Friday, June 29, 2012

A Tip to Make a Good Story Great—by John Yeoman

Thanks to John for guest posting today with some helpful tips for tweaking our stories. I’m hanging out with Teresa today, over at the Journaling Woman’s blog. Hope you’ll pop over to say hi.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         A Little Tip That Can Make a Good Story Great

by Dr. John Yeoman @yeomanis

What’s the clue to writing a story or novel that wins a top award or catches an agent’s eye? It can be revealed in a word - structure.

Of course, there’s more to a story than structure. But a story that’s otherwise excellent, but lacks an emphatic form, will fail in the marketplace.

That’s a paradox because events in real life have little structure, other than the forms we impose on them. And for a story to engage the reader it must have some resonance with reality.

Perhaps the reason we crave structure in a story is that we need to feel a story is a metaphor for our own existence. Our lives will contain conflict and untidiness but, to satisfy us, they must present us with some sense of form. To perceive form is to infer meaning and, of course, we all want to feel our lives are meaningful.

No doubt, that’s why story telling is the earliest art form known. Every story was a pattern into which the listener could pour their own lives and find meaning there.

How does this help us as writers?

We want our stories to sound ‘true’ but contain a strong underlying pattern. Yet, paradoxically, that pattern will be false to life.

The simplest way to fake a sense of form, but keep our stories plausible, is to contrive a strong close. It doesn’t matter if the close is, from a rational viewpoint, inconclusive. Many fine ghost stories end upon the haunting question: what really happened? The reader’s imagination can be safely left to ‘close’ the tale. Nothing is settled but nothing more needs to be told. The tale has closure.

One highly effective way to close a story, even when the end must be left equivocal, is the Book Cover strategy.

At the front of the story we place a colorful event, theme or striking phrase. And we repeat that motif at the back. In a long story, we might echo it several times throughout, each time with a different significance. In a short story, the first and last paragraphs alone will suffice.

Here’s an example...

Suppose we open our novel with a man sitting on a beach. He’s tossing pebbles in the sea. His life is bleak. At the close of the novel, the man is sitting on the beach again. Once more he’s tossing pebbles. But this time, he’s happy. His fortunes have recovered. His life is back under control. How do know that? Every stone he throws dances across the waves!

But, he reminds himself with a wan smile, every stone sinks in the end. And there the story ends too.

Now we have closure, cued by the repetition of the emblems - the beach and the pebbles, but the end is equivocal. There’s also opportunity for a sequel if the novel sells well.

We’ve all come across that Book Cover gambit. It’s a cliché. But professional writers use it intuitively because it’s a failsafe way to end a tale. If used subtly, the reader won’t even be aware of its formulaic nature.

Use the Book Cover for yourself. Formula or not, it makes writing the story very simple. We just have to draft the opening and closing paragraphs, link them with some colorful incident or motif, and the job’s done.

All that remains then is to fill in the bits in the middle...

Yeo-HS-RightDr John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing, judges the Writers’ Village story competition and is a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. His free 14-part course in writing fiction for the commercial market can be found here.

John has 42 years experience as a commercial author, newspaper editor and one-time chairman of a major PR consultancy. He has published eight works of humour, some of them intended to be humorous.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

When Something’s Not Quite Right With a Scene

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

4929374625_cca549bba6_nY’all probably won’t see me visiting online a lot this week. I’ve got a book to turn in on Friday (well, the deadline is July 1—to me, that means I should hand it over before the weekend) and I’m doing my usual pre-deadline scramble.

I’m scrambling even though I’m happy with the book. My problem (well, one of my problems) is that I never, ever think a book is done. I’d be still working on Memphis 1 if it hadn’t been for the deadline I had back in 2010. :)

Despite my overall positive feeling about this book, there was a scene that I wasn’t happy with on Monday. Something struck me as not being right, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. And this is kind of late in the game to be discovering weak scenes.

So I ran through the likely reasons why a scene doesn’t work:

Too long Repetitive Doesn’t advance the plot Doesn’t offer character insight Sentence structure needs switching up Large blocks of text need breaking up POV issues Boring—slow pacing Not enough dialogue Too many characters in the scene Lack of conflict Confusing (check dialogue character tags. Reintroduce characters who have been offstage a while) Scene has no goal

None of them seemed to apply.

So I did my usual fixes for scenes that don’t work:

I removed the scene to see if it was needed. It was still needed….it provided information the sleuth needed to solve the case.

I considered taking the bit of important information from the scene and sticking it into a different scene. But I decided against it. I still thought the scene served a purpose aside from providing information (I’d written in some character development.)

I made a blind rewrite of the scene—I rewrote it from memory. I still wrote the scene nearly verbatim.

Then I really studied the scene and I found that I’d not considered the secondary character’s motivation at all. I didn’t need to write it from that character’s POV (that would be overkill), but I didn’t think out what the character would be motivated by in the scene…saving his own neck was the main one, but there were others that were equally important to that character.

Once I realized that, there were a couple of other details I put in the scene. Otherwise, there was this gaping hole—something that didn’t make sense. I didn’t see it in the read-through, but it was a plot hole. It tripped me up, although it sure wasn’t obvious. Here’s a good post on plot holes, from editor Jason Black, if you need a refresher. And Janice Hardy has a nice post on character motivation.

What do you do when a scene seems off to you?


