Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Fiction Series: Hone the Dialogue

Dialogue can make or break your story.

How many times have you read a book where the characters didn't "sound" right? Could you identify why?

Here are some common pitfalls we see regularly:

Lack of contractions. Very rarely do we encounter folks who don't use contractions. They're a common way of speaking. It's okay to include one character who doesn't use contractions in their speech - that could be one way to identify that particular character who is probably an extremely formal and highly educated person - someone very confident. Or even someone totally opposite - someone lacking education, with low self-esteem, but great pride, who doesn't want anyone to know lack of education. Either way, their speech can identify them. But if every character speaks without contractions, the dialogue is stilted, formal, and is usually the sign of an amateur.

Full sentences. When was the last time you had a real conversation with a close friend or in a family group, and all of you spoke in complete, uninterrupted sentences? Sure doesn't happen at our house. We finish each other's sentences, or like my beloved hubby tends to do, he'll start a sentence but then it slowly ...

He doesn't finish the thought, so I either finish it for him, ask what he meant, or change the subject.

Or, we'll be discussing a topic, and someone remembers something they were supposed to tell us, so they abruptly change the subject.

Real dialogue is like that, so for your characters to be real, their dialogue needs to be real, too.

Lengthy passages of dialogue. Unless a character is giving a rare monologue, dialogue should be broken up with narrative. Show us what the characters are doing while they're talking. Show us movements, reactions, bring in sensory details (sounds, smells, textures, lighting, tastes, colors, etc.)

Name calling. When you're having a conversation with someone, how often do you use his or her name? Perhaps in greeting or to stress a point, but rarely do you repeat the name again and again. Avoid this in your dialogue as well.

Rhythm. Read your dialogue aloud. Does everyone talk in the same rhythm? Same sentence length? Same number of sentences per bit of dialogue? If so, rewrite for variety.

"Reality." When we write dialogue, we want to make it real, but not really. You can add in dialect, odd phrases, and 'umms and ahhs' on occasion, but do it sparingly. Yes, we may stutter and stammer every time we speak in real life, but readers will tire of that easily. Clean up the dialogue enough to make each word count. If you're using dialogue to typeset a character, use it briefly for only a few pages - enough for the reader to "hear" that character's speech, then they'll hear the dialect, even if you don't write it. (Similar experience with subtitles at the beginning of the movie. Characters in the movie may be speaking Italian, French, or Arabic, but we're reading it in English subtitles. After a few minutes, the characters - still in the same place and time - suddenly start speaking English. We "know" the characters are "really" still speaking in those foreign languages, but now we don't have to read subtitles.)

Dialogue is meant to convey character and to propel your story forward. Hone these areas to improve both your dialogue and your overall manuscript.


Previous articles in our Fiction Series:

The Road to NANOWRIMO
Determine Your Setting



Other articles of interest:

Marketing Series: Build Your Team
Marketing Series: Define Your Audience
Marketing Series: Think Outside the Box
Marketing Series: Build Your Platform
Marketing Series: You've Got Questions

Recent articles:

Two Keys to Finding Your Author Voice
I Want to Write a Book - Where Do I Start?
From the Edit Desk: Before Sending that Manuscript to Editor or Publisher
From the Edit Desk: Sense of Place
From the Edit Desk: What's the Takeaway?
Do You Dream?
Need an Illustrator?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Fiction Series: Determine Your Setting

Most of my fiction - novels, short stories, and screenplays - start with location, because places intrigue and inspire me.

One question I encounter often is: should I set my story somewhere real, or create a fictional story world?

The best answer for that question is: It depends.

If you write sci-fi or fantasy, most likely your story world will be fictional and you will need to create it from top to bottom, inside and out.

If you write most any other genre, the choice is yours to make. Here are some tips to help you decide which route is best for you:

1) Consider the amount of research you'll need to know your setting(s). Are you familiar with the territory? If not, are you able to travel to the location to scope it out? Or do you have the research skills to learn specifics about the area? If you can't travel there, be sure to research more than just facts and figures - you'll need to study demographics, terrain, weather, language, customs, and more. Is this setting somewhere you want to spend time as you write?

Tip: Do more than a simple search for potential locations. Also check places like TripAdvisor, Instagram, and Twitter for things to do in the area, photos, annual events, and overall vibe of the place. Don't forget maps - if you use Google maps, you can see street views for many locations. Check the visitor's bureau or Chamber of Commerce for the town to request physical maps and information, too.

2) Do your story, plot, characters "fit" the setting? For example, if your art-theft-mystery involves pricey galleries, and your suspects hob-nob with the rich and famous, the story itself would probably seem out of place in rural mid-America, but would fit right at home in New York City. Your setting needs to fit the overall tone and mood of your story, too. Urban stories won't fit the same setting as a cozy mystery.

Tip: Check current events for the area you've set your story. Would your character be a misfit (intentional or accidental) at some of these events?

3) If setting is to serve as a character in your novel, would it be helpful to create a fictional town and plot it into the map, in an area you're familiar with, and that will be familiar to readers? For example, you create the town of Peaceland, with all its quirks and quibbles, and plot it on the map in the middle of Texas, close enough to Dallas, Austin, and Abilene that your characters can mention one of them in passing and the reader will instantly be transported to that setting.

Tip: Think of giving your character a day off to explore one of the nearby towns. What would your character be doing there? Where would your character eat? What would your character explore? If this is an overnight trip, where would the character stay?

4) If your story takes place in more than one city, consider travel logistics of getting characters from place to place. You'll need to factor travel time into your overall timeline.

