Saturday, December 22, 2012

Back to Beginnings

We've touched on beginnings and opening lines in previous posts, but it's so important that I wanted to devote this post to that very same topic.

I've decided to put the opening paragraphs of my YA thriller, Lost in the Bayou, here as an example. I'd like you to include your opening in a comment so we can all benefit from the input each of us has to offer. So, with that said, here it is...

In Louisiana, summer wraps around you like molasses. Thick and sticky. July is hot and humid. Always. August is worse. And the summer of 1963 has been a record breaker so far.

This morning, the sky is cloudless. It's muggy, and there's no hint of a breeze to blow away the pestering flies or the lingering stench of whatever crawled under the porch and died a few days ago. The only possible relief in sight is a dark bank of clouds in the south over the bayou. If it holds together, we may get a storm later tonight to cool things off. I hope so.

The rhythmic buzz of locusts fills the air, but it stops suddenly as the deep rumble comes up the road. My heart races as the sound rolls across the terrace and toward the covered veranda where we're waiting.

There's an uncertain look in Andy's eyes when he glances up at me, and his voice is thin as water when he speaks. "He's coming."

In fiction, an arrival or a departure is a good way to start out. I decided to use the arrival of Uncle Conrad as a starting point in order to introduce him to the reader, along with Robin and her little brother, Andy.

As mentioned, I would love your comments, and I'm certain the rest of us would enjoy reading a sample of your opening if you'd like to share it with us. As always, keep writing.

Branding yourself and your product

Obviously, marketing is a huge subject and way too large to cover in one session. So, we're going to drill down a little and pick out one particular area of interest to discuss, i.e., branding.

Is it important to brand yourself or your products? That's like asking if it's important to have a period at the end of a sentence. Everything you do in your marketing program should be related to the image you're trying to create. But before doing anything, and perhaps having to undo it later, you need to decide what that image is, or will be.

The image you create may be centered around your main character (Harry Potter) or yourself as the creator of that character or work (Stephen King). Keep in mind that everything you do, every email, every Facebook post, every Tweet, every query—everything—is a reflection of your image or your brand. Keep in mind that, as your visibility grows, more and more people are watching and listening to what you say and do. Make sure your actions and words reflect the image you're trying to create.

Image retention is a product of words and graphics. And repetition. When you begin thinking about creating your brand, there are three things you need to consider in order to produce something that will be memorable. If you decide to produce a logo, keep those things in mind, and use that visual image at every opportunity. We could do a very lengthy post here on image creation and how the words, letters, typeface, arrangement, color, space, etc., all play a part in the feeling or mood that image creates. But this isn't the place for that much information. At least not today.

Let's continue and define the three primary elements required to create a unique brand or image. These are not the visual elements involved, but the base elements and essential parts that need to be included in the initial creation stage.

HONEST: First, the image or brand you create must be honest. It must be aligned with your beliefs about who you are or who your characters are.

MEANINGFUL: The brand or vision you create for yourself or your work must be relevant to the targeted customer, the reader of your works. If not, they will have difficulty relating and sales will not be as high as they could be if you build a bridge to connect.

DIFFERENT: There must be something uncommon, something significantly different between your image and all the others that are out there competing for attention. In business this is sometimes referred to as the USP or the Unique Selling Proposition.

So there you have a basic narrative on branding. It isn't a high-tech or an in-depth study by any means. But it may be enough to get you started in the right direction. As always, if you'd like to leave a comment on the subject, please feel free to do so. I like knowing there's someone out there reading this.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Finding your voice

Voice can be a stumbling block for many writers. It’s a concept that’s somewhat difficult to describe, but it’s easy to see when a piece of writing has it, or doesn’t. Voice is the way writing sounds on the page. It's comprised of several aspects: word choice, sentence structure, rhythm, etc. One of these aspects involves being able to connect with the reader's emotions through the words you write. Today we’re going to talk about this aspect of voice and practice injecting it into your writing.

