Thursday, January 19, 2017

Self-Publishing 2017: Building Your Audience

by
Jennifer Jett-Prezkop



In reviewing my list of 10 tips for self-publishing in 2017, one of the most intimidating tasks for me is the idea of creating a fan base. Where does one begin? What works, and what doesn’t? My head spins at the thought of accomplishing such a big task.

Despite my questions, I’ve been assured by several authors that it’s important to have this done well before the book comes out. From author websites and blogs to social media accounts and mail lists, we’re going to take a look at how to overcome this obstacle on the road to successful self-publishing.

Blogging

It takes a long time to write a book. When the actual writing process is through, there are still several rounds of edits to get through before a manuscript is ready to be published. Once the first book is out, writers are encouraged to get to work on the next story because your readers will want more—and soon. Blogging is a great way to build your readership before the book launches and also maintain front-of-mind awareness so your followers don’t forget about you.

Gail Ingis, author of Indigo Sky, writes a blog post every week. “For those who want to market themselves through a blog, writing about the (novel’s) subject and sharing opinions and suggestions is probably wise,” she says. “My blog is purely entertainment. From time to time, I blog about writing, designing and historic events. I try to make the posts more personal rather than informative.”

Eric Vance Walton, a novelist, poet, and blogger, recommends blogging about your book’s characters as well as the behind-the-scenes process of writing a novel and your frustrations with the process. “People are fascinated by all of this, and it creates a lot of anticipation for your book,” he says.

Social Media

When it comes to social media, author Nina Mizner advises that it’s never too early to create your social media accounts. You can use these accounts to promote your author website and your weekly blog posts, although Mizner warns that your content should be about more than just promotions for your book. She recommends doing some research on your favorite authors to see the different ways they utilize social media and the types of fresh content they share.

Ingis utilizes social media in addition to her weekly blog. She uses The Killion Group, a marketing company with experience in publishing, to post for her on Facebook and Twitter five days a week. From her experience, following those on social media who follow her also helps grow her reach.

When creating your social media accounts for promotional purposes, make sure you are using the sites that are popular with your targeted audience. For instance, if you write young adult novels, Instagram—NOT Facebook—is where you want to set up camp. This will require some research, but it’s something you definitely want to get right in order for your efforts to be worthwhile.

Mail Lists

Mail lists are a great way to stay in touch with your readers, and Constant Contact and MailChimp are great sites that simplify this process. Both sites will manage your email database for you. Constant Contact has a monthly fee, but MailChimp is free once you reach a certain number of subscribers. Beware: when you use these sites, the subscribers must sign up. You cannot add whoever you want to the list without their permission.

Sandy Tritt, founder and CEO of Inspiration for Writers, uses Constant Contact for marketing and says creating a mail list is important because newsletters are a great way to keep your name in front of your followers. There is a link to a sign-up form on Inspiration for Writers’ website. “Whenever I set up at a book festival or some such thing, I often do a door prize drawing for those who fill out the subscription form at my booth,” she says.

Walton drives people to the subscription form on his website through links on his social media and blog posts. “This way, I can build my own lists for free, and I know the people on the lists have at least a mild interest because they signed up.” His newsletter offers exclusive content, such as updates on new releases, speaking engagements, and workshops and classes. He uses the newsletter to make this information available weeks before sharing it anywhere else so there is incentive for fans to subscribe.

Best Practices

Out of all of these marketing options there are bound to be things that work and things that don’t. Here are a few these authors have had good experience with.

Steemit: “Steemit has been the best for me by a long shot,” says Walton. “My target audience is on Facebook, but that platform has become too expensive to be viable. I recently paid to boost a post on Facebook so people who’ve already liked my page would see it, and it only got 47 clicks out of an audience of almost 3,000. On Steemit, not only do people who’ve followed me see my posts, but I get paid for writing there. There’s no comparison.”

Networking: According to Ingis, networking is a great way to build a fan base. While we all have one main group—family and friends—we need to expand our reach to writing groups, social groups, church groups, membership organizations and clubs.

Intended Audience: Author and editor Deborah Holmes says to always keep your intended audience in mind and be aware of which social media sites your readers use. “Make sure you always write with your intended audience in mind, which is critical to good reception whether you’re tweeting or penning an article for a peer-reviewed journal.”

As for what not to do, Walton weighs in on where he wouldn’t waste any more time. “Probably the least effective thing I tried was a live Q&A on Facebook a few years ago,” he says. “The other thing is trying to get physical books in brick and mortar bookstores. I don’t even focus on trying that anymore because there’s zero profit in it. All of my content is available exclusively online.”

