Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Every author dreams of becoming a bestseller. It is actually a very simple concept. Get enough people to buy your book through tracked retailers within a short period of time. However, the careful planning and logistics of making this happen can be overwhelming. So why do authors care so much about this recognition?
There are five reasons why every author should shoot for bestseller status:
1. You Become a Celebrity
The celebrity status gained by becoming a best seller is immeasurable. A title you keep for the rest of your life. There are experts that know exactly what it takes to accomplish this goal. The more significant the bestseller title, the more strategic and expansive the scope of requirements becomes. The order of challenge and significance from least to greatest would be BarnesandNoble.com, Amazon.com, then NYT Bestseller. Being a bestseller, even on BarnesandNoble.com, adds instant credibility.
As a bestseller, your book will be featured in special ways. Retailers who are not currently carrying a book will want to when they see that it is a bestseller elsewhere. Exposure is what sells books. When we are able to put bestseller on marketing materials and press releases, the response is significantly greater.
3. Special Pricing for Buyers
Retail outlets will often sell bestsellers at a special price without effecting the author or publisher. This will make the book more attractive to buyers in comparison with other books.
4. Exponential Increase in Sales
Becoming a bestseller builds momentum. Every retailer wants to carry the best sellers because they are what everyone must want. Becoming a bestseller breeds curiosity. People immediately want to know why your book became a bestseller. This generates buyers.
5. Increased Income Potential
If you are a speaker, meeting planners will be more likely to choose the author who is a bestseller. As a consultant, trainer, or coach, you will be able to garner higher rates of pay. Instead of struggling for media attention, the media will come to you.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
By KJ Hutchings
As a writer, I am familiar with deadline stress and even now after years in the profession, I still have to fight the temptation to clean out my desk drawer or sort through emails rather than begin work on an urgent assignment. Managing your workload is, of course, essential to avoiding unnecessary stress and procrastination, both of which need to be eliminated in order to manage our projects efficiently and effectively. When we are stressed we tend to work much more ineffectively and what we do produce can be more prone to errors, so follow my tips on avoiding deadline stress and watch your productivity flourish as a result.
Think about the start, not the end
Note down when you need to complete the project and estimate how much time you need to complete it. Be honest with yourself and perhaps err on the side of caution and give yourself an extra day here and there. Try to not think about the end result, but focus instead on what you have time to do right here and now.
It is best to review your project each day to assess your progress and also to deal with any problems or queries. If your work is for a client, don't hesitate to contact them with any questions. Unanswered queries or any areas of uncertainty will only raise your stress levels and hinder your productivity, so make sure you have all the details you need in order to do the job well.
Break it all down
It is a good idea to break your project down into bite-sized steps. This stops you feeling overwhelmed by the thought of writing a twenty-page report or ten thousand words of copy. Taking manageable steps will soon add up and you will be surprised as to how much you can accomplish.
Set a daily deadline
This leads on from breaking your project down into bite-sized steps. When you do this, make sure you set yourself a "mini-deadline" whereby you ensure that you complete certain areas of the project by set times. This gives you a set structure to your work and will help to minimise your stress.
Work out your priorities
It goes without saying that you wish to produce high quality work but if this goes hand-in-hand with missing deadlines, you are not only risking losing clients but you are also placing unnecessary stress on yourself. Are you fussing over small, rather insignificant details to the detriment of the project as a whole? Perfectionism is something that we all strive for, yet it is elusive - we all feel that our work could be better if only we had more time. So give yourself a break and strive instead to produce the best work you can in the time given but realise that perfectionism is usually the best friend of procrastination and therefore has no place in your work life! Focus instead on the most important areas of the project and give these the greater slice of your time. Then, if there is time left before the deadline is complete (and if you follow these guidelines, there should be) you can return to the more minor matters and tweak them until you are happy that they are completed.
KJ Hutchings is the founder of KJ Language Services, offering editing, writing and proofreading services and advice on how you can make your English language documents the very best they can be. For more information, visit http://www.kjlanguageservices.com/
Monday, June 28, 2010
By Irene Watson
After seeing your book cover or hearing your book title, the first thing readers do is pick up the book and flip it over to read the back cover, or if they are online, they will look for the product description, also called a summary or synopsis (not to be confused with a chapter by chapter summary a writer would submit to a potential literary agent or publisher). We'll refer to it as a "summary" here because it needs to be a description of your book that is relatively short. About 250 words or less.