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Putting the Cart Before the Horse—Guest Post by Emily Wenstrom

by Emily Wenstrom, @EmilyWenstrom

ProfilePicPutting the Cart Before the Horse Why I’m Building a Platform without a Completed Manuscript Nonfiction writers are constantly told how critical their platforms are to landing a publisher. Fiction writers, on the other hand, are told to focus on their manuscripts. I'm a fiction writer, but I work in marketing and PR. I’m well aware of the power of platform, and I want it. I want it now.

So in addition to getting up early each weekday to write, I also started a blog last September, Creative Juicer, where I blog about the creative process. And then, on top of this, an idea smacked me over the head last year, and I created wordhaus, a short story zine for genre fiction built for the digital age (just launched, now seeking submissions!)

But is this really worth all the time and effort I’m pouring into it ? I could be watching TV, hitting the gym, spending time with my husband or—ahem--working on my manuscript. The answer is yes, I absolutely believe it's worth it, for three big reasons.

1. I’m getting ahead.

While other writers are just starting to flip through Wordpress templates to choose their design, I’ll be typing up an announcement of my newly landed publishing deal to my tribe—a group currently in the mid-hundreds, hopefully by then in the thousands. Not only will I have a head start on my book marketing, but I’ll have already demonstrated that I understand how to market, and will be a good partner in promoting my book. If an agent or publisher is wavering between my manuscript and another equally good one, I’m counting on this tipping the scales in my direction.

But my platform doesn’t just help my maybe-hopefully-someday publishing sucess. I was able to find a sweet spot where my career overlaps with this (creative process), so I’m already reaping the rewards of establishing an expertise relevant to my career. So already that's a double win in my book.

2. It gets me actively engaged in the community.

Blogging makes me a more integrated part of the creative/writing community—I am connected with more of them on Twitter, I get to talk to them in my blog’s comments, and it gives me some great excuses reach out the industry’s thought leaders and start building meaningful relationships with them.

Even though it takes a lot of time, I am positive this helps me write a better manuscript, and more efficiently. The more engaged I am in a community of writers, the more I sharpen my skills, and the more focused I am on my publishing dreams.

3. It expands my options.

Traditional publishing is something I really hope to have the opportunity to do. But let’s face it, competition is stiff. Beyond writing the best stories I can, I have limited control over whether I land a deal.

But we’re living in a good time to be a writer. If I play my cards right, I don’t need traditional publishing to be a successful author. Even if I were lucky enough to get a publishing deal, I can see a lot of merit to sharing my own self-pubbed stories on the side.

And even better, this applies beyond fiction. With a blog, I can branch out and start offering ebooks, and that can turn into another revenue stream.

But without a platform, I might as well shoot my writing out into space as post them in cyberspace. An audience is everything.

If I’m going to be completely honest, part of why I’ve done it this way is because it’s just my nature. I’m impulsive. If I have a thought, I want to act on it right away. I try to turn that weakness into a strength when I can.

My platforming does take away from my writing time on occasion, and it drives me nuts when it happens. But really, I’d have occasional off days in my writing no matter what. So I remind myself that writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint, and focus on the benefits I’m gaining from all my efforts, manuscript and platform alike.

Emily Wenstrom is a professional writer living in Washington, DC. She has a background in journalism, including roles ranging from proofer for a political newsletter to managing editor of a women's lifestyle magazine. She blogs about creativity in art and career at Creative Juicer, and is the founder and editor of wordhaus,a short story zine built for the digital age.

Writers can submit their romance, mystery/thriller and sci-fi/fantasy stories to wordhauspub (at) gmail (dot) com.S tories should be no more than 2,000 words. No attachments, please. Learn more about submissions here.

Monday, June 25, 2012

How Much Background Info is Enough? A Checklist.

By Mar Preston, @YesMarPreston

mar prestonMy Dave Mason police procedural series is about the Santa Monica Police Department and the city itself, a tourist destination with a colorful background, present, and future.

I love Santa Monica, but will others care that much? What is critical information for me, the story teller, and a historical aside to someone else? This checklist is for me as well as you:

* What’s your main story? Think of it a as smooth, linear narrative and then think of a python with a big expository lump coming through.

* Can you fix it so something happens while the data dump is coming through?

* Is this a section in which nothing happens but a lot of expository information is set in to bring the reader up to date?

* How can you rewrite this until you can get across that information—and make the story progress at the same time?

* Can your character have a good reason to explain all this to someone else?

* Can your character read this info in a report, see it on TV, do an internet search?

* Can you do this in dialogue while something exciting is taking place?

* How can you show this rather than telling it?

* How can you reveal the critical information a little at a time by creating tantalizing hints?

* Ask yourself. Could I leave this out? Is this important? Are you sure?

* If it’s important, ask yourself whether it needs to be told now? Can it wait?

* Is this much description of the setting necessary? Why?

* Is this a personal rant? Some passionate opinion you just have to get in somehow?

* Is your reader an idiot? If not, how hard do you want a reader to have to work?

No DiceMar Preston is the author of No Dice and Rip-Off, both set in Santa Monica and featuring Detective Dave Mason of the SMPD and his community activist girlfriend.

Both are available as paperbacks at Amazon.

Ebook versions are available at Amazon and Smashwords.

See her website at

Sunday, June 24, 2012


by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Twitterific is a compilation of all the writing links I shared the previous week.