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Self-Publishing Perspective: Eric Vance Walton

 
by
Jennifer Jett-Prezkop and Eric Vance Walton



Last week, I shared a list of 10 steps on how to self-publish your book by the end of 2017. Self-publishing is no simple task, and even as the author of the list, I admit I’m feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work that lies ahead. It’s times like this when it’s important to look to those who have successfully self-published for guidance—and encouragement. If you know authors who have made self-publishing work for them, don’t be shy. Ask them about how they did it. I don’t know of any authors who don’t like to talk about their work, and the amount of knowledge you can gain from their hard-learned industry lessons will be invaluable.

One of the self-published authors I like to turn to is Eric Vance Walton, a novelist, poet, and blogger who ventured into self-publishing in 2013 with Alarm Clock Dawn, the first of his dystopian trilogy. Walton put the trilogy on hold to publish One Word at a Time: Finding Your Way as an Indie Author in 2014 through a traditional publishing house, an experience that taught him to appreciate the freedom of self-publishing. Here he shares his journey through self-publishing and why he would do it all over again.

Why did you choose to self-publish?

EVW: Frankly, I chose self-publishing because it was my only viable choice at the time. This was in the late 90s before larger platforms like Amazon’s CreateSpace existed. Traditional publishers weren’t willing to publish me as a new author since I hadn’t already made a name for myself. Now we have many more choices, and even established authors are choosing to self-publish because they have more control of the whole process.

In the past, self-publishing had a stigma attached to it. Did this have any influence on your decision to pursue it?

EVW: In my experience, this stigma is gone for the most part. If you produce a quality book, have a great cover, and the book is marketed well, your work can be as attractive as a book from a major publishing house. I was traditionally published for the first time in 2014, and I probably wouldn’t go that route again. You can make more of a profit and have greater control self-publishing.

What is the most challenging thing about self-publishing? 

EVW: The most challenging aspect of self-publishing is you have to wear all of the hats—editing, book design, marketing, et cetera—or hire professionals. I would strongly suggest hiring an editor and professional book cover designer at the very least. Also, to ensure you recoup your investment and make a profit, you must already have a loyal readership built before you launch a book. You can do this by blogging and writing regularly on social media sites. Build a mailing list independent of social media using an app like MailChimp. Building your mailing list should be a top priority because this allows you to market directly to potential customers.

What surprised you the most about the process?

EVW: The work only just begins when you finish writing the book.

Tell us about how you marketed your novel.

EVW: I had already built a loyal readership on Facebook before I launched Alarm Clock Dawn, so I mainly marketed on my Facebook author page. I boosted a few ads to improve outreach there. I also collaborated with other bloggers, and they reviewed my book on their blog. This helped a lot.

What kind of success have you seen with Alarm Clock Dawn?

EVW: The novel had decent sales in the first few months after publication in 2013, but after this initial surge, sales plateaued. This past summer, I started releasing my novel in installments on a new social media platform called Steemit. This breathed new life into my novel and will likely give me the freedom to write full time very soon.

What advice would you give someone who wants to self-publish in 2017?

EVW: To do it effectively, I would say give yourself at least six to nine months from the time your book is done to do an effective launch. This timeframe is if you already have a loyal readership and mailing list built from blogging and writing on social media.


Thank you, Eric! If you are interested in Eric's work, you can visit his website here.

You can find Alarm Clock Dawn here,


and One Word at a Time: Finding Your Way as an Indie Author here.


Friday, January 6, 2017

Self-Publishing in 2017: 10 Tips for Reaching Your Goal

by
Jennifer Jett Prezkop



Another year has come and gone, and my mostly finished manuscript is still sitting on my desktop. Working full time, juggling side projects and managing daily life have pushed writing down my priority list over the last 12 months. If you’re like me, 2017 represents the chance to change that. This year, I have my sights set on self-publishing, and having a plan to get me through the process will be key.

Below, I have shared the steps I have compiled for how to self-publish in the next 365 days. These are based on the input of published authors and experienced editors from a variety of genres. I encourage you to follow these steps or do some research to come up with your own—either way, make sure you have a plan in place so that self-publishing in 2017 is a goal met instead of another year lost.

1.) Finish your manuscript.

If your manuscript isn’t finished, you should be writing instead of worrying about what to do with an incomplete novel. If you’re struggling to get the manuscript finished, make it a point to sit down every day and write.

2.) Begin building your fan base.

Author Eric Vance Walton says it’s important to have an established fan base before your book comes out, and he recommends building a following by blogging and writing regularly on social media. Nina Mizner, who self-published several science fiction and romance novels, believes it’s never too soon to create your social media accounts. Gail Ingis, author of Indigo Sky, best connects with her fan base through weekly blog posts that share personal content.

3.) Polish your draft with edits and rewrites.

When you’ve finished your first draft, you’ll have to go back through the draft several times to cut unnecessary scenes and address problems like too much internal dialoging and telling where you should be showing. Award-winning author Eric Fritzius recommends reading the manuscript out loud, preferably from a printed page. “Nothing brings out errors better than seeing them on a printed piece of paper, and doubly so for hearing them come out of your own mouth.” This is not in lieu of hiring a professional editor (see step #7).