Tip: Create a calendar for your story's timeline.

5) How does this setting serve your overall story and its characters? Why this setting for these characters? Why not somewhere else? Make the setting relevant to the characters and to the story, so that when the book is done, a reader can honestly feel it couldn't have happened elsewhere.

Just remember as you write that your readers will all be different - some may know the area well, and some will be totally unfamiliar. If you use a real place, make sure you get the facts right, because readers will catch mistakes. If you use a fictional place, be sure to layer in enough details that the place becomes real in a reader's mind. (The key is layering, not dumping loads of information.)


Do locations inspire you? What kinds of settings do you most like to read? Do you like writing the same kinds of settings or different ones?


More from our Fiction Series:

The Road to NANOWRIMO


Other articles of interest:

Marketing Series: Build Your Team
Marketing Series: Define Your Audience
Marketing Series: Think Outside the Box
Marketing Series: Build Your Platform
Marketing Series: You've Got Questions

Recent articles:

Two Keys to Finding Your Author Voice
I Want to Write a Book - Where Do I Start?
From the Edit Desk: Before Sending that Manuscript to Editor or Publisher
From the Edit Desk: Sense of Place
From the Edit Desk: What's the Takeaway?
Do You Dream?
Need an Illustrator?




Monday, October 16, 2017

Fiction Series: The Road to NANOWRIMO

Today, we start a new series on fiction writing, with our eyes on NANOWRIMO 2017. I hope our posts will be helpful and serve as a great "warm-up" for the big event, and be useful to anyone wanting to write fiction, whether you're participating in NANO or not.

Image Courtesy of
National Novel Writing Month
NANOWRIMO? I hear some of you asking.

NANOWRIMO is the acronym for National Novel Writing Month which takes place every year during the month of November. From their website:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing.  
On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.
Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.
Almost 400,000 writers participated last year.

Today's tip is short, and sounds more simple than it is:

Write the book you want to read.

You'll be spending many hours with the characters, setting, and plot of this book - more hours than you imagine because once the story comes alive in your brain and heart, it will always live there. If you like romance novels, write a romance novel. If you like horror, write horror. If you write mysteries, write a mystery. If you're not sure what genre you prefer, think of your favorite books and that should help. If you're like me,  you may like several genres - if that's the case, think about setting or characters, and let one of those lead you to the genre you should write first.

Some "experts" may tell you to write for the market - write what will sell. You can choose to listen to them - and be miserable about halfway through - or you can write the book you want to read and enjoy yourself, even when the writing gets hard. (It will.)

Come back tomorrow for our next post in this fiction series. Topics we'll be discussing in future posts include characters, theme, setting, tension, dialogue, plot and more.


The Fiction Series:

The Road to NANOWRIMO
Determine Your Setting

Other articles of interest:


Marketing Series: Build Your Team
Marketing Series: Define Your Audience
Marketing Series: Think Outside the Box
Marketing Series: Build Your Platform
Marketing Series: You've Got Questions

Recent articles:

Two Keys to Finding Your Author Voice
I Want to Write a Book - Where Do I Start?
From the Edit Desk: Before Sending that Manuscript to Editor or Publisher
From the Edit Desk: Sense of Place
From the Edit Desk: What's the Takeaway?
Do You Dream?
Need an Illustrator?




Monday, October 2, 2017

Marketing Series: Think Outside the Box

When it comes to marketing your books, think outside the box. Yes, everyone does bookmarks, websites, business cards, but what is unique about your book that you could use to draw attention?

For fiction writers, draw on your characters' personalities, hobbies, hometown, occupation, or idiosyncrasies to create a contest or marketing memes.

Create a float for your town's homecoming or Christmas parade and ride in it as one of the characters. (With a book cover image plastered boldly somewhere on the float or car!)

If your character likes to cook or is a foodie - or even a klutz in the kitchen - write a series of blog posts with some of that character's favorite recipes (or goofs) - even if they're not in the book.

Make the characters come to life through behind-the-scene glimpses into their lives.

For nonfiction writers, tap into your book's themes to create some of your marketing. If your theme is a social issue, check calendars for national awareness days and build some of your marketing around those days. Even if you don't write about social issues, check out the "national days" calendar to see what topics might fit your book and your message and have fun with it.

Use art, videos, symbols, costumes, unique key phrases, locations (yours) or settings (your character's) to reach readers in unexpected ways. Seek out groups that might be interested in having you speak on your theme - they may even allow you to set up a book table for sales and autographs after your talk. (Just don't use your speech to promote your book.)

Tap into your own hobbies and interests to attract readers with similar interests. One awesome author I know travels frequently. One part of her platform revolves around her travels - and her characters' journeys, too. Readers know that when they pick up one of her books, they'll be transported all around the world as the story unfolds. Another incredible author is a hometown girl, and she shares her hometown as part of her platform. When readers pick up her books, they know they're going to get a hometown family feel (even in the midst of chaos!)


Other articles of interest:

Marketing Series: Build Your Team
Marketing Series: Define Your Audience
Marketing Series: Think Outside the Box
Marketing Series: Build Your Platform
Marketing Series: You've Got Questions

Recent articles:

Two Keys to Finding Your Author Voice
I Want to Write a Book - Where Do I Start?
From the Edit Desk: Before Sending that Manuscript to Editor or Publisher
From the Edit Desk: Sense of Place
From the Edit Desk: What's the Takeaway?
Do You Dream?
Need an Illustrator?