The links are fed into the Writer’s Knowledge Base Twitter_buttonsearch engine (developed by writer and software engineer Mike Fleming) which has over 16,000 free articles on writing-related topics. Sign up for our free newsletter for monthly writing tips and interviews with top contributors to the WKB or like us on Facebook.

Have a great week!

Don't wait for your muse: @LisaCron

Introducing your protagonist--the importance of 1st impressions: @Janice_Hardy @dpeterfreund

When You Feel Lost in Creative Work & Business: @JeffreyDavis108

A tax-related post for self-pubbed non-US authors: @nickdaws

Passive Vs. Active Voice: @greyhausagency

1 writer's 10 year vantage point on stinging reviews: @blurbisaverb

The theme of anarchy in crime fiction: @mkinberg

The Writing Part is Easy: A Publishing Story: @karensuebell @womenwriters

Writing Is a War & Your Story Is a Trojan Horse: @fuelyourwriting

An Agent Reports What Editors Have Bought Recently for Women's Fic and Literary:

Reminder to publishers--the product is the story, not the physical book: @Bob_Mayer @JenTalty @Porter_Anderson

3 Reasons to Upgrade to a Premium WordPress Theme: @joebunting

Creativity is never a single act: @CreativityPost

Cavalcade Of Literary Jerks: @litreactor

Tolkien did it better than Jackson--10 things writers can learn in the process: @AlmaAlexander

Worldbuilding for Short Stories: @juliettewade

Your Writing Repertoire: The Long and Short of It: @writeangleblog @JLeaLopez

Getting Published: 5 Ways To Increase Your Chances Of Beating The Odds:

Taking the Mystery Out of Query Letters: @rachellegardner

Theme--the heart of your story: @livewritethrive

Pushing Through the Middle of Your Book: @TaliaVance

E is for Epilogue: @annerooney

2 Most Common Reasons for Hiding Character Motivation: @SharlaWrites

Strategies for writers facing summertime schedule upheaval: @CherylRWrites

Why Writers Should Read-Inner Voice:

103 Synonyms for Anger or Angry: @Vigorio

Notes to the First-Time Novelist: @nbakopoulos

How Much Does It Really Cost to Self-Publish?

Using archaeology, myth, mysteries & history for writing inspiration: enigma and the iron thunderbolt: @genelempp

How to Break Out of a Creative Rut: @copyblogger

Signs Your Story Has Too Many Characters: @KMWeiland

Conquering the Cliche: @AshKrafton

Bringing an old manuscript back to life, and to print: @PeteAbela @Christi_Craig

2 Questions to Develop Plot: What If? and What Next? @FictionNotes

You Have A Request Or You Get "THE CALL" - Now What? @greyhausagency

The Secret to Show, Don't Tell: @joebunting

New Book Buyers are Hiding Inside Your Manuscript: @rileymagnus

How to Influence Editors in a Way That 90% of Other Writers Don't: @janefriedman @rachellegardner

Author Websites, Branding And CopyWriting: @thecreativepenn @menwithpens

Weaving humor into your worldbuilding: @AmyJRoseDavis

How to become an ebook superstar: @patrick_barkham

Making Comparisons—Simile and Metaphor in Fiction: @noveleditor

Bookstores in today's publishing climate: the good, the bad, the ugly: @behlerpublish

Freelancers--10 ways to use Pinterest to find a new job: @MichelleRafter @secondact

Writers: Get Inspired And Motivated By The Classics: @KarenBerner

The Path To Publication: Delusions of Grandeur: @RobWHart

Today's Publishing--The End of The World as We Know It? @KristineRusch

Passive Writing: @NovelRocket

How to have your novel made into an audio book: @thewritingbomb

The Source: A Look At Inspiration: @sandranorval

5 Ways Writers Get Lazy: @jodyhedlund

On Characters and Conflict: @kalayna

Common issues that get in the way of crafting a great short story: @WriterUnboxed

Choose harmony over balance in your writing life: @joebunting

When is your book done? @robwhart

How to Make the Most of a Scene: @jamigold

7 Steps for Plotting and Pacing: @MaureenLynas

Pixar story rules: @lawnrocket

riting At Night: The Top 10 Challenges Writers Experience & How to Overcome Them: @AineGreaney

5 Ways to Get More Involved in the Blogging World:

Enhanced ebooks are bad for children finds US study: @guardianbooks

The Path To Publication: Delusions of Grandeur: @RobWHart

You Have A Request Or You Get "The Call" - Now What? @greyhausagency

5 rules for social media engagement: @duolit

Typography in Kindle: @JFBookman

5 Ways to Find the Right Publisher for Your Book: @cherylrwrites

How One Introverted Author Successfully Markets His Work: @janefriedman

A Short Quiz About Partial Quotations: @writing_tips

1 writer would like fewer social media gimmicks: @jillkemerer

5 Commandments of Creativity: @susannebrent

9 tips for writing a novel: @novelrocket

Characters brought back from the brink: @guardianbooks

The Editorial Phone Call: @writeangleblog @bigblackcat97

Are You Trying to Write a Well-Written Book or Tell a Great Story? @janice_hardy

10 Lessons Writers Can Learn From Fifty Shades Of Grey: @mshannabrooks

Choosing between big and small presses: @behlerpublish

The summer reading flowchart: @galleycat

How Many POVs is Too Many? @eMergentPublish

Elements of fantasy--owls: @fantasyfaction

A Writer's Guide to Starting from Scratch: @krissybrady

Writing from Both Sides of the Brain:

Hunger Games--What the Story Teaches Writers: @storyfix

The importance of editing your book: @rebeccaberto

How to Spot and Fix Non-Reactive and Over-Reactive Characters: @KMWeiland

The agent-author relationship: @literaticat

Hooking and Orienting the Reader in the Opening Scene: @Janice_Hardy

You should free write even if you're not a writer: @tannerc

"Rules" and making them up: @theresastevens

Plot possibilities to get your mind moving through writer's block:

Rewriting the publishing dream:

1 writer's process for creating a 1st draft:

Repetition – a two-ended hammer: @dirtywhitecandy

The Bash-Through Draft: @AlexSokoloff

The problem with putting this in your query: "My book is suitable for children of all ages": @nicolamorgan

Fight Scenes: The Waltz of Death: @fictionnotes

8 Steps Needed Before Submitting Your Manuscript: @karencv

On writers' concerns over plot theft: @annerallen

5 Tips for Turning Real Life into Fiction: @writeitsideways

Avoid Time Sinks: Ways to be a More Productive Writer: @janice_hardy

3 tips for staying focused on your writing: @jeffgoins

Do Your Characters Make Enough Mistakes? @Ava_Jae

3 Unappealing (But Effective) Ways to Make Time to Write: @krissybrady

Why Boredom Is Good for Your Creativity: @markmcguinness

Precise wording can bring your book to the next level: @4YALit

5 Ways to Get Out of the Comfort Zone and Become a Stronger Writer: @kristenlambTX

How To Create A Meaningful (Not Promotional) Book Launch: @JonathanFields @danblank

Waiting For A Story To Get Going: @mooderino

5 YA Marketing Tips from Publishing Professionals: @galleycat

Worldbuilding with Horses: Urban Horsekeeping: @bookviewcafe

5 Book Review Blogs: @woodwardkaren

Story structure of a heist movie in 15 sentences: @laurapauling

The Difference Between Brand and Platform and Why Every Author Needs Both: @TheLitCoach

Good Books Are Worth the Wait: @passivevoiceblg

Your Punctuation Personality Type: @LeahPetersen @BryanThomasS

How to Balance Your Blogging Tasks Without Going Crazy: @Pushingsocial

Plot vs. Character: Leaving Room for Magic: @diymfa @4YALit

Personal interactions reveal character: @juliettewade

Four Elements Of a Solid Story Concept: @writersdigest

Using Pinterest as a Reader, Writer, and Author: @lkblackburne

How a Debut Author Used His Old College to Find New Readers: @galleycat

Setting International Prices for Ebooks: @passivevoiceblg

5 Points To Ponder Before You Self Publish: @woodwardkaren

A look at present participial phrases: @theresastevens

5 ways to keep focused on your writing: @lynnettebonner

What will the global e-book market look like by 2016? @laurahazardowen

How to write comics: @litreactor

Why aren't women more visible in the digital publishing debate? @Porter_Anderson @samatlounge

Agency pricing and the Dept. of Justice: @Jane_L @Porter_Anderson @JayLLevine @JDGsaid

Agents in Transition--Curtis Brown offering writing courses: @Porter_Anderson

Booktango and the Future of DIY E-book Publishing: @pubperspectives

The Secret Myth of Traditional Publishing: @deanwesleysmith

Creating Memorable Secondary Characters:

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Guest Author Jerry Last: Where Do All of Those Characters in the Books Come From?

by Jerry Last

Ambivalent CorpseAs we try to create the imaginary worlds of our books, to be believable we have to rely on reality for inspiration. I use the places I’ve lived in and visited in South America as settings in my South American Mystery novels.

These novels have to be populated with people, both the central characters like my detectives Roger Bowman and Suzanne Foster, and all of the rest of the people they will meet as they investigate the murder or murders. We quickly encounter a problem of how to make these other characters into distinct individuals rather than just 20 clones named Pedro or Jose.

To solve this problem I try to use real people I’ve met in South America as models for fictional characters in these books by visualizing someone I actually met for a physical description or taking part of their personas to start building my fictional characters. Let me introduce you to the path from reality to book pages of a few of the suspects in the murders being investigated and a couple of the minor characters from my last two novels.

First up is Bernardo Colletti, the head of the Uruguayan Nazi Party from The Ambivalent Corpse and a suspect in the murder. He has his roots in reality. I first visited Montevideo in 1982 as a Fulbright Professor teaching courses in toxicology and in protein biochemistry during the waning days of an ultraconservative military dictatorship.

One of my hosts turned out to be married to a physician who worked in the Emergency Room (think of George Clooney’s role in ER) and was the head of the Uruguayan Nazi Party. Despite his politics, he was a charming and well-educated (Uruguay and Chicago, USA) physician with whom I was expected to interact professionally and socially while I was there.

To create Bernardo’s character in the book, I merely aged his role model from 1982 to 2011 and grafted the real Nazi’s looks and personality onto the fictional one. Despite the obvious reasons one should not like a virulent fascist, I tried to portray Bernardo as I recalled the real person: extremely charming and intelligent in social settings where he deemphasized the more odious of his political views.