4.) Find beta readers.

Once you’ve polished your draft, pass the manuscript off to at least two beta readers who will provide honest, constructive feedback. If your mother or best friend is only going to tell you how amazing your novel is, don’t pick them for beta readers. Your best possible novel emerges only when people give you constructive criticism—and when you are willing to take it.

5.) Research self-publishing options so you can choose the medium that is right for you.

Several options exist for indie authors, depending on the format they choose. For instance, Amazon provides Kindle Desktop Publishing for e-books and CreateSpace for print. Other options include Ingram Spark, Lightning Source, and Whitaker House. It’s important to research each company’s policies, costs, and offerings to protect your novel and yourself.

6.) Review the feedback from your beta readers.

Once you receive your beta readers’ feedback, review their comments and address their concerns. This will require another round of rewriting and editing on your part.

7.) Hire a professional editor.

“You could hire your high school English teacher or a college student to edit more cheaply, but they are probably not aware of the different style guides and which one is appropriate for your type of writing, nor may they be up to date on the latest conventions,” cautions Sandy Tritt, founder and CEO of Inspiration for Writers. “A professional editor knows exactly what to look for and how to correct it. Just remember: once something is in print, it’s forever. Make sure you have it perfect before publishing it.”

8.) Hire a cover designer.

“People say don’t judge a book by its cover, but people do, and it’s what will likely get your book into a reader’s hands,” says author Sandi Rog. The cover is the first sales pitch you give to readers and, for that reason, it needs to be the best possible.

9.) Do a final edit on the proof. 

Before publishing, order a proof of your novel and perform one more edit. When you find errors in the proof—yes, WHEN—mark them with red ink and dog-ear the pages with corrections to be made. This ensures you won’t miss any final changes that need to be made. Remember: this is your last chance.

10.) Create your marketing plan.

Author web sites, blogs, social media accounts, newsletters, reviews, special promotions—there are dozens of ways to get your book’s name out to the masses. Do some research to determine which methods are best for your novel.

Friday, December 30, 2016

New Year's Writing Resolutions

by
Jessica Nelson


It’s an old New Year’s tradition to make a resolution for the coming year. Many people resolve to lose weight or get fit or find love or make a new career move. But we are writers, and while we may have those resolutions, we also make New Year’s resolutions about our writing. So in honor of the impending arrival of 2017 and the new beginnings it represents, I’ve compiled New Year’s Writing Resolutions from writers like you:


I am working on the two new pirate musicals (an adaptation of "Treasure Island" with a special twist and the murder mystery musical "Blackbeard's Dead Again"); a Romantic Comedy screenplay I've been hired for; co-writing a paranormal audio drama series; and adapting the The Legend of Blackbeard Tour. Also doing research for a series of historical fiction novels and an audio drama about the adventures of Angus "Quill" MacBlaquart.

~Joey Madia


I'm excited that I have more writing projects than ever before. Once my book was published, I was suddenly afraid I wouldn't have anything else to write. That turned out to be ridiculous. I found that finishing the book and seeing it published just created more space and a desire for more writing, more projects. My resolution is to write even more and it comes with more joy and a sense of "I can do this!"

 ~Cat Pleska
 
 
Finish my rewrite, snag an agent, and submit to the two editors that requested my manuscript!

~Joe Hall
 
 
1) To find a time management system that will work for me that will allow me to read more, write more and learn more while juggling my full-time job and dealing with daily life.

2) To learn as much about self-publishing as I can so I can figure out if that is the best route for me in 2017.
 
~Jennifer Jett Prezkop
 
 
- Create a regular weekly schedule to write.
- Finish my second novel and have an audiobook produced for this and my debut novel.
- Send a regular newsletter to the readers on my mailing list.
- Publish the meditation book that’s been done for six months now.
- Make more time for reading.
- Polish public speaking skills and actively pursuing speaking gigs.
- Make 2017 the year I write for a living!
 
 ~Eric Vance Walton
 
 
My resolution for 2017: I resolve to be more productive in 2017. How? By erasing the time-wasters--the distractions. I'm pretty sure I could've written a novel or two (okay, at least a darned good short story) during the amount of time I've spent visiting Facebook (and I GREATLY limit my Facebook time now); clicking on emails that link to ads for exciting new products or spew opinion on politics, religion, sports, you-name-it; and browsing through blogs and Internet stories. So, my resolution is to limit all such browsing and socializing and gawking to Sunday afternoons. Of course, I will continue to follow those blogs that give me fresh perspective on my writing life and I will continue to do research as necessary. It's the flashing ads and links to which I want to "just say no." If while doing valid research or professional study I find something unrelated that is just too compelling to ignore, I will copy the link and put it in my "Sunday Browsing File." There are so many, many distractions in our lives, and if we could find a way to control them, we'd be much more productive both in getting our work done and in exercising our creativity. This is a way I can reclaim squandered time. So be it.
 