Marketing Series: Build Your Team

Although writing is a solitary profession for the most part, when you get ready to market your book, you need a team. This team, sometimes referred to as a street team or a tribe,
serves as your immediate marketing team - they help get the word out about your book.

A team can be as simple as a small group of family or friends who tell others about your book, or as complex as an entire network of people (some may be acquaintances or even strangers) who promote your book for review copies or other incentives.

Folks within the industry have mixed feelings about street teams in general, and that's understandable.

Some of the ambivalence has to do with credibility. By assembling a random street team, you as the author are entrusting your marketing to strangers. You don't know the reputation of the members, or their credibility within their own circles - and honestly, they could do more harm than good for your book.

During the years I've been in the book industry, I've learned from the pros that it makes sense to compile a team that you know and trust. If your team is comprised of other authors, make sure you read their books for quality and content to ensure they match your own quality and values. If the quality is sub-par or the values are in direct opposition to yours, their marketing could alienate your audience or be directed at an audience that's not a good fit for your book.

Marketing teams are effective in different ways, and could work online and/or in person (boots on the ground).

Online teams will:
  • Buy your book on release day.
  • Write blog post(s) about your book and its themes.
  • Interview you for their blogs.
  • Review your books on multiple online sites (Amazon, BN, Books-a-Million, Goodreads, Book Depository, etc.).
  • Post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, etc. about your book, consistently and repeatedly. (Not an overload and they definitely should NOT spam folks, but they should be willing to offer more than a single post or tweet.)
  • Attend any online parties/events that you may host or be invited to - offering support and encouragement and - well, attendance. 
In-person teams will:
  • Buy your book on release day.
  • Visit their local bookstores, taking bookmarks, postcards, chocolates, and perhaps even a copy of your book to the manager, asking if they might be interested in hosting a book signing or selling your books. 
  • Connect with their local libraries to discuss your books. 
  • Distribute promotional materials wherever appropriate (coffee shops, book clubs, writing groups, church, social groups, civic groups, etc.)
  • Attend your local book signings and speaking engagements, offering support and encouragement - and assistance as needed.

Reward your team with incentives like small gift cards, autographed copies of your book, t-shirts, chocolate (of course!), coffee mugs, special discounts, or even "insider" information about you or your books that only the team will know (or will know in advance of others). Come up with other ways to recognize their efforts. Some examples: let them name one of your characters or setting in a future book, thank them on the acknowledgements page of your book, host a party in their honor if your team is local.

Remember to set aside time for marketing and team building, but don't let the marketing overtake your writing. Having a team to help you market will free up some of those hours so you can do just that.



Other articles of interest:

Marketing Series: Build Your Team
Marketing Series: Define Your Audience
Marketing Series: Think Outside the Box
Marketing Series: Build Your Platform
Marketing Series: You've Got Questions

Marketing Series: You've Got Questions

We asked FB and Twitter friends to send us questions about marketing so we could provide some answers. Questions and answers are below.

Why do authors have to do the marketing? Why don't publishers do it for them? ~ from Phee Paradise and Grace Brooks

Marketing is a cost that larger publishers once absorbed and recouped with book sales, but now is mostly obsolete. If an author has a huge platform (celebrity or public figure status), the publisher will likely send the author on tour or pay for an advertising campaign, but for the most part, the author is on their own when it comes to marketing, regardless of whether they choose the traditional publishing route, a subsidy press, or self-publishing.


I want to publish more children's books in the future...when you have more than one book that you are selling, do you need to market each book separately or can you lump them together when attending an event or with the online presence (in my case facebook)? ~ From Julie Landon, author of The Little Voice

Great question, Julie. If the books are in the same genre, there's no need to separate marketing. At times, you may want to focus on your newest book, but you can always include the others when designing marketing materials like bookmarks, flyers, posters, etc. With social media, blogs, and websites, it's always good to have everything together, so readers don't have to chase you down. They should be able to find links to all your books on any of your sites.

How do you market with any success? ~ from Peggy Trotter

First, you need to define success. What would make a marketing campaign successful for YOU? Are you trying to reach readers? Make money (how much equates to success for you)? Increase your visibility? Grow your network? Get 5 reviews on your book (or 10, or 50, or 100)? Have one person tell you their life was changed because of your words? Have Jimmy Fallon invite you for a chat on national television? Sell x-number of books in an x-amount of time?

Your answers can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be, but they must be reasonable for your platform, your topic, your market.

Some authors want to hit the New York Times' Bestseller list with their first book on an aardvark's eating habits. Unfortunately (or, honestly, fortunately), that's not likely to happen unless you're Oprah or Elvis.

Other authors only want to make their mom's proud. Or their neighbor's jealous.

Define what success means to you, then work toward that goal with your marketing plan.


Which genres are easiest to market? Is marketing significantly easier/harder if you stick with one genre/subgenre and make it your brand? ~ from Ann Evans

Marketing tasks are basically the same for every genre (and depends on how much effort you choose to put into it), so the real question isn't which genre is easiest, but perhaps which genre is most popular? The list varies, depending on the source, with romance/erotica, sci-fi/fantasy, crime/thriller/mystery, religious/inspiration, nonfiction, and horror all filling top spots. The very best advice anyone could give you is this: "The single most important factor determining whether you succeed (and get published) is the quality of your writing." ~ Scott Francis in his article, "Easy Genres to Break In To."