We can’t all be Stephen King or Harper Lee, so don't try to be a carbon copy. You have your own voice. You just need to let it out. Here's one way to begin: Write something. Read it aloud. Listen to how it sounds. Can you feel the tone, the mood, the emotion in the words? Does it have a rhythm or a flow to it? If it seems wooden or stilted, try writing it again. Have someone else read it to you. Keep doing it until you find the right combination. Think about the feeling, the emotion you’re trying to convey. If you can find that aspect, the words will practically write themselves.

There's much more that can be said on this subject, but learning by doing may provide more value in this case. So, let's do an exercise. I’d like you to write a paragraph for the story I’m about to describe. One paragraph. Try to keep it under 150 words. Get that inner voice speaking and make your words powerful enough to convey what’s going on. I’m not going to play Big Brother on this one, so if you go over 150 words, well, you go over. But aim for 150 or less. Your first draft may contain a lot more than that. If so, pare it down to its essence. Start off with an attention-getting first sentence and go from there.

You will write your paragraph in first person POV. And just for kicks, let's write it in the present tense. If you're not certain about the conventions of that style, check out The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, or Lost in the Bayou, by Cornell DeVille (shameless plug). If you've never written in present tense, you might find it enjoyable and fun.

The setting is a small chapel. The sky is dark. Thunder is rumbling. It's raining. You are twelve years old, sitting on a wooden pew. At the front of the room is a casket containing the body of your mother. Or your father. Or your grandmother or grandfather. Or your brother or sister. Or your best friend. You decide.

What I'd like you to do is put us inside that twelve-year-old's head. What thoughts and emotions are filling your mind and heart? Memories? Sadness? Anger? Shock? Numbness? Confusion? Relief that the suffering is over? Are there other people in the chapel? What are they doing? Is your hair wet from the rain? Can you feel a water droplet trickling down your neck? Are you cold? Is someone playing the organ? Are there flowers? Can you smell them? Use whatever words you wish to convey the emotions you’re feeling, but keep in mind that a ten-year-old isn’t going to use the same words or speech patterns an adult would. And those questions above are just ideas to spark your imagination. You don't necessarily need to address those.

Your objective is to connect the reader to this situation by the words you choose and the way you arrange them. Draw the reader in so they’re experiencing it with you as they read it. The words should go into their head and straight down to their heart. Make them feel, really feel, what you’re feeling. Use your imagination on this one, and get that voice of yours into it. I know it’s inside you. Let it out. When you finish, if it doesn't make you cry when you read it, rewrite it. Keep revising until your heart breaks and your voice cracks when you try to read it aloud. When that happens, that's the voice you've been keeping inside. That's the voice that will connect with the reader.

In order to keep things organized, when you post your comment, start out with a TITLE. If you don’t wish to participate, feel free to comment on any of the other examples, and use the title so the writers will know which one you’re commenting on. This subject may be too emotional to get a lot of participants, but I hope you’ll give it a try. It's a great exercise, and you may be surprised by the results.

The best and most beautiful things cannot be seen or touched. They must be felt with the heart — Helen Keller.

Monday, December 17, 2012

New YouTube Channel for Writers

Hey, my faithful followers and fellow writers!

I have just completed and uploaded a Welcome Video for my new YouTube channel. As the video indicates, this is another outlet for informative information and commentary related to writing, editing, publishing, and promotion. I hope you will take a moment to view it, and I hope you will hit that "SUBSCRIBE" button so that you'll be alerted when I post another one of these videos on YouTube.

Also, if you like what you see, don't hesitate to click on that thumbs up "LIKE" button.

So, here it is. If you'd like to leave a comment, please do. I truly enjoy reading what you have to say. Spread the word, because when we get 50 subscribers, we're going to have a subscriber appreciation giveaway. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

I Cut My Thumb Off Today

Not really, but I wanted to get your attention. Keep reading. It will all make sense by the time you finish this paragraph. This article is about opening lines, and how very important they are. When we’re looking for something to read, we want the words to fly off the page and grab our attention from that very first sentence. If they don’t do that, we may put the book down and continue our search for something else.

As writers, we sometimes don’t give our stories the best beginnings. Capturing a reader’s attention and creating an interest for the story we’re telling has to start early if we plan on keeping the reader with us until the end. The first page is important. The first paragraph is very important. The first sentence is critical. Either your opening line will impact the reader and hold their interest for several pages while they’re getting into the story, or it will leave them unimpressed enough to finish the first page.