Next up is another character (actually a couple) from The Ambivalent Corpse, Gerardo and Andrea, who act as hosts for Suzanne at the University de la Republica and become good friends of our heroes as the story evolves. The couple is modeled after my best friends and scientific colleagues in Montevideo. They are, in fact, named after their two children. Now there’s a switch, naming the parents after their children. You can get a real sense of power when you write fiction! The scene at the Feria (open air market) in the park that I described in the book is based on the actual Saturday morning Feria in the park across the street from our apartment we rented when we lived in Montevideo. Andrea’s research with algal toxins that she described at dinner in the book is pretty close to what the real “Andrea and Gerardo” do in Montevideo, and is part of the basis for our collaborative research and teaching.

In The Surreal Killer Suzanne and Roger are taken for a flight over the Atacama Desert in a small two-engine plane by two of their suspects, Pedro and Romero. Along the way, Pedro gives both of them lessons in how to fly the plane. Pedro’s character is a composite based upon a couple of real scientists I’ve known, one of them a North American originally from New Jersey who actually taught me how to fly a single-engine Cessna many years ago while we were both research scientists at The National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

The other, more extroverted, half of Pedro's character is based upon a real Chilean scientist who hosted me during several visits to Santiago as we tried to build a collaborative program at The University of Chile similar to those we had already developed in Montevideo and Salta, Argentina.

In this brief blog entry I've tried to describe how a small part of the creative process works for fiction authors. Our life experiences are the source and our books and their characters are the product.

If you'd like to meet Bernardo, Andrea, and Gerardo, they can be found hanging out in The Ambivalent Corpse, available from Amazon , Smashwords , Apple, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble (Nook). You can meet Pedro, Romero, and their Beechcraft Baron airplane in The Surreal Killer, available only from Amazon.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Why I Prefer Social Media Promo to In-Person

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

barnesandnoblebooksellersThursday, my daughter reminded me that she has a particular book assigned to read for a summer reading project for school.

My children now usually read books on ereaders, but I’ve found they have a tougher time using ebooks for school projects. They like to underline important passages and flip through the book looking for specific parts. Although they can do that on an ereader, they haven’t gotten used to doing it.

So yesterday, I went to the bookstore in search of Hoot by Carl Hiaasen.

I’ll admit—I haven’t been in a bookstore for a long time. In fact, considering how much we all read in our family—it’s been a very long time. We’re downloading everything we read.

Sure enough, the staff in the bookstore had changed since the last time I’d been in. My heart was beating fast. I had a new book out—it released June 5. Penguin always arranges excellent shelf-placement. I knew there would be plenty of copies. And I knew I should sign them while I was in the store. I knew that an “Autographed Copy” sticker on the outside of a book will sell books.

I’d made excuses twice in the last couple of weeks and passed two bookstores in the car that I should have popped into.

I took a deep breath and I went to the “New Book” tower that was right by Barnes and Nobles’ café, in the middle of the main aisle. Sure enough, there were several copies there in prime location. I gathered them up and waited at the customer service counter.

A young guy came up. “Hi,” I said, clearing my throat. “Do you have any ‘autographed copy’ stickers? I’m—well, I’m running errands and I thought I’d sign my books while I’m in here.”

He looked at the book cover and then at me. “You’re Elizabeth Craig?”

“That’s right.” I fumbled in my pocketbook for my driver’s license (although my picture was in the back of the book…duh) and he said, “Oh, that’s okay.” He pulled up the title on the computer and said, “You’ve got a couple of other copies over in the mystery section. I’ll get them.”


He did and I signed the books quickly. I always, always feel like a total fraud. I don’t know what an author looks like, but I’ve always suspected they look more like Ernest Hemingway than I do. And they probably don’t decide to sign stock on the spur of the moment and while sporting disreputable looking tee shirts, shorts, flip flops, and an unacceptable lack of make-up. Heck, maybe he wouldn’t have recognized me from my picture in the book.

And then there’s the fact that sometimes I sign the stock in that store under a couple of different names. The staff in that store that I do know usually call me ‘Riley’ when I walk in.

And--there's the fact that I'm embarrassed my nearest bookstore doesn't know me. That's because I download my books on an eReader...which will likely mean their jobs will eventually evaporate. It doesn't exactly make me feel good.

He watched me as I signed the books. I failed at the small talk.

“Are they selling well?” I finally asked in a small voice.

He looked at the computer again and the reorders. “Seem to be.”

The thing is, signing stock is easy. It doesn’t get any easier than that. And it still frazzles me.

But when the store suggested that I do a signing there, I smiled. “No thanks. That is—well, I’m just swamped right now. But thank you. I might have to take you up on that another time.”

Because signings are total torture. The only way I’ll do signings now is when I’m with other authors. And I know I’m not supposed to do group signings because they’re not profitable—potential readers are usually reluctant to approach a whole gaggle of writers at a table. They might not want to buy all the books at the authors’ table. They worry that might hurt the feelings of the writers of the books they don’t choose.

So signings are hit and miss. Signing stock all over the place means filling up the car with gas a lot. How can we reach people all over the world—for free? Without feeling like a fraud? Without thinking we should be dressed up?

Social media.

I used to feel guilty about the fact that I don’t make many in-person appearances. But now? I think my time is better-invested in platform building.

As a midlist writer, why would I want to do a signing? Readers aren’t going to come to a bookstore just to see me. Not realistically. That means I’m counting on the chance that random people who have walked through that bookstore door for a SF/F, a romance, a beach book, or a kid’s school summer book project, will want to buy a book just because I’ve signed it. A book in a genre they probably don’t read.