~Sandy Tritt
 
 
I’m going to finish a story. That may seem obvious, but I’m terrible about starting a dozen stories and never finishing them. Sometimes it’s because I hit a scene that just won’t work the way I need it to, so I walk away for a while and never come back. Sometimes the passion for the story just fades out. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the amount of work a story will take to complete so I just never work on it. But in 2017 I will finish at least one of the stories I have started. (And hopefully get one published, too!)

~Jessica Nelson
 
I want to submit at least 10 short stories to 10 Literary Magazines in 2017. I want to complete my book of essays by year's end. I also want to continue thinking about creating an interesting writing blog and finally having a social media presence. Go on a writing retreat somewhere interesting. 
 
~Vicki Crawford
 
 
Since I have proven that I cannot commit to writing every day (outside of work), I am going to shoot for once a week. My ultimate goal is to have a rough draft manuscript finished by the end of 2017. 

Another goal of mine is to read more this year. I think I finished five books total in 2016, which is pathetic. Haha. I hope this will help inspire my writing.

~Samantha Cart
 
 
To finally get back in the habit of writing for fun and not just for class.
 
~Abby Hall
 
 
I finished a fiction thriller manuscript featuring Cleveland Police Dept. Homicide detective titled "Code for Murder." I'm now working on a sequel to "Fragile Brilliance" which I hope to have finished by the end of the summer.
 
~Eliot Parker
 
My New Years writing resolution is to practice writing short stories--I always write poetry or novels. I want to try to expand my horizons.
 
~Stacy Chrise-Tritt
 
 
 
Whatever your New Year’s resolution—writing related or not—we at Inspiration for Writers, Inc. wish you a happy and successful 2017. If you need help making your writing resolution a reality, you can always find us at our website, our Facebook page, or email us at ifweditor@gmail.com. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Not Your Normal Thanksgiving Blog

by
Sandy Tritt


When Thanksgiving rolls around, we’re reminded to be grateful for all the joys in our lives. We list the things we’re grateful for, such as family, friends, health, career, home, and so forth. But then I got to thinking about the things I usually leave off my list—things that have happened over the years that have been painful. It’s hard to be grateful for a heart broken by young love. It’s hard to be grateful for losing a friend over a misunderstanding. It’s hard to be grateful for the death of a loved one, especially when that loved one is still young and vibrant. It’s hard to be grateful for seeing your child suffer. It’s hard to be grateful for tough times that force sacrifice and create fear.

And yet, it is usually the unpleasant items on our lists that forge us into the human beings we are and that make us better people—and better writers. It’s hard to understand the depth of love, anger, fear, shame, frustration, embarrassment, and desperation unless we’ve experienced it. It’s hard to create characters who experience strong emotions and go through difficult times unless we’ve been there ourselves. It’s hard to have empathy for others—both human and imaginary—unless we’ve felt the burn of shame, the ache of loss, the frustration of a bad break.

My father once stated that he was happy he’d been able to serve in World War II. Expecting a patriotic lecture, I asked him why. He said he’d never been out of our little Podunk town in West Virginia—never traveled, never seen any of the world. Being assigned to the Army Air Division (which later became the Air Force), he traveled to Florida and Indiana before being sent to Europe, where he saw much of France, Great Britain, Belgium, Germany and the Philippines. He met many interesting people and witnessed history in the making. Even though he suffered horrific things that he was never able to speak about, and even though he lost his hearing from a too-close blast that should have killed him, he was grateful for the experience that allowed him to grow as a person.

So, this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the tough times I’ve been through. No, I’m not courting more calamity and I don’t want to relive unpleasant experiences. There are many I’d definitely rather undo than still live with the consequences. Yet, these are the experiences that have formed me into the person I’ve become and that have set me free to breathe life and truth into my characters. 

I challenge writers this Thanksgiving season to make your own list of misadventures, heartbreaks, and calamities. What did you learn from each experience? How can they help you better understand your characters? How can you use what you’ve learned to shape your characters?

Be grateful for each day, whether good or bad.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

It's all about the Mindset

by
Charlotte Firbank-King


I watched a video about mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck, and it occurred to me that many writers, seasoned or new, have a mindset that holds them back from their full potential. This is also true concerning a lot of things we do. Think along the lines of the story “The Little Engine That Could.” The engine chugs up a hill saying, “I think I can, I think I can.” Then as it nears the summit, its chant becomes, “I know I can! I know I can!” That’s a positive mindset.

According Dr. Dweck, a high school in Chicago had a strange but effective grading system. If students didn’t pass a test, they got the grade “Not yet.” This meant they could achieve their goal; they just weren’t there yet.