Branding is a great way to market your books, if you always write the same genre OR have the same underlying message in multiple genres that you can use to build your brand. Establish yourself as an "expert" or "go-to" person in your topic or genre, and then create marketing materials to reflect that expertise. Develop catch phrases and logos for your brand, even choose specific colors and fonts to become "your" look, and use that same look across all social media and blogs. Use that branding as your foundation for all your promotional materials and marketing ideas.

With all the social media outlets, which one(s) are better to focus your energy on marketing? ~ from Vanessa Rose Lee

The best social media outlet for your energy depends on several factors: your book, your audience, your own social media habits, and the actual outlet itself. I'll take the last one out of the equation first: if the outlet is new and has a limited audience of only a few hundred members, you're obviously not going to have the outreach you'd have on Facebook (1.32 billion users log on daily) or Twitter (100 million users daily).

With that being said, let's focus on the other factors. Your book and your audience - where do potential readers for YOUR book hang out?

Here's a great chart that shows social media outlets broken down by age groups:


Look for the age group of your target market - your audience - and see where those readers are most active. If you write for readers age 18-24, you'll definitely want to focus more on Snapchat, Vine, and Tumblr than on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Also consider your own social media habits. If you like to hangout on Facebook, by all means do so. Don't make your social media connections all about book promotions. Readers want to connect with authors, so make yourself available to connect with them.

How do I market fiction? ~ from Cynthia Simmons

Most of the tips in this marketing series can be used for both fiction and nonfiction books. One thing to remember about fiction readers: most like series and many are voracious readers, so the more books you have, the more readers you should have, if you provide a great story. Fiction readers also usually stick to the same genre, so focus your efforts toward readers of those genres. (Here's a helpful list of hashtags to use on Twitter and Instagram for reaching specific readers.)

Don't forget to set up your Author Central page at Amazon, where you can link all of your books, your website/blog, and social media.



Other articles of interest:

Marketing Series: Build Your Team
Marketing Series: Define Your Audience
Marketing Series: Think Outside the Box
Marketing Series: Build Your Platform
Marketing Series: You've Got Questions

Marketing Series: Build Your Platform

Writers fall into one of those frustrating "Catch-22" situations with their books: the big publishing companies require authors to have a platform before they'll offer a contract, but it's hard for authors to build a platform without the book.

Thankfully, small presses and self-publishing companies usually don't have a platform requirement, but one is still necessary.

What exactly is a platform? And why is one needed?

Your platform is your podium - the dais you stand on to get people's attention. From this podium - this platform - you share your stories, your message. If done well, your platform will set you apart from other authors who write on the same topic, and help you become the "go-to" person in your specific area.

Your platform consists of many elements that you build and grow over time.

These elements include:

Social media
Blog(s) & website(s)
Videos
Media Kit
Specialty groups & forums
Speaking engagements
Mailing lists
Interviews

Let's explore each element.

Social media: as an author, you MUST have an online presence, whether you're active online or not (and in today's world, the "not" is no longer really an option if you intend to sell anything.) Growing the accounts will take time, so don't get overwhelmed by it all - just take your time to build.

At the very minimum, you need to set up a Facebook personal profile and a Facebook author page. The profile allows for more interaction with other Facebook members, while the author page provides a landing page for all information about your book. If you're concerned about privacy (and you should be), just be cautious about how much information you post.

FACEBOOK TIP: When you share posts on FB about your book, public appearances, book signings, themes, etc., make sure you mark the post as PUBLIC or your reach will be limited.

A Twitter account is also a good idea. The audiences will probably be quite different, and the way you share your own content will be different, too.

LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest all have their own purposes, and their own demographics. After you've defined your audience, research each of these social media platforms to see which one(s) are frequented more by your audience, and then set up accounts there. (I've included a chart with these numbers in the You've Got Questions post.)

One final tip about social media - do NOT use it only to sell books. The point of social media is to be SOCIAL. Participate. Listen. Ask questions. Be relevant. Be helpful. The sales will take care of themselves.

Blogs & Websites: When you decide to become an author, buy your domain name (preferably in your own name, if it is available.)

Even if you don't have a huge, busy website, a static website is the very minimum that an author should have when they've published a book. The website will give readers more information about you, about your book, where to find your book, and perhaps even make them want to know more about you and your books, so they'll continue to buy.

Blogs (separate or as part of your website) help grow your audience, because readers will get fresh content from you on a regular basis, and can communicate with you. Readers want relationship - they want to connect - and blogs are a great way to make that connection on a regular basis.

Blogs are also an inexpensive (free) way to establish a website. Both Blogger and WordPress offer free blogs, and you can forward your domain name to your blog. If you customize the blog, it can serve as your regular website, too.

BLOG TIP: If the blog platform you use (Blogger or WordPress) doesn't automatically include links for readers to share each individual post (some templates may not), add that option through gadgets or widgets.  Just make sure that each post is shareable. You can also add other plug-ins, like Click to Tweet to create shareable links within each blog post.

This is what the share buttons look like at the bottom of each of these blog posts - yours could have a slightly different appearance, but still serve the same function:



Videos are all the rage right now, so consider creating mini-videos (a minute or less) to reach your audience. Strive to provide relevant and useful content that connects readers to your overall message. Facebook allows you the option to do live videos right from their platform, or you can film yourself with your camera or phone and upload to YouTube, then share on various sites.

Don't forget book trailers, too, for promotion of your book. Whether you hire someone to create the video or you decide to do it yourself, be sure to include a book cover image and your website address at the end of the video, so readers can find you. You may also want to include a line or logo, showing where your book is available. You can create these trailers using PowerPoint, Animoto, or Vimeo, but do some research first to learn the basics of creating something worthwhile.

