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?

Meet our Authors: Karen Mutchler Allen

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