A few examples can provide us with a better understanding, so I've listed below the opening lines from some familiar novels. I consider these to be extraordinary beginnings and more than sufficient to engage the reader.

Let’s begin with James Barrie’s opening line from Peter Pan: All children, except one, grow upThere’s no question that you have to keep reading to find out about this one, special child.

In 1984, George Orwell captures our attention by painting a strange picture with his opening line: It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteenThat line is going to put a question mark in the reader’s mind and force them to read on and find out what kind of strange world they’ve stepped into.

In The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman gives us a wonderful opening line and a beautifully written sentence that is simple, shocking and enticing: There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knifeNo reader is going to be able to close the cover on that sentence. They simply must continue reading.

Finally, Anthony Horowitz gives us a fabulous opening line in StormbreakerWhen the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good newsYou can’t argue with that logic, and you can’t put the book down until you find out who’s ringing the doorbell and why they’re doing it at this hour.

And there you have a brief look at a few examples of really well written opening lines. Now that we’ve covered that, it’s time for you to take a look at your current WIP and read that first line once again. After you read it, ask yourself these questions:

1. Does it entice you to read on?
2. Does it place you in a curious situation that makes you want to know more?
3. If you close the book now, will you want to open it again to find out what happens next?

If your answer to those questions was no, then you need to take another look at that opening paragraph and, especially, your opening line. That’s your one and only chance to make a great first impression. You need to create a compelling sentence that will draw the reader in and make them want to know more about your story. It needs to be so powerful that there is no way the reader can put the book down without reading at least the following sentence, or the rest of the first paragraph. A good opening sentence that places a question in the reader’s head can hold them through the first hundred pages or more while you continue to work your magic and spin the tale around that perfect opening line.

So, there’s your assignment. Create the very best opening line for your story. When you come up with that absolutely perfect first sentence, share it with the rest of us by typing it into the comment section below. If you’re having some trouble getting it perfect, type it in and ask for suggestions on how to improve it.

And keep writing, because the story needs to be told.

Marketing and Promotion

A while back, I wrote a blog post regarding your author platform and your author press kit. One of things I failed to include in those articles was the importance of a unique graphic element or logo that can be associated with you, your writing, and your products. In today's iconic environment, it's important to create a consistent image for yourself.

So, with that idea in mind, I've created a simple icon for my writing endeavors. It's something I can use on my website, my blog, and my YouTube videos. It's something that's easily created, and something you might want to consider for your own image.

Feel free to leave a comment. We'd enjoy reading about your efforts in this regard and what you're doing to market your own writing.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Who is this Cordelia Dinsmore?

I keep running into her name. I did some research and learned that she is a new author at Musa Publishing. I've also noticed that she's been popping up and leaving comments at various blogs that I visit and read. More than a few times a day, her name comes up, either in a blogpost on Triberr or in a comment on another author's blog.

I don't know if she's an international spy, a figment of my imagination, or if there's some type of magnetic attraction that's moving us on a parallel path. What's going on?

HERE IS HER BLOG in case you want to read it. She is a very good writer, by the way. You should spend some time reading, because she has some really interesting posts.

Who is this Cordelia Dinsmore anyway?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

And the winner is...

Here's your winner for the contest. 

Watch for her blog post coming soom and her book cover on the right sidebar. 

So exciting. So exciting!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Writing the Perfect Query Letter

It's been a while since we've done this. But we have so many new visitors that it's time once again. We're going to talk about the bane of all writers, the horror of horrors in the world of writing, the DESPICABLE QUERY LETTER.

Oh, we hate them. Yes. We do. But they are a necessary part in the wooing of an agent or publisher. So, since they are so important, we need to be able to do them well. We need to be able to do them so well, in fact, that the agent or publisher simply MUST request a sample of our work.

This is not virgin ground we're covering—not by any stretch of your so-very-creative imagination. There are tons of resources on the web dealing with how to write a query. And, for the most part, they all seem to regurgitate pretty much the same lecture and repeat that there are specific formats and rules for content that writers need to follow. And if the neophyte writer should carelessly wander off that straight-and-narrow path, they better have a really good reason for doing so.