Before your first book releases, build your media kit. A media kit consists of headshots (at least two different poses, three is even better) in large format, long and short bios, book cover blurb, book cover image, and a list of 5-10 questions and answers. You may even want to include a list of topics you would discuss during an interview. Don't forget to include your contact information, so the media can get in touch with you or your agent.

Seek out groups and forums - online and in person - related to your book's theme, then get involved. Within these groups, you may find some like-minded folks who could become part of your own marketing team. Just remember to give back to group efforts and not just take from them.

Public speaking is feared by some of us (ahem!) more than death, according to a Psychology Today report. But as an author, you may be called upon to speak and/or teach, and speaking engagements help build your platform. If you're like some of my friends and love to speak, research then join some speaker's bureaus to get your name out there. Depending on your topics, you could get regular engagements.

If, on the other hand, you're more like me and prefer not to speak, but know it's necessary, try doing workshops instead of keynote speeches. Practice, join Toastmasters, and practice some more. (And realize that some of us just prefer the written word instead of spoken, and that's perfectly okay.)

Mailing lists: Grow your readership by building mailing lists for postcards and newsletters. (MailChimp is free and easy-to-use for beginners. As you grow, you may have to upgrade to a paid account.)

Building a platform can be overwhelming, especially if you try to do too much. So don't. Take one area at a time, build on it, then add other elements when you get comfortable.

Interviews: Seek out opportunities for interviews in newspapers, and on blogs, radio, podcasts, and TV. Write a press release to distribute to newspapers (don't forget to include your contact information.) Contact your local radio and TV stations, and ask what options they have available for you to be interviewed. Some local stations may cover book signings or readings, others may be seeking experts to interview on specific news topics. Prepare materials ahead of calls or visits, so you can give them marketing materials and a list of your topics and areas of expertise. Always present yourself as a professional.


Other articles of interest:

Marketing Series: Build Your Team
Marketing Series: Define Your Audience
Marketing Series: Think Outside the Box
Marketing Series: Build Your Platform
Marketing Series: You've Got Questions

Marketing Series: Define Your Audience

Today, we launch a new series on marketing. Each post in the series will address a different aspect of marketing your books. In this post, we want to help you define your audience.

Writers, who do you write for?

I know some writers who say they write for themselves. This post isn't for those writers.

This post is for the writers who write for others.

Weekly, I receive e-mails from writers who tell me their audience is the entire world. While we all want that to be true, we know deep down that it's not. To figure out your audience, let's tap into your imagination.

Imagine your book on a shelf in the world's largest bookstore. A reader walks in and begins browsing the books. The reader stops in front of yours and picks it up, reads the back cover, then takes it to the register to buy. The reader takes the book somewhere and begins reading.

Who is that reader? (Your mother as an answer doesn't count.)

Specifically:

What is the reader's gender?
Age?
Occupation?
Lifestyle?
Hobbies?
Family/relationships?
Financial picture?
Beliefs?

Pinpoint that one reader, then build your marketing toward him/her.

To build the marketing, ask more questions.
  • Why did this reader choose my book?
  • What makes my book different than all the others?
  • What are some other tips, insights, helps, resources could I offer to the reader that weren't included in my book?
  • What actions might the reader take after reading my book? Is there something I could offer them at that point that might be useful?
Remember, you wrote for the reader, so now think of the reader and how they might find your book as you plan for your marketing.


Other articles of interest:

Marketing Series: Build Your Team
Marketing Series: Define Your Audience
Marketing Series: Think Outside the Box
Marketing Series: Build Your Platform
Marketing Series: You've Got Questions


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Two Keys to Finding Your Author Voice

My favorite books over time all have a distinct author voice, and I'm sure yours do, too. But what exactly is author voice?

Let's compare books. If you're not familiar with some on my list, think of your favorite books and compare them with each other to discover the author voice in each one.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell vs. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout vs. The Alphabet series by Sue Grafton

Morning  & Evening by Charles Spurgeon vs. Believing God by Beth Moore

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss vs. Brer Rabbit by Joel Chandler Harris

All Over But the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg vs. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain vs. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Each of these books has a distinct voice that is memorable and unique. Studying the books in depth reveal significant differences in specific areas: length and structure of sentences and paragraphs, word usage and the simplicity or difficulty of the language used, pacing, dialogue and dialect, and overall imagery and how it is conveyed. These differences create the author voice.

One caution: Many of these examples above take the author voice to the extreme. If your author voice is just as extreme, be careful with it. You don't want to come across as sounding fake or phony - readers will tire of it quickly, and begin to view your work as contrived rather than natural.

We can find hundreds (perhaps thousands) of articles online and even entire books devoted to teaching you how to find your author voice. But experience has shown me there are two basic keys to finding your voice:

1) Get comfortable with your writing. Remember the basics of sentence and paragraph structure, punctuation, overall grammar and then forget the rules that make your writing stilted and formal. Write how you speak - using dashes or ellipses, or incomplete sentences even. Pace your words and sentences naturally. You (or an editor) may end up editing some of your writing for clarity, and to clean up extraneous rambles, but as you learn how to get comfortable, your voice will emerge. [And FYI - great editors work to keep your author voice, not strip it. If you encounter an editor who wipes out your author voice, you may want to get a second opinion.]

2) Just write. Write letters. Write blog posts. Write articles. Write short stories. Write novels. Write scripts. Write devotionals. Write recipes. Write your life story. Write someone else's life story. Spend time daily writing and your author voice will grow stronger from the use of it. Only YOU can write with YOUR author voice.