She gave a test with problems slightly too difficult for the students. Some of the students flourished in the “not yet,” but some were stuck in the “now.”

Some loved the challenge and, according to Dr. Dweck, they had a “growth” mindset. The “not yet” mindset gave them a path to the future—they understood they were on a learning curve and that their capabilities could be developed.

Other students thought it was awful and their intelligence was being judged because they failed. Dr. Dweck said they came from a fixed mindset, a “now” mindset. Instead of luxuriating in the power of “not yet,” they were gripped in the tyranny of “now.”

So many times writers battle with the various skills needed to make their creative writing truly sing. As an editor, we see the struggles writers encounter with “show, don’t tell,” controlling viewpoint, writing effective dialogue, and all the other aspects of mastering the skill of creative writing—frankly, the list is exhaustive.

Often, when faced with this seemingly endless list, new writers become discouraged, trapped in the “now” mindset. But if they would only change their mindset to “not yet,” they will succeed.

See every word, sentence, phrase, paragraph, and chapter as a challenge and never run from difficulty. Run to it, embrace it. Luxuriate in the power of “not yet” and push free from one’s comfort zone, free from the tyranny of “now” and failure.

The biggest thing in your favor is your passion to write. Even when your head is spinning and your eyes burning as you try to grasp the different rules and skills of creative writing, don’t forget your passion and don’t take your eye off “not yet” for a second.

Even when you grasp all the rules and skills to write well, don’t stop there. Keep your eye on the “not yet” mindset and strive to be better. Otherwise, it’s too easy to fall into another trap when success is achieved—complacency.

A twelfth century cleric in the court of Phillippe of Alsace, the Count of Flanders, coined the phrase in French: Rome ne s’est pas faite en un jour. Rome wasn’t built in a day. They never gave up their quest to rule the known world. Of course, after several centuries, they developed an attitude of, “We’re unbeatable, so we can rest on our laurels.” This is complacency. This is dangerous.

The definition of “resting on one’s laurels” is to be satisfied with distinction won by past achievements and cease to strive for further achievements. So, even if you’ve published a successful book, don’t think you’ve got this writing thing waxed. Never rest on your laurels—never decide a sentence, phrase, or even the whole manuscript is good enough. Always strive for that perfect set of words that will make a sentence or phrase pop until the story is packed with wonderfully crafted words.

Never stop the “not yet” mindset.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Imitation Game

by
Eric Fritzius
 
 
As writers, finding inspiration to write can be a problem.  Perhaps we have a piece we’ve been working on for some time and it’s hit a wall.  We find ourselves at a loss for how to climb over that wall.  The very act of sitting down and staring at the paper (or screen, as these things go) can feel like the last thing we would ever want to do—no matter how many writers in the past have advised us to do precisely that.  My usual tactic to punch through such “blocks” is to turn to other creative projects, to work on something else for a while and get the creative juices flowing.  This can help with the wall-breaching process for the first project.  And when it doesn’t, at least I’ve been productive on another project.  If you don’t have another project ready at hand (or even if you do) you might consider another technique: inspiration by imitation. 

This is the point where many of you will be put off if not horrified by the idea of imitating the work of another writer as inspiration for your own work; writers often bristle at the notion that they are anything less than completely original in all output.  This is, of course, the fecal byproduct of a horse.  We learn through imitation in all aspects of life, but particularly in writing.  Don’t believe me?  Go back and have a gander at your earliest output and you’ll likely find a pale version of Janet Evanovich staring back at you (or, for me, Douglas Adams).  As the writer Voltaire once said, though: “Originality is nothing but judicious imitation.  The most original writers borrowed from one another.  The instruction we find in books is like fire.  We fetch it from our neighbors, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.” Even in the face of the words of a learned master, we resist the notion.  Plagiarism is, after all, a truly vulgar crime, and writing something that another person might point a finger at and say “that’s someone else’s idea” can fill us with dread.  Plagiarism is also not what I’m talking about.  I'm talking about imitation, not theft.

In the creative writing classes I regularly teach, imitation is part of the curriculum.  I direct my students to pieces of writing that contain, at their core, a universal concept that can be applied not only to the original author’s life, but to the lives of each and every person walking the planet.  The concept can be rewritten, customized to the life and experiences of a new writer and will produce an outcome that is completely different from the original, yet retain the basic format. 

For instance, there’s a wonderful prose piece called The Things I’ve Lost” by writer Brian Arundel.  It’s one that is included in the text book I use for my class, The Practice of Creative Writing by Heather Sellers.  (Full disclosure, Ms. Sellers is the one who hipped me to the Voltaire quote above.  Hers is an excellent text on writing.) 

Please go now and read “The Things I’ve Lost” online.

Back?