To me—that’s just an inefficient use of my time. If there’s one thing the new world of author promo has taught me, it’s that we have to invest our limited time into what works.

For me, that’s not meeting readers face-to-face. If anything, my decidedly unpolished social skills and introverted nature are more likely to scare off potential readers.

Exceptions—reader conferences (like Malice Domestic or Book ‘Em) and book clubs. Places where the readers want to meet writers. Not just random shoppers in bookshops.

But—I happen to know that several regular commenters here have really nailed in-person appearances and have maximized them to pull in new readers and make sales. I’d love to hear from y’all….maybe it’ll at least get me out of my house to sign stock in the other Charlotte area stores. :)

In person promo? Social media promo? Which do you like and why?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer Writing—Writing around Children

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Girl on a red carpet--Felice Casorati (1883-1963)[2]Hi everyone! Hope you all had a good past week and are enjoying the start of your summer.

I’ve had sort of a double-whammy (triple whammy?) recently. During the past week, school was out, I was traveling out of town with my family, and I’ve been working on a book that’s due to my editor in about a week and a half.

Summers are challenging for parent writers who are used to a schedule. Although it’s tempting to just chuck the writing for the summer, I’ve usually got a book due during the summer months…and I’ve found it’s just not a good idea for me to take a break from writing. It makes it that much harder to jump back into.

During the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen tweets and blog post comments from parents…wondering how to make their writing happen over the summer.

I think you have to try different approaches. I can tell you what’s worked for me—and different things have worked when my children were different ages. What I didn’t want was for them to see my writing as something that was keeping us from doing fun things together—but I still needed to get it done. I think it’s gone well and that they’ve respected me for carving out time for something that’s important to me. This is how I’ve worked it:


I won’t say it’s not tough. But this was how I wrote a book with a toddler in the house (and, yes, it’s been a while.)

1. Quiet time (not naptime) for both of you. They “read” books or baby magazines (keep running by the library to get different board books and magazines like Baby Bug.) You write at the same time. Shoot for a page, if you can.

2. Naptime. This is not my favorite option because there is so much else to do during naptime. But sometimes I didn’t have another option.

3. TV (if you’re a TV family.) I’m not proud of this, but TV was honestly the most consistently successful method I had for writing each day. And the 20 minutes of daily TV hasn’t seemed to scar or developmentally-delay my now-10 year old. Every toddler has a favorite show—for mine it was old Teletubby tapes and Sesame Street. In those 20 minutes, I could write a page. It might not have been award-winning writing, but it was a page. And I could fix it after I finished the draft.

4. The timer. Now, you have to work up to this with toddlers and some days it will be a total disaster. Start with 2-3 minutes. Keep your door cracked. See how far you can work your way up. When I was done with my writing, I played a game with my kids.

5. Remember—some days will be better than others. Take advantage of the good days. Don’t let the bad ones bother you.

Older Kids:

This seems like it should be easier than dealing with toddlers, but I’ve found it can be tougher. That’s because older children can make you feel guilty.

1. Timer. I lived by it. And I explained when they could interrupt me.

2. Kid boredom can totally derail your day. Sometimes it’s better to have a friend over at your house. Choose the friend wisely.

3. Bunch errands together or try to schedule a day just to do errands. Or do errands when your partner comes home at night, if you have that luxury. Doing one or two errands every single day can really put a dent in your writing time.

4. Learn to write on location. If you have kids who need a little less supervision, you can write at the skating rink, the bowling alley, or the swimming pool. Again, sometimes this is easier if your child invites a friend.

5. Write early. Or write after everyone turns in.

6. Bring the kids onboard with your writing. Tell them what you’re working on. Sometimes it just looks like you’re on the computer and they don’t really understand what you’re doing.

7. Have the kids help you out. There’s an age when they really want to help you with housework (unfortunately, this blissful era has passed at my house.) You can have more time if you’re not spending as much time cleaning. For some reason, mine especially liked doing laundry. I had a stool in the laundry room so they could reach the washer and a reminder note taped on the wall that explained what went into warm loads and cold ones.

8. Unless you’re under deadline—don’t try to catch up. It’s incredibly frustrating to not only write your goal for that day, but to also try to write the missed goal for a previous day. Just pick up where you left off.

Okay, that’s what’s worked for me, for what it’s worth! Does anyone else have any tips for writing around children/grandchildren? Or, for non-parents, how to fit writing into a chaotic schedule, in general?

I'm also on the Chistled in Rock blog today, with a short interview along with two other authors. Hope you'll pop over: .

Image: Girl on a Red Carpet—Felice Casorati (1883—1963)

Sunday, June 17, 2012


by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Twitterific is a compilation of all the writing links I shared the previous week.

The links are fed into the Writer’s Knowledge Base Twitter_buttonsearch engine (developed by writer and software engineer Mike Fleming) which has over 16,000 free articles on writing-related topics. Sign up for our free newsletter for monthly writing tips and interviews with top contributors to the WKB or like us on Facebook.

It's looking like tomorrow is going to be a catch-up day for me, so I'll be back to posting on my usual schedule on Wednesday. Hope everyone will have a great start to their week!