Recent articles:

I Want to Write a Book - Where Do I Start?
From the Edit Desk: Before Sending that Manuscript to Editor or Publisher
From the Edit Desk: Sense of Place
From the Edit Desk: What's the Takeaway?
Do You Dream?
Need an Illustrator?


Monday, August 21, 2017

I Want to Write a Book - Where Do I Start?


Daily, I get e-mails that say, “I want to write a book, but I don’t even know where to start. Can you help me?” I decided a blog post might be helpful. Feel free to e-mail me if you have other questions and I’ll be glad to help.

The publishing industry has changed drastically in the past 10 years, and has opened wide the field for anyone to publish a book. Now you have choices that have not been an option before. As you begin this journey, there are several questions to ask yourself and decisions to make.

First, you need to decide if you wish to seek the traditional publishing route or if you want to self-publish through a subsidy press or on your own.

What’s the difference between traditional publishing, subsidy publishing, and self-publishing?

A traditional press takes all the risk and expense of publishing a book - planning to recoup their investment with the sales of the book and any accompanying merchandise. The author will eventually receive royalties on the book, but usually not until the traditional press has earned back its initial expenses for pre-production, printing, and marketing. With a traditional press, the author usually earns 6-12% royalties (sometimes a little more, but not by much). Currently, there are six large traditional publishing companies in the US. For an author to get their book published through one of those six, the author must have an agent and already have an established platform. The process can take years before an author will see a published book - and that's after the manuscript has been bought by one of the publishing houses. In the past, the traditional publisher also did much of the marketing for the books, but today, that service has all but disappeared. The author is now responsible for a vast majority of the marketing, especially if the author has a limited platform.

Another traditional publishing option is that of small presses. The smaller companies may not offer advances or have large marketing departments, but they are more open to non-agented submissions, usually offer a higher percentage of royalties compared to the big six, and are a great way for new authors to get published. Just be sure to ask questions and check out all their books for quality - the quality at some (definitely not all) small publishers may be lacking. Examine their books and their covers, and if you're comfortable doing so, you may even want to send a polite e-mail to a couple of their authors to get their opinion about the company in general.

A subsidy press does the same work as a traditional publisher, but the author assumes the financial risk. The author pays the subsidy press to publish their manuscript into book format, with costs ranging anywhere from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on which company you choose and the services you need. The press then takes the manuscript submitted by the author, formats and designs the book and the cover, assembles the book into a finished product, publishes it, and distributes it. Editing may or may not be included in the packages offered, but every book by every author needs editing, so if you don’t hire an outside editor, check with the subsidy press for their editing options. Most subsidy presses offer packages and some offer a la carte services, so that the author can pick and choose only the services they need. The author receives higher percentage of the royalties - anywhere from 40-100% depending on the publishing company and the type of package the author purchases. The process is faster - some books can be published in just a few weeks or months, depending on how prepared the author is when he/she hires the publisher. The author also has greater control over the entire project - some publishers allow the author to have input on every step, like cover design, formatting, overall layout, etc. The author can also decide on sales and promotions to best fit their schedule or the theme of their book. (The traditional publisher controls the calendar themselves.)

You also have the option of publishing the book yourself – but you’ll have to learn how to do all the above like the pros or readers will instantly identify your book as self-published and may not give it a second glance. You’ll need to learn about cover design, fonts, layout, editing, production set up, and marketing. You’ll need to be proficient in computers and a variety of software. All of that is in addition to honing your writing skills. For those with an entrepreneurial spirit, this might be the best option, but most writers I encounter just want to keep writing and leave the other tasks to professionals.

What do you hope to accomplish with your book?

As you ponder these different routes, you’ll need to determine what you want out of the whole process. What is your goal in publishing your book? Is it to become a bestseller? Is it to help others? Is it to tell a story? Is it to serve a cathartic purpose? Do you plan to write more than one book? Yes, you can answer yes to more than one question – but these answers should help you decide which route is best for your goals.

The Craft of Writing

Writing a book is not as easy as it sounds. You must learn the craft of writing, much like a doctor learns about the human body or a mechanic learns about a car. You have to know how words and sentences work together so that you can maximize their impact, and present your work in the best possible light.

You can learn about the craft by writing, by reading, by attending conferences or taking classes, and/or you can hire a coach to guide you through the process of writing your book.

What Kind of Book?

Is your book fiction or nonfiction? Are you writing it for adults, teens, or children? Do you want to write a children’s picture book? Memoir, autobiography, self-help, devotional, tell-all? Or if fiction, which genre? Mystery, thriller, romance, coming of age, women’s fiction, action, horror?

Examine and study books that are similar to what you want to write. Study them front to back, every aspect, identifying their similarities and what makes them different. Look at covers, what you like and dislike about each one, and begin to envision the cover of your own book.

Who is Your Reader?

Who is your reader? Get specific with the answer to this question. Imagine one reader wandering around a bookstore or browsing books on Amazon and that one reader chooses your book to pick up and read and buy. Who is that reader? Male or female? Age? Political/social/lifestyle preferences? Financial status? Family status? What does that reader expect to get from your book?

Once you’ve answered these questions, start writing. You’ll learn as you go and you can’t edit a blank page.

If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me or post them below.



Recent articles:

Two Keys to Finding Your Author Voice
I Want to Write a Book - Where Do I Start?
From the Edit Desk: Before Sending that Manuscript to Editor or Publisher
From the Edit Desk: Sense of Place
From the Edit Desk: What's the Takeaway?
Do You Dream?
Need an Illustrator?