Pretty awesome, wasn’t it?  In fact, it’s the sort of piece that should make you mad that you didn’t think of it first, because it’s so simple and perfect in concept, yet easily lends itself to nuance.  Mr. Arundel does a fine job of listing off actual physical items he has misplaced throughout his life, alongside observations of beliefs, ideals, illusions, and opportunities he’s similarly “lost” or abandoned along the way.  It becomes an autobiographical sketch of major aspects of his life in six paragraphs.  And I found it to be the kind of piece that, when I first read it, I wanted to get to the end of it quickly so I could rush away and start my own version because it just seemed like it would be fun to do so.  My students almost always choose to write their own versions too.  And because I’m generally a positive person, I also invite them to try their hand at a similar topic called “The Things I’ve Found.”  Both produce impressive results. Each is completely original while at the same time using Arundel’s basic format as its basis.

There are thousands of other pieces of writing out there that this technique be applied to as well.  You may find you start to see such opportunities without even looking for them.  However, another that Heather Sellers specifically cites for this treatment is the poem “Genealogy” by Betsy Sholl.  It’s another concept that we can each plug our own details into, re-configuring the format as we see fit. 

Imitation is, if nothing else, a great technique for writing warm-ups. You may find it can help in breaking through your creative blocks as well.  And, if not, you have at least been productive.  

Sellers' book includes other techniques for imitation games, such as using poems as scaffolding for producing new work.  I have not found this to be effective in my own writing, but your mileage may vary.

Now, if you still feel at odds with borrowing the format and ideas of another writer, you’re always welcome to credit them.  Poets and writers often include an (after…) parenthetical in their title to indicate the work they’re responding to, or by which they were inspired. 

I wish you impressive results.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

GUEST POST: Happy Little Trees by Michael Knost

by
Michael Knost



“How do you create such believable monsters?” A woman from the audience asked me this while I was on a panel at a convention last month. “And your characters…I feel as though I actually know them. They are real people!”

As a horror writer, I take great pride in creating lifelike monsters readers fret over. I also like to think my characters have tremendous depth and development.

My answer to the woman’s question was simple: “I’m not sure. I guess I’ve had a lot of practice.”

Well, I’ve given the question a lot of thought since, and I think the answer is in the trees.

          “When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.”—Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

When it comes to developing characters and set pieces, I can’t help but think of the late Bob Ross on his PBS television program, The Joy of Painting, as he painted what he called “happy little trees.” With a soft voice and relaxed pace, he offered viewers insights into execution and theory as he effortlessly produced breathtaking scenery. The more I learn about the craft of writing, the more I think I know why Ross’s little trees were so happy.

Ross used the wet-on-wet oil-painting technique. He would add fresh paint on top of still-wet paint rather than waiting for each layer to dry, which allowed him to paint trees, bodies of water, cloud formations, and mountains in a matter of minutes. And he didn’t simply paint each element in a single layer. Each began with simple strokes, little more than colorful smudges. Adding layer after layer, Ross transformed blotches of paint into intricate, lifelike formations; bit by bit, stroke by stroke, layer by layer, smudges of paint became trees, mountains, entire landscapes.

With the same patience, you must focus on every little detail for each individual tree (think, character or set piece) when writing your story, but your character is a collective entity—made up of hundreds (possibly thousands) of details. He or she is like an onion—shaped entirely from multiple layers. Individually, these layers are so thin you could literally read a newspaper through one. But with an adequate number of them, you have something powerful enough to not only spice up the mundane, but also bring tears to the eyes.

Let me introduce you to Billy Bob (layer). He lives in Harlan, Kentucky (layer). His favorite pastime is hunting and fishing (layer). He chews tobacco (layer) and loves flannel shirts with the sleeves ripped off (layer). Think you have this guy sized up? What if I told you Billy Bob is a neurosurgeon? The character you just had in your mind has changed completely. Adding a fresh layer of paint to another layer of fresh paint is important because the two elements mingle, adding realistic dimensions and depths. This is one type of what I call relational influence, which can be as simple as adding that one detail that turns a stereotype into a unique individual. Remember, every detail should contribute to the whole.

But even with complex, layered characters or set pieces, you can’t just focus on a single tree without considering its regional copse—just as you can’t focus solely on a single branch without imagining the entire tree. That doesn’t mean you can’t see the tree because you are focused on the forest, but that you need to notice, as you write, how each specific element blends with all the others.

Once each individual is fleshed out with appropriate layering, it is time to examine the forest. That’s when all your trees, clouds, and rivers work together to become the fascinating scenes you intended from the beginning. Relational influence also describes two (or more) individual entities sharing multiple layers.

Think of each scene as a single canvas in a series of paintings that, when placed next to one another, create a complete panoramic experience. It’s a good way to examine how the continuity of the forest depends on the intricate layering of the individual trees: wet paint on wet, in Bob Ross’s scenes; word on word and paragraph on paragraph in your writing. If you fail to properly flesh out characters and small details, you will more than likely fail to properly flesh out the story and its themes.