Remaining true to our own vision, as writers: @writeitsideways

Is your inspiration holding you back? @fuelyourwriting @SWFICreative

How to Test Market Your Book Idea with a Blog: @JFBookman @NinaAmir

A Plot Template to Keep you on Target: @Janice_Hardy

What if self-publishing is only a stepping stone? @Porter_Anderson @Victoria_Noe

Characters need clear-cut goals: @karalennox

Dust Off Your Poetry and Get It In a Book: @magdalenaball

Creating an Emotional Connection With Your Readers: @DianeAlberts

Examples showing how 1 writer engages his reader: @KathrynCraft

5 Tips to Endear Readers to Your Story:

How writing is like a 1st date: @NovelRocket

Transfer Your Confidence to Your Writing:

13 Theatrical Terms in Popular Usage: @writing_tips

Story milestones in the Hunger Games: @storyfix

How to join Twitter chats: @michellerafter

Writers Don't Have to Re-Invent the World: via @BretBallou

What makes a children's book great: @pubperspectives

How (Not) to Be Awesome on Social Media: @ava_jae

Tips for querying your YA manuscript: @howtowriteshop

Grant writing resources for writers: @sarahrcallender

Lasso your book blurbs, put them on LinkedIn: @PublicityHound

David Thorne Earned More With Self-Pub Book Than Traditional Publication: @mediabistro

Tips for Working through Writer's Block:

Publishing…Welcome to Business 101: @behlerpublish

How to Host a Book Giveaway Online: @galleycat

Juggling Archetypes: Heroes, Villains and Shapeshifters: @PassiveVoiceBlg

3 Keys to Building Platforms: @nickthacker

When Bad Books Happen to Good Writers: @sarahlapolla

Writing horror--past, present, and future: @seanhtaylor

Should you put the price on the cover of your POD books? @deanwesleysmith

An Agent on What Editors Have Bought Recently - YA and MG:

Get Specific About Your Writing Goals: @krissybrady

Self-Editing Tips: Structure:

A grammar refresher--"between you and I/me":

10 of the best: dates in titles: @guardianbooks

How to Respond to Negative Reviews: @bethrevis

3 Writing Exercises in Search of a Character: @junglereds

11 ideal times to write: @raventools

10 Famous Authors' Fascinating Alter Egos: @flavorpill

Tips for writing horror: @litreactor

Nonfiction Authors: How Well Do You Know Your Readers? @JFBookman @TheCreativePenn

Your Story in Nine Critical Sentences: @storyfix

What writers can learn from Barry Eisler:

The Amazon effect: @PassiveVoiceBlg

Grammar refresher--lay and lie: @theresastevens

Platform: ticket to creative freedom: @dirtywhitecandy

How front and back matter can stimulate book sales: @SueCollier

9 Delightful Library Cats:

What Is the Story Behind Your Story? @andilit

How a Book Blogger Tackles Conferences:

15 Unfinished Books By Great Authors: @buzzfeed

How To Nail A Successful Author Reading:

How Many Unique Identifies does one eBook need? @jentalty

Taking Care of Your Creative Self:

Tips for deepening your characters:

The Two Conflict-Creating Needs of Every Character: @KMWeiland

8 Reasons Why Slow Blogging Will Help Your Career: @annerallen

4 Reasons For Making Time to Read: @chucksambuchino @DaynaLorentz

Writing is a Business: @novelrocket

Print on Demand–While You Wait: @livewritethrive

5 etiquette tips for writers: @sierragodfrey

5 Good Stock Image Sites for Bloggers: @catseyewriter

The biggest mistake many writers make: @krissybrady

It's not necessary to write every day: @jaelmchenry

Protecting Your Professional Reputation: @CMKaufman

Creative Well Running Dry? Try a Writing Prompt: @writeitsideways

Skip the "suddenlys" in your story: @BryanThomasS

Critique Groups: Why, How and Where: @fictionnotes

When to TELL the Story:

Query Musts & Query Faux Pas: @msheatherwebb

Critique vs. artistic vision: how far should we respond to reader reactions? @juliettewade

Songwriting Tip: Creating Songs That Stand Out:

5 Ways Writing is Gardening: @victoriamixon

The Secret To Making A Living As A Writer: Work For Free: @woodwardkaren

Do Your Read Like a Reader or a Writer? @janice_hardy

Marketing Your Debut Novel:

13 Things You May Not Know About Agents: @rachellegardner

Hustling: How to Spread the Word About Your Work: @Janefriedman @chrisguillebeau

5 Steps towards Making Peace with Criticism:

A Good Scene Isn't Written, It's Dramatized: @mooderino

How To Develop a Story Idea Into a Book: @writersdigest

Quick info on various MFA programs: @4kidlit

Common problems of female characters: @mistymassey

The Importance of Staying Flexible in a Changing Industry: @jodyhedlund

A quick comma quiz: @writing_tips

The Author as Publisher, Author as Fraud: @PassiveVoiceBlg

If you call yourself a writer, how do you label yourself? @AnnieNeugebauer @PatrickRwrites

Things to consider before giving up your day job: @JudeHardin

Free templates and charts to help writers keep organized: @AnnieNeugebauer

The Ultimate Guide to Pitch Writing: @jamigold

Publishing must become user-focused: @bsandusky @Porter_Anderson

An Agent's Art: @Porter_Anderson @jasonashlock @RachelleGardner

What publishers should invest in: @Jane_L @Porter_Anderson

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Taking a Short Breather

blog2Just a quick note to let y’all know that I’ll be off the grid until my Twitterific post runs on Sunday. I’ve got some family events (all fun stuff) and a deadline I’m juggling, so I figured I’d better take a short blogcation.