Friday, August 18, 2017

From the Edit Desk: Before Sending Manuscript to Editor or Publisher

One of the steps writers take before sending a manuscript to an editor or publisher is the final read-through. Here's a quick list of things to check before you hit 'send':

Spacing - check for both line spacing and word spacing.

  • Word spacing: If you've used double spacing after sentences, get rid of those. In today's computer world, double spacing is a no-no. You can easily get rid of the double spacing using the Replace feature in Word: click on Replace, then put the cursor in the Find box and hit the space bar twice. (Don't type any letters, your just typing spaces.) Then, in the Replace box, just hit the space bar once. (If you've used the Replace button recently, you might need to erase anything that is there - make sure you erase everything, then put in the one space.) I recommend doing this two or three times, because sometimes writers use three or four (or more) spaces. Do it until there are no more double spaces between anything.


  • Line Spacing: Industry standards use double line spacing. Publishers will adjust that spacing to meet their particular publishing needs, but to submit, use double spacing. When you start a new chapter, use Page Breaks, not line spacing, to put the new chapter on a fresh page. 

Repetition - as you read through the manuscript, look for pet words or phrases that you use too much. Eliminate or rewrite as needed. Use the Find feature to locate all of them.

Punctuation - Read through the manuscript for missing or incorrect punctuation, especially at the end of sentences. Most writers tend to fret over commas, and while that is an issue, it's surprising to discover so many instances where a period is missing or a question mark has been used incorrectly. If you overuse exclamation points, get rid of them. Check for proper usage of single and double quotation marks.

Fonts - Industry standard font is Times New Roman. Most of the time, only one font is recommended, although there are instances where a publisher may want to change fonts in the final production of the book. (One example of this is when an author includes a text message in the story - the publisher may offset and change the font to designate it as a text message.) But leave it to the publisher to make the change.


But don't let the edits and fear of making a mistake hold you up. Give it your best then hit SEND.


Recent articles:

From the Edit Desk: Sense of Place
From the Edit Desk: What's the Takeaway?
Do You Dream?
Need an Illustrator?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

From the Edit Desk: What's the Takeaway?

When new writers approach me about publishing their nonfiction books, or hire me to coach them as they write their book, the first thing I want to know is how their book will benefit the reader. What's the takeaway?

Writing our stories so that others can learn from them, or be encouraged by, or inspired by, or challenged by is crucial. But just writing down the facts and figures isn't enough. You want to provide the reader with a story or information that stays with them after they've finished reading. Start with asking yourself questions.

What is your book's purpose? What do you want to accomplish with this book? Create a simple statement of one to three sentences to answer these questions - they will serve as your guide as you write each chapter. Hone your message by keeping these questions in mind.

How will your book connect with readers? Think of themes within your message, and then broaden those themes from a reader's perspective. Take your story, your message and make it relevant to your reader.

As you write, imagine one specific reader of your book. What do you want her to tell others about your book? What do you want him to remember most? How do you want your words,  your story, your message to change that person's life?

What's different about your message? Why are you the right one to tell this story, share this message? How can you tie your uniqueness together with the broad overall themes to give your reader the most takeaway?

Write your book with those questions in mind, and your message should resonate with readers.


Recent articles:

I Want to Write a Book - Where Do I Start?
From the Edit Desk: Before Sending that Manuscript to Editor or Publisher
From the Edit Desk: Sense of Place
From the Edit Desk: What's the Takeaway?
Do You Dream?
Need an Illustrator?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

From the Edit Desk: Sense of Place

Today, we're starting a new series called From the Edit Desk. The short blog posts in this series will offer helpful tips on issues we see in manuscripts that cross our path or that we've encountered in the past. They're not meant to pick on any author - they're meant to serve as a guide to help writers improve their craft. As always, feel free to ask questions.

Today's topic: Sense of Place

Have you ever been so lost in thought you couldn't remember where you were or why you were there? Or wake up from a deep sleep and not know where you were or what day it was? Writers may do this more than anyone else, and sometimes this comes across in their manuscripts.

A sense of place is a common problem I see in books and scripts that I read. Writers may know their story world backward and forward, upside down and right side up, but if they do not convey this, the audience will be lost. Sense of place is important not only in fiction but in nonfiction as well - you want to plant the audience firmly in your world, whether it's real or not.

The best way to convey sense of place is in the details. Don't bog down the audience with an information dump, spelling out pages of backstory or descriptions. Instead, pay attention to details that could offer clues and layer them in through dialogue or narrative.

Answer unasked questions about time, place, season:

What year is it? What are one or two things relevant to that particular year/decade/century? For example, a character probably wouldn't be answering a cellphone in the 1850s.

Look around (in your story world, that is) and use sensory details. Find something unique that your character can see, smell, hear, taste, or touch that would convey information the audience needs and layer it into the story. For example, a lighthouse fog horn probably wouldn't be heard in Nebraska and a damp swamp smell probably couldn't be experienced in the desert.

Seasons are easier - just don't fall into the pitfall of cliches.

The easiest thing to remember about setting a sense of place for your audience - remember they haven't been in your head while you've created or experienced your story. You need to let them into that world.


Recent articles:

I Want to Write a Book - Where Do I Start?
From the Edit Desk: Before Sending that Manuscript to Editor or Publisher
From the Edit Desk: Sense of Place
From the Edit Desk: What's the Takeaway?
Do You Dream?
Need an Illustrator?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Do You Dream?