The last thing you want is a character standing out from the background like she’d obviously been Photoshopped into the scene. Good Photoshopping (as well as painting and writing) requires elements to reflect or affect one another.

When Bob Ross painted a mountain range behind a lake, you could be sure the mountain was mirrored in the water. And just as placement of the sun will affect shadows on everything else in the scene, each character (or story element) in your tale will affect all other characters and set pieces in some way.

Let’s take another look at Billy Bob. What if we learn his father took him hunting and fishing when he was younger? Gave him his first chaw of tobacco? And then we learn this was the only time he really connected with his dad. Billy Bob didn’t just develop a love for these things on his own; it is a direct result of specific influence from a relationship in his life.

What if we learn the death of his father (who passed away from complications of a neurological disorder) was the impetus for him going into the medical field? It’s easy to see that the shadow of his father’s death (and life) still influences him. We may not always recognize it, but the people in our lives can have great influence on us…why would we not show this in the characters and set pieces in our fiction?

This means relational influence ensures the writer is showing rather than just telling. To be honest, I think Bob Ross nailed it when he said, “If I paint something, I don’t want to have to explain what it is.”

Relational influence allows the reader to size up the characters and set pieces for herself, evaluate the clues (layers), and then form calculated perceptions. In other words, it allows her to appreciate the depth of the forest while examining every individual tree.



Bio:

Michael Knost is a Bram Stoker Award®-winning editor and author of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and supernatural thrillers. He has written in various genres and helmed several anthologies. His Writers Workshop of Horror won the 2009 Bram Stoker Award® in England for superior achievement in non-fiction. His critically acclaimed Writers Workshop of Science Fiction & Fantasy is an Amazon #1 bestseller. His novel, Return of the Mothman was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award® for superior achievement in first novel. His Author’s Guide to Marketing with Teeth was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award® for superior achievement in non-fiction. Michael has taught writing classes and workshops at several colleges, conventions, and online, and currently resides in Chapmanville, West Virginia with his wife, daughter, and a zombie goldfish. To find out more, visit www.MichaelKnost.com.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Blog Two: Dialogue Tags

by
Sandy Tritt



Last week, we discussed how to write effective dialogue. This week, we’ll discuss how to tag dialogue. A dialogue tag identifies who the speaker is and, sometimes, the manner in which he has spoken. “John said” is a dialogue tag. Let’s look at an example of how not to tag dialogue:

     “Just be like that,” she pouted.

     “Oh, come on,” he groaned. “Not this again.”

     “You don’t love me,” she replied.

     “Right,” he snarled. “That’s why I bought you an eight hundred dollar diamond."

     “Here,” she sobbed. “Just take it back. Take it.”

Okay, what’s wrong with our sample above—other than being melodramatic? It’s an ailment I like to call “Creative Dialogue Tag Syndrome”—the writer relies on creative tags such as pouted, groaned, replied, snarled, sobbed, and so forth so the reader will know how to interpret the dialogue. What’s wrong with this? Let me count the things:

  • The reader must interpret the tag and evaluate if the dialogue agrees with the tag. At best, it disrupts the flow. At worst, the reader decides the two are contradictory and the writer loses credibility.
  • It’s telling the reader how the words are said instead of showing by action.
  • If the dialogue is well written and the accompanying action is well chosen, it’s redundant.
  • It’s annoying.
  • It is, in many cases, just downright wrong. If the verb used as part of the dialogue tag is not synonymous with “said,” “asked,” “whispered” or “exclaimed,” it should not be used as a tag. It’s physically impossible to “smile” a word. Therefore, “smile”—and other such verbs—should never be used as part of a dialogue tag. Instead, use it in a separate sentence: “I love Sundays.” She smiled.
 
Consider, instead:
 
      Shelly’s lower lip quivered. “Just be like that.”
 
     “Oh, come on.” Mike scowled. “Not this again.”
     “You don’t love me.”
 
     “Right,” he said. “That’s why I bought you an eight-hundred-dollar diamond.”
 
     “Here.” She jerked off the ring and shoved it under his nose. “Just take it back.” Her voice wavered. “Take it.
 