So, let's take a quick look, once again, at the query letter. We'll break it down to the skeleton and start with that. Here's a shopping list of all the items you need to include:

Make sure to say "Dear" and make doubly certain you have the agent's name spelled correctly. Failure in this initial area can result in an instant trip to the circular file, regardless of how well the rest of it is written.

This is where you tell the agent the genre, the word count and the title. Here's an example.

Since you have an interest in middle grade fantasy, "Parry Hotter and the Half-Baked Prints" should be right up your alley. It is complete at 1,000,000 words.

Any creativity you can add to this section without over-reaching and ending up too cutesy can help encourage the agent to read on.

This is the meat and potatoes. This is where you really need to get the agent's attention. Even though you mention supporting characters, this section needs to be centered around the main character. All events should relate to that character. Also, keep the stages of THE HERO'S JOURNEY in mind as you write this part. (Orphan, Wanderer, Warrior, Martyr). For a more descriptive explanation of that, check a previous blog post HERE.

As Steven King said, "The road to hell is paved with adverbs." Keep that in mind and don't overuse them in the query, just as you don't overuse them in your writing. Avoid cliches, too. An agent can spot those as if they were printed in red ink, in bold type, italicized and underlined. Also, since the query isn't a synopsis that lays everything on the table, you want to end with a cliffhanger of sorts so that the agent simply MUST find out what happens next. That will encourage a request for a sample, which is the sole purpose of the query.

If you are published or have other notable accomplishments, this is the area to list that information.s.

This is where you hurry away by simply saying thank you and that you will be happy to send a partial or a full at their request. Then you say "Sincerely" and type your name. You're done.


Go fix yourself a cup of coffee or a glass of iced tea. Have a Dove bar or a Ferero Rocher, a Ghiradeli square, or a Lindor Truffle. Wait five minutes or so and then go back to that document and read it from beginning to end. Correct any typos, grammar, phrasing, order of sentences, adverbs, cliches, punctuation, word choices, whatever you need to fix to make it The Perfect Query Letter.

Once it's perfect, check the word count. If you're over 250 words, you need to compress things a bit. Total word count for a query is typically around 250 words. If your novel is over 70,000 words, you can expand on that number a bit, but 300 words is typically the point of no return.

After fixing everything and making it absolutely perfect, do not send it to the agent of choice. At least not yet. Send this version to a writerly friend, or post it on Absolute Write for other writers to pick apart. Whatever you do, don't be in a rush to send it until it has been given the seal of approval by at least two or three other writers. Then you can send it. But check it again before you do and run that spellchecker program on it one last time.

And that's a summary of How To Write a Query Letter.

Feel free to leave a comment below. And speaking of below, don't forget to enter our contest to have your book featured on this blog at the top sidebar position for the rest of the month. Scroll down to check it out.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Musa to publish Roger Rabbit Novel

Musa Publishing Announces Deal With Author Gary K. Wolf For Third Roger Rabbit Novel 

Musa Publishing, an independent digital-first publisher, has announced today that they will publish Who Wacked Roger Rabbit? by author Gary K. Wolf, the third book featuring Wolf's iconic character, Roger Rabbit, and the denizens of Toontown.

"When I first got a submission in the inbox from Gary K. Wolf, creator of Roger Rabbit, I must admit that I didn't take it seriously. After all, why would such a well-known author be coming to Musa?" confesses Musa Editorial Director, Celina Summers. "But after I read his submission, all my doubts were erased. No other author in the world has that distinct narrative voice. Rather quickly, we accepted two novels from Gary—The Late Great Show! and Typical Day—and Gary became part of the Musa family. But even then, I never expected he'd bring us a Roger Rabbit novel. "

Who Wacked Roger Rabbit? is the culmination of a twenty year wait for fans of the world that Wolf first created in his 1981 Hugo-winning Who Censored Roger Rabbit? The third installment in the series has been promised to fans for a long time but never released. Now, with the 25th anniversary of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? on the horizon in 2013 and and confirmation of a completed Roger Rabbit 2 script by director Robert Zemeckis last week stirring up excitement among Roger Rabbit fans, the collaboration between Wolf and Musa is coming at a significant time.

