) that will give you and easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide showing you exactly how to format, convert, and upload your book to Amazon. Trust me on this. It's not nearly as ominous a task as you might think. In fact, anyone can do it in a very short time and you're going to be amazed at how easy it really is. Your book can be on Amazon by this time tomorrow!

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment.

Now, here's that LINK.