Happy Writing! :)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Write Tip: Surprise v. Suspense by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

by Bryan Thomas Schmidt, @BryanThomasS

returning cover smallOne of the better lessons I learned about storytelling came from my time in film school at California State University, Fullerton, during lessons on story structure and plotting. In talking about how to create suspense, the instructor introduced the concept of two kinds of suspense stories: surprise stories and suspense stories. Although both have similar elements, the type of story very much determines the arrangement of elements and ultimate effect.

In a suspense story, we have our protagonist walking on a sidewalk. Then someone else walking ahead drops a banana peel. The suspense is will our protagonist see the peel and sidestep or will he fail to see it and fall.

A surprise story has the protagonist walking on a sidewalk. He passes various people. Then he slips and falls on his butt. Then we discover a banana peel on which he has slipped.

These are not types of stories, mind you, but rather ways of creating tension and pacing to keep your audience interested. Both can be employed in either dramatic or comedic tales but the ultimate effect of one is quite different from the other.

My first Davi Rhii book, The Worker Prince, was very much a suspense story. It was about the coming of age of a Prince who discovers a secret about his past and begins digging into it to uncover who he is. In the process, he uncovers things about his family and government which he had failed to grasp as a youth and begins to doubt and question the morality of decisions and actions which have been taken. Of course, this brings conflict with his family and friends, particularly his Uncle Xalivar, who rules the Borali Alliance as High Lord Councilor. As Davi gets further involved with his birth family and people, the enslaved Vertullians, his life is put in jeopardy and he finds himself being pursued by people who wish to stop his questioning and charge him with crimes. In the end, he’s outcast and joins the Vertullians in a fight for freedom.

There’s much familial and political scheming which occurs in addition to the chasing and accusing of Davi himself. There’s constant tension of loyalties tested and an uncertain outcome to keep the story moving at a nice pace. Action is also employed to keep the story moving at a good clip, as well as interpersonal tension between characters.

But one of the challenges of the sequel is how to capture the feel of the first without retelling the same story. In the case of Star Wars, episode 4 “A New Hope” was Luke Skywalker’s coming of age story. He goes on a quest and finds himself along with, including some friends and companions. This is similar to Davi’s journey in The Worker Prince in many ways.

In the second novel, The Returning, new challenges arise as Davi Rhii’s rival Bordox and his uncle, Xalivar, seek revenge for his actions in The Worker Prince, putting his life and those of his friends and family in constant danger. Meanwhile, politics as usual has the Borali Alliance split apart over questions of citizenship and freedom for the former slaves. Someone’s even killing them off. Davi’s involvement in the investigation turns his life upside down, including his relationship with his fiancée, Tela. The answers are not easy with his whole world at stake.

Like Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, I chose to tell a story with a larger canvass in my second book. Davi is still central but other characters take far larger roles. At the same time, because of the nature of the middle chapter, I knew that while The Worker Prince had an ending which felt like closure, despite the antagonist’s escape, The Returning would be hard to end similarly because so much of it would set up events in the following chapter, The Exodus. For George Lucas, the solution was a chase story. Empire is really as much about Han and Leia’s developing romance on the run from Vader as it is about Luke’s ongoing discovery of his Jedi powers and desire to confront Vader. In my case, The Returning is about Davi and the Vertullians trying to settle into the life they fought so hard for, only to find many people ignoring their victory and, instead, doing their best to through road blocks up at every turn. On top of that, Xalivar and Davi’s rival, Bordox, are back seeking revenge. So, once again, Davi finds himself in jeopardy and the tensions of his life are also threatening his romance with Tela, the woman he wants to marry.

In order to capture the tension I wanted, I decided The Returning should be a surprise story. So I set up a mystery which involves not only the murders of various Vertullians and others but confusion about who’s responsible with a lot of different subgroups scheming and manipulating events so that we don’t really get answers until the end of the book. I also decided to up the emotional stakes for our characters. By putting not only Davi’s romance in jeopardy but the lives of himself, his friends, his family and others as well, I created the kind of tension which had my beta readers commenting: “just when I thought I could breathe again, something else happened to put me back on the edge of my seat.” Much like George R.R. Martin in A Song Of Ice And Fire, the series on which HBO’s A Game Of Thrones is based, I decided to create a situation where as the story progresses, we become less and less confident we know who will survive and how it will end. By finding ways to twist thing suddenly with new complications, much like the unexpected banana peel of our example, I created a fast paced novel which sets up well the third book and still ends with a satisfying conclusion to a middle chapter.

Ultimately, the ending became an almost “Who Shot J.R.” type of cliffhanger, but emotionally left readers relieved they could stop and breathe for a bit while waiting for the concluding book. At least, this is the reaction I’ve gotten from beta readers and reviewers I’ve talked with. I suppose we’ll have to wait until it releases on June 19th to be really certain whether or not I was a success.

Regardless, by arranging the order of events as shown in the examples, you can greatly influence the pace and tension of your story to create the kind of reading experience and page turning effect you desire your readers to have.

What are some ways you go about upping the stakes, the tension, and the pacing? We’d love to learn from your ideas as well.

BTS author photoBryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured in anthologies and magazines. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.