The problem with too many books is that they don't have proper summaries on the back. Many authors make the mistake of putting solely their biographies on their back covers. For example, I have seen crime novels where the back cover tells us how the author was a lawyer, a criminal prosecutor, etc. That might mean the author has some qualifications for writing about crime, but it doesn't tell me what the book is about. I've seen other books by authors writing about marginal history and while their photos on the back might make it clear they are Native American or African American followed by their biographies, it doesn't tell me why I would want to read their books. Believe it or not, I've even seen books with blank back covers or listed at Amazon with no product description. The other day, I actually saw a copy of the bestselling book, "The Chosen" by Chaim Potok. I've never read it, but it's a book I've heard mentioned many times although I couldn't remember what it was about. I picked it up only to find the back cover and several inside front cover pages loaded with praise blurbs, but none told me what the book was about. It's probably a great book, but I didn't buy that copy-even a bestseller needs a summary. I bet a summary on earlier editions helped to make it a bestseller.
Let's take the two examples above of crime and history novels and help these authors out by giving examples of what would be good summaries for them. We'll call the crime novel, "He Had It Coming" and the marginal history book, "African on the Rez." Both titles hopefully invoke a little curiosity that would encourage readers to pick up the books and read the back covers.
A few key words to keep in mind while writing your summary are to make sure it has:
- Relevancy: Why should readers care? What makes the book relevant to a reader's life, concerns, wants, needs, interests?
- Credibility: Is the book believable? Even fantasy and science fiction needs to be plausible by setting up rules for their fantasy worlds. For crime novels, the facts of an investigation and the protocol of court trials need to be accurate. History books rely upon facts.
- Uniqueness: How is your crime novel special or different? What makes it more intriguing than the other one million crime novels? What about your history book makes it stand out? Has this story been forgotten, ignored, repressed? How does knowing this lost history change our perspective of people today as well as in the past?
- A Hook: The Hook is really the theme of the summary. The points above combine to create it. The Hook creates interest to make the reader want to read the book.
First, let's give a couple of examples for our two books, "He Had It Coming" and "African on the Rez" of what not to write for summaries-these are summaries without hooks.
He Had It Coming
A battered wife is on trial when her husband is found murdered on their front lawn.
African on the Rez
Many escaped and former slaves, not welcomed into white society, found acceptance in Native American Tribes.
Don't laugh. I've seen way too many summaries like these-short and telling us next to nothing. These types of summaries don't move the dial on the "who-gives-a-crap" meter. Haven't we heard enough stories about women who kill their abusive husbands? Do we really want to read one more? As for the history book, I admit it's a bit more interesting, but still, why do I care? What does this have to do with me? I'm not descended from slaves and I'm not Native American.
Let's apply our criteria now to show how we can create a summary for each book that does have a Hook.
He Had It Coming - Creating the Hook
- Relevance: Statistics of battered women; it's based on a true story
- Credibility: Realistic portrayal of the defense of a woman on trial for her husband's murder, including the ins and outs of courtroom protocol. Based on a true story of a murder and written by the lawyer who defended the murder suspect. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.
- Uniqueness: The novel is set in a remote and quirky backcountry town. The murder weapon was unique. Surprising evidence came out at the trial.
You may not use everything you list here, but it doesn't hurt to think of everything that might hook the reader.
New Summary of "He Had It Coming"
When John Rochon was found dead Sunday morning on his front lawn, his neighbors were not surprised-only they had always somehow suspected his timid wife Beth would die first. For years, the police had come to settle John and Beth's domestic disputes after neighbors got tired of hearing their arguments followed by Beth's screams of terror. Yet Beth had always refused to press charges. "He had it coming," was the general consent among the neighbors over John's death, but what the police couldn't figure out was how Beth could have done it when she had gone to the next state to visit her dying mother. The investigation isn't made any easier since the neighbors are keeping their mouths shut about whether they saw or heard anything that night.
Did someone else break into the house and shoot John Rochon with his own rifle? And who but his wife would have wanted him dead? Although the town drunk claims he saw Beth drive through town just minutes before the murder, her mother claims to be her alibi. When all clues still seem to lead to Beth as the primary suspect, New York lawyer, Mark Radcliffe, recently retired to the sleepy town of Bear Dunes, decides to take one last case and defend Beth, but can even a big city lawyer create a reasonable defense in what seems like a highly calculated case of revenge? With thousands of women battered by their husbands every year, and dozens who retaliate, what jury member wouldn't think Beth guilty?
The Hook here is the difficulty of pinning the murder on Beth because she was out of town, yet the twist is that she was seen in town, although by an unreliable witness. Throw in a big city lawyer in a small town for unusual dynamics to get the reader interested. The setting builds atmosphere because it's a sleepy little town where apparently everyone knows everyone else's business-all the neighbors know John has been abusing Beth-but that the neighbors are keeping quiet leaves open the possibility that many people know things they may not be telling.