During the past couple of weeks, I made a very hasty decision - one that would help other
people and help us, too, but it took valuable time from another area and basically, created more problems than it solved. Last night, I made the difficult decision to change course, knowing that I would be letting a friend down, but the new decision was best for me and my family.

This morning, when my husband woke, he said he had a message for me. He said, "Woman, you need to follow your dreams and quit chasing after random things."



All day long, I've thought of his words and realized he's right (he usually is).

I have two primary professional goals:

1) to help other people, but in a different way than this other opportunity. I love helping other people make their dreams of publishing a book come true. I love serving as a conduit through which people can share their stories - their testimonies - their lives - through the written word and through picture books for children, and publish those books so that others might learn, be inspired, or be entertained. That is my goal and it is my dream.

2) to write screenplays. I'm in the final weeks of earning my MFA in screenwriting, and I can't wait until I'm able to spend quality time honing the ideas and scripts I started during school. My goals are to write them - my dreams are to have them produced into film or produce them myself. We'll see where the Lord leads on that one, won't we? It's been a fun journey, and I'm already working with a couple of authors on adapting their novels into screenplays. The best of both worlds!!

Yes, I am a dreamer.

Are you? What are your dreams?

Do you dream of publishing a book?

If so, I'd love to talk to you more about the whole process. Let me know if you have any questions. Feel free to send me an e-mail or Facebook message. I'd love to see if we could make your dreams a reality.



Monday, August 7, 2017

What's Your Story?

What story do you have to tell?

Is it nonfiction - perhaps a self-help book or maybe a memoir of your life?

Do you write poetry? Would you like to include your poems in one book to share with others?

Is it fiction? Are novels your storytelling outlet? Or do you write books for children, to stir their imagination or to help teach them lessons or values?




Now is the time to share your story. Send me an e-mail (info@TMPbooks.com) or a note on Facebook, and let's talk about the possibilities!


Recent articles:

I Want to Write a Book - Where Do I Start?
From the Edit Desk: Before Sending that Manuscript to Editor or Publisher
From the Edit Desk: Sense of Place
From the Edit Desk: What's the Takeaway?
Do You Dream?
Need an Illustrator?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Latest Release: My Summer with Jimmy & Nan Dee

We're excited to announce our latest release, My Summer with Jimmy & Nan Dee, by Jane J. Hart.

My Summer with Jimmy & Nan Dee is a touching memoir by newcomer, Jane J. Hart, recounting how simple life was for her daddy growing up in the deep South beginning in the 1930s. She wanted to take advantage of the time she has left with her father by going back in time and writing their history so it may be passed down to future generations. While walking memory lane with her father, Jane realizes how important living a slower paced life is to her own existence.  

The author's longing for simplicity and peace in her own life, while tackling the challenging journey of caring for her severely handicapped daughter, will make you laugh and cry. As Jane records the past, an unexpected visitor helps her see what is genuinely important and shows her how to experience the calm she has so desperately searched for.


Available in paperback and on Kindle.

About the Author:

Jane J. Hart loves telling stories about the ‘sometimes hard to believe’ roller coaster she calls ‘her life’ and she has always wanted to write them down to give you a laugh, share a cry, or inspire you with hope. This desire is what led her to blogging and eventually to her first book My Summer with Jimmy and Nan Dee.

She feels history is super important, especially when it is your own, for people to know who and where they came from and what life was like at the time. That is where this book was born.

Since she is the writer in the family, with aging parents and a passion for writing, she felt it was an adventure that needed to be taken before time was lost.

Jane lives with her husband and two daughters in the deep South where it’s all about extra syllables and sweet tea. She is an avid supporter of all people with special needs and her colorful, spunky personality is not afraid to speak up for those who have no voice. She can take the ho-hum, boring everyday life or daunting reality and turn it into something positive and funny. She is genuine and inspiring and believes it is all about the little things.

You can find her hilarious dose of reality on her website: www.lookforthegoodinc.com. She is also on Facebook as Look for the good and on Instagram @lookforthegoodinc.

Monday, February 27, 2017

New Memoir Releases in Print, on Kindle, and in Large Print

We're excited to announce our latest release, Finding His Strength: An Orphan's Journey to Healing and Wholeness by Estelle H. Herndon.

Finding His Strength, which has already landed on several Amazon Top 100 lists, is available in three formats: print, Kindle, and large print.

Essie's story is powerful and poignant - and I've never admired anyone so much for being willing to open herself up the way she did in this book. The woman is remarkable, and her story will change lives - and she gives God every bit of the glory. He redeemed her life so beautifully after man tried to destroy her. May God use her mightily!



About the Author:

Estelle “Essie” H. Herndon, is a Christ Follower, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and prayer warrior. She has worked alongside her husband, Robert, as his paralegal for over forty-seven years.

Essie is active in her church. She teaches with her husband in Bible studies and leading small groups, helping with Women’s Ministries and Grief Ministries, from youth to young married adults.

She is also active in her community, having served on various boards over the years.

Her family and friends are her hobbies. She and husband Robert enjoy traveling which has included Georgia football games. She and brother Robert meet almost daily for breakfast.

She truly tries to please God in her daily activities, always remembering where she has been in her past and how God has worked in her life for His Honor. She lives in Georgia.

Loving life. Free in HIS strength!


Finding His Strength is available at Amazon, and at most booksellers by request.

Print
Kindle
Large print

Fiction Series: Hone the Dialogue

Dialogue can make or break your story. How many times have you read a book where the characters didn't "sound" right? Could ...