Okay, so nothing’s going to help our melodrama, but let’s examine the techniques used. We scrapped every creative dialogue tag. Every one. We replaced each with one of four techniques:
  • No tag at all. This allows the power of the words to stand alone. As long as we know who’s speaking, no law says we must use a tag. 
  • Action. “Shelly’s lower lip quivered” replaces “she pouted.” It’s more specific, it allows us to visualize Shelly, and it’s showing, not telling. This is preferable to using a tag.
  • Invisible tags. Use the prosaic “said.” Yes, “said” is boring. It’s overused. In fact, it’s so boring and overused that it’s invisible. Just like “the” and “a” and “his” and other parts of speech that are used several times on each page, “said” slides right past the reader and allows him to concentrate on what’s important—the action and the dialogue.
  • A combination of “said” and action. This is particularly effective when interrupting dialogue, as in the last sentence of the “after” example above.
Dialogue Punctuation
 
Let’s also talk about correct punctuation. If a tag (“he said”) is used, a comma separates the dialogue from the tag. If action only (no tag at all, as in the first sentence in the example) is used, it’s considered a separate and complete sentence and should be punctuated as such.
 
Note: “I love you,” she smiled, is never correct. “Smiled” cannot be a tag; it’s an action. Therefore, it can be written one of two ways: “I love you,” she said and smiled. - or - “I love you.” She smiled.
 
Dialogue is one of the most important tools a writer has to convey character and to build plot. Learn to use it effectively, and it will become the best friend you ever had.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
© 2016 by Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved. This blog article is an excerpt from The PLAIN ENGLISH Writer’s Workbook (LINK)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Blog One: Dialogue

by
Sandy Tritt
Have you ever read a court transcript? It accurately gives a word-by-word report of exactly what is said. But is it interesting? No way. If we wrote dialogue the way people actually talk, our readers would execute us at dawn (or maybe earlier). So what do we do to create “natural” dialogue?

First, we must listen to the way people talk—both the choice of words and the rhythm of those words. People rarely speak in long sentences or without pausing (except for my mother), so we must write dialogue in fragmented sentences and in short bursts.

Second, we must decide which of these spoken words are worthy of writing. For example, in real life, when we greet someone we generally say, “Hello,” then ask how he is, maybe how his family is, and so forth. But this is boring stuff to a reader, who is smart enough to realize small talk occurs and impatient enough to want to get immediately to the meat of the conversation. Therefore, we need to eliminate the “niceties” and get on to what the reader wants to read.

And third, we need to add body language and action to dialogue to convey its true meaning. For example, a character says, “You jerk.” Without body language, we don’t know what the emotional value of this statement is. Consider the following statements:
  • “You jerk.” His eyebrow cocked just enough so I’d know he was challenging me, that he was checking to see if I would back down.
  • “You jerk.” The twinkle in his eye told me I’d finally earned his respect.
  • “You jerk!” Carl slapped his knee and laughed from his belly until I feared he’d fall down.
As you can see, the action and body language allow us to interpret the meaning of the words. Since the reader cannot see the character talking, it’s our job to describe all the information the reader needs. Adding action and body language to our prose also accomplishes another task—it controls the pacing. Now, there are times when rapid-fire dialogue is necessary, such as at high drama points when things are moving quickly, or after a long descriptive section to pick up the pace. Monologues usually do not need interrupted by tags or action, as the story being told is the story holding (we hope!) the reader’s attention and to suspend it would be distracting.

There are no precise rules for writing dialogue, but an ear for it is developed by reading aloud. Do you start drifting? You need action. Do you forget who’s talking? You need a tag. Is the conversation moving too quickly? You need a break—narrative or action—to even out the pacing.

Here are some quick tips for writing dialogue:
  • Read your scenes aloud, listening for the rhythm of your dialogue.
  • Don’t use sound effects (called “onomatopoeia”). This is annoying. Simply state, “The gun shot echoed through the chapel,” instead of “Bang! Bang! Bang!” An exception to this, of course, is children’s literature, in which the sounding out of noises is part of the fun.
  • Take it easy on dialect. Sounding out words becomes distracting and time-consuming, and most readers tire of it quickly. Instead, use the grammar, word choice, and rhythm of the character’s voice to insinuate the dialect or tag it with an explanation. Instead of writing: “I vill dough zit meself,” write: “I will do it myself,” she said, her Polish accent thick, the way it was when she was tired or sick. Likewise, instead of writing, “It doune make no differen’ ta me. I’m goin’ eenyway,” write: “It don’t make no difference to me. I’m going anyway.” 
  • Don’t include “well,” “uh,” and other such nonsense unless it serves a purpose, such as a character whose only word is “uh,” or a character whose main distinction is prefacing every statement with “well.”
  • Keep your tags either interspersed with action and description or at the end of the quote. A tag at the beginning (although occasionally okay) tends to make the writing more passive. Consider which of the following carries the most power: 
    • He said, “Help me. I need help.”
    • “Help me. I need help,” he said.
    • “Help me,” he said. “I need help.”
    • “Help me!” His arms flailed as his head disappeared under the water. He resurfaced again, fighting surf. “I need help.”
Next week, we’ll discuss how to use dialogue tags and how to avoid “Creative Dialogue Tag Syndrome.”









© 2016 by Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved. This blog article is an excerpt from The PLAIN ENGLISH Writer’s Workbook (LINK)