"African on the Rez" - Creating the Hook
- Relevance: New discussions into race and DNA research reflect the question of whether race truly exists. Today we pride ourselves on diversity and multi-culturalism, but diversity, tolerance, and acceptance of others has been part of American history in surprising ways since its early years.
- Credibility: Author Jane Hartwell is a professor of African American Studies at the University of Alabama. She is part-Lakota Sioux, part African-American, and part Caucasian. She spent many hours researching African slave history and visiting the reservations discussed in this book.
- Uniqueness: A story that hasn't been told before about American history. Relies upon many primary and previously unpublished sources.
New Summary of "African on the Rez"
In the decades following slavery's abolition, African Americans were still outsiders in a white man's world. As minority members of society, many found acceptance among other marginal cultures, including Native Americans. Dr. Jane Hartwell, professor of African Studies at the University of Alabama, first became interested in the relationships of African and Native Americans from stories she heard growing up on a reservation in South Dakota where her African great-grandfather had married into the tribe. As she explored her family history, she discovered other stories of Africans who were adopted by Native American tribes. These stories-of African-American acceptance by marginal cultures in an America of prejudice and bigotry-speak to the human spirit and have long deserved to be told.
Hear the stories of such fascinating people as Jonas Brown, who after fighting for the Union in the Civil War, went West to find a home after the nation he fought for would not accept him as anything more than a servant. Adopted as a member of the Lakota Sioux tribe, Joseph rose to become a tribe elder. Brown's experience is just one of several stories told in "African on the Rez" as Hartmann explores how many Africans allied themselves with Native Americans in their quest for survival and acceptance in an otherwise white man's world. Raising questions about race and what it means to be an American, "African on the Rez" recaptures a missing and integral piece of the fascinating puzzle that is American history.
The Hook here includes that this story hasn't been told before. It mentions one specific person's story. It is relevant to issues of race today and sheds new light upon them. The author is also clearly an authority with first-hand knowledge of the subject.
Be sure to write several versions of your summary and try different hooks. Look at similar books to yours and decide which summaries work. Look at books you own and try to recall what made you buy them-did the summary on the back cover help you make the decision?
In the end, selling books boils down to one thing: People won't bite (buy your book) unless there's a Hook to reel them in.
Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.
Friday, June 25, 2010
Guest post by Katherine Ploeger
One of the more useful writing methods for nonfiction writers is that of division. Unlike classification, which takes many individual items contained within a topic and puts them in groups or categories organized by a central principle (the topic of another article in this series), division simply breaks up a large topic into its subtopics, and later, if deemed necessary, divided into even smaller topics (sub-subtopics).
Division breaks up a topic into its smaller parts, keeping all the parts together that make up the whole. When you are writing a book about a large topic, you will use division to break the topic into smaller parts, each part contained within a chapter. Or if you are writing an article, you can divide the topic into sections, each identified with a heading, for ease of reading.
WHEN TO USE DIVISION
Anytime you have a large topic that you need to break into smaller parts to facilitate discussion, use division. If the topic is that large, you should take each smaller piece and discuss that individually so the reader can learn the details. Then you, and the readers, can put all the pieces together to gain a full understanding of the topic itself.
If you were to divide the writing process into several parts or stages, you might discuss "planning, drafting, and revising." You could explain each step of the process and present techniques to facilitate learning and implementing those steps or stages.
If you were to discuss the topic of clouds, you could divide the topic into the different types of clouds and how each looks and functions in the overall weather patterns of this planet.
QUESTIONS FOR DETERMINING ITS USE
1. Is your topic large enough to have several distinctive parts or subtopics?
2. Would dividing the topic into these subtopics help you explain your topic more easily and fully to your readers?
3. Can each of these subtopics be divided into even smaller parts, with their descriptions also helping your process of explanation?
4. Do you have smaller topics within the larger, main topic that need to be divided and explained?
5. If you are creating many parts (dozens of them), should you group the parts into intermediate categories to better show the reader the way the topic is described?
Division is one of those writing methods used by all nonfiction writers, but it can also be used to generate ideas by examining your topic to find topics with the potential for division to enhance your explanations about the topic.