"I could easily have published Who Wacked Roger Rabbit? through a major print publishing house. Instead, I choose to make this the first book of the Roger Rabbit series to be published digitally," Wolf states. "That decision evolves directly from the way I work, from the core philosophy of what I write and why I write it. I always push the boundaries in my writing. I invent worlds that nobody else ever thought about. I create unique characters and situations. I try to always be at the forefront of my craft. That includes the way my writing is presented to my readers. Digital publishing is clearly the future. It’s the way books are headed, so I’m heading that way, too."

With his first book at Musa, The Late Great Show!, released in October and his second novel, Typical Day, coming out on December 7, Wolf is no stranger to the Musa system. "I especially like the way Musa has taken digital publishing into areas that I never thought of. Using proprietary software, I’m able to interact with them electronically in real time. My editor, the publicity department, the art department, and everybody else involved with my work all have instant access to everything I submit. And vice versa."

Wolf isn't the only well-known author bringing his works to Musa. USA Today bestselling author Sharon De Vita has a multi-book deal with the publisher, and her romantic mystery The Estrogen Posse has been increasing in sales since its release in October, 2011. Science fiction up-and-comer Gini Koch's serial—The Martian Alliance—is being published by Musa, along with new and backlisted works from well-known authors like Cindi Myers, Vella Munn, Helen Hardt, and Julia Parks. In addition, Musa is responsible for the Homer Eon Flint project, where the entire body of work of this lost American science fiction author is being saved from crumbling 1920s pulp magazines and disintegrating newspaper copy and published as e-books.

"Even two or three years ago, it would have been thought impossible to lure these writers to a small, young publisher," Summers explains. "But because of our author-friendly policies and transparent business model, small publishers like Musa are able to release books like Who Wacked Roger Rabbit? digitally, with both a better product and prices far below what traditional publishers set for their e-books."

Both Summers and Wolf are optimistic about the prospects for Who Wacked Roger Rabbit? The novel reunites all the old fan favorites—Eddie Valiant, his fuzzy sidekick Roger Rabbit, Baby Herman, and Roger’s va-va-voom mate Jessica, who continue their madcap human and Toonian adventures. This time, Eddie is hired to bodyguard for Gary Cooper and Roger Rabbit, the stars of a new movie that's been receiving dire threats—shut down the film or else.

"Musa is thrilled to publish the next installment in the Roger Rabbit world," Summers says. "Toontown and e-publishing are destined to work well together. Gary has such an innovative mind. He takes risks daily with his fiction—he enjoys taking creative risks. He can do that comfortably at Musa because we encourage all our authors to reach further, to attempt things they normally wouldn't. E-publishing is all about trying things that traditional publishers might be uncertain about."

With the release of Who Wacked Roger Rabbit? set for November of 2013, Musa and Wolf are poised to gratify millions of Roger Rabbit fans across the world. The entertainment franchise is worth over $500,000,000 and the fandom is as eager as ever to follow their beloved Roger Rabbit and Eddie Valiant into new adventures—including e-publishing.

"Digital publishing is the wave of the future, and I’ve always been a wave of the future kind of guy," Wolf states matter-of-factly. "For me, going digital wasn’t in any way a last resort. It was a necessity."

Gary Wolf is the NYT Bestselling author of numerous book, articles, and short stories including Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, Who P-P-P-Plugged Roger Rabbit?, Space Vulture, and The Late Great Show! His movie credits include Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the three Roger Rabbit cartoons Tummy Trouble, Rollercoaster Rabbit, and Trail Mix-up, and—coming in 2014—screen adaptations of his science fiction novels The Resurrectionist and Killerball. Awards for Wolf’s work include the Hugo Award, British Science Fiction Award, SF Chronicle Award, and 4 Academy Awards. Wolf is an avid Yoga enthusiast and lives in Boston where he is a full-time author, screenwriter, lecturer, entertainment consultant, and consummate “grown-up kid.” Look for his next Roger Rabbit installment to be released November, 2013 by Musa Publishing.