Katherine Ploeger, MA, MFA, is a writer, editor, writing coach & consultant, and publisher. She writes practical, process-oriented publications for writers of all types. She publishes at Quilliful Publications ( http://quillifulpublications.com ). Her latest book is Write That Nonfiction Book: The Whole Process. She also writes workbooks for writers. Two recently published are Common Writing Errors Workbook and Time Travel Workbook for Fiction Writers. She also offers lots of free and helpful information at her blog, Katie's Writing Notes at http://katieploeger.com.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Guest post by Carol Buchanan
“We will sell no wine before its time,” proclaims a California vintner.
Writers might adopt that slogan as their mantra, too.
In one capacity or another, as a reviewer for an online journal, and a judge for the 2010 Spur Award competition sponsored by Western Writers of America, I’ve read a lot of novels. Besides that, I’m a voracious reader. The best of them have had absorbing stories, language that sings in the mind, and characters I could empathize with.
Most, though, read like drafts, as if the writer quit too soon. The pity is that they could have been good, if the authors had taken more time with them. They were released before their time.
This makes me think that of all the gifts writers may have, patience is foremost. It keeps us hanging in there to get it right. Anton Chekhov spent weeks or months on every short story before he let it escape. In E. L. Doctorow’s long opening sentence from Homer & Langley, I hear the sounds of ice skating – blade runners scraping against ice. Flannery O’Connor builds an almost unbearable suspense in her story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”
They are all classics. Maybe you and I are not gifted to that level, but neither would they be if they had not had the patience to get it right. Writing good fiction is not “quick and easy.”
Patience underlies everything else in a writer’s life.
§ A patient writer finds time to write. We all grumble about the lack of time, but we each have all the time there is, and life happens to everyone. I met Mona VanDuyn long before she was named America’s first woman poet laureate. She had just published A Time of Bees, which remains one of my favorite books of poetry. “When do you write?” I asked, after she described her life as the mother of young children, a college teacher, and co-editor of a literary magazine. She replied, “In the bathroom at three o’clock in the morning.”
§ A patient writer takes time to study the craft. No one is born knowing how to write a great novel. It’s like playing music. Even gifted writers have to learn the basics, the scales, the fingering. By reading successful novelists in our kind of fiction we learn how they tell their stories, shape their plots, and develop their characters. By studying books on writing fiction we get ideas on how it’s done.
§ A patient writer endures, sometimes through years of frustration. I wrote my first novel when I was 10. At 15 I burned it in a fit of embarrassment. In my 20’s and 30’s I wrote two more novels as well as many short stories, none of which was published. My work was rejected by the best, though I also received strong encouragement. Throughout my working life, the fiction ember glowed on, and when I retired it burst into flame. I determined to write about the vigilantes of Montana, a group of pioneers who defeated an organized gang of criminals during the Civil War.
§ A patient writer is objective about his or her own work. With the research nearly finished, I pulled out my old stories and novels to get back into the fiction mode.
They were not good. In fact, they stunk. I still remember my dismay. I set out to learn why they stunk and how to do better. I took every class I could and studied more than 20 books on writing fiction. I read unceasingly. Gradually my drafts improved, until I broke through to better writing.
God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana was published in 2008.
In 2009 it won the Spur award for Best First Novel from the Western Writers of America. This year, to see how it might fare outside its target market, I entered it in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. While it did not win, it placed among the top 1%, the top 50 out of 5,000.
Writing a novel is a very big task, and no one knows how long it will take until it’s done. This is a long road, but you can write a good novel.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Guest post by Mike Consol
So you put a new business plan together for 2010. Whether your enterprise is big or small - and regardless of industry - you almost certainly discussed Social Media.
It's the most talked about and misunderstood business activity around. It's also one of the few business initiatives that companies are still spending on - for good reason. It can lower the cost of doing business and improve outcomes. A recent Web 2.0 survey by the legendary management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found that two-thirds of respondents reported "measurable" benefits from the use of Web 2.0 technologies.
- Lower communication and travel costs
- More effective marketing
- Higher customer satisfaction
Those Web 2.0 technologies include blogging, video, wikis and RSS feeds, among others.
Wait a minute, you might be saying at this point, where are the references to Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and YouTube? And what the devil are wikis and RSS feeds?
Don't even worry about wikis and RSS feeds at this stage of the game. It's blogging that we will concentrate on in this article, because blogging is the centerpiece of sensible Social Media campaigns.
It's all fine and well to have business accounts with Twitter, Facebook LinkedIn and MySpace, but what information do you feed to them? What can you really do with a 140-character Twitter message if you don't have a link that takes readers somewhere meaningful to them and profitable for you?
Granted, other Social Media sites give you plenty of space to tout your business, but who are you going to bet on? The first big Social Media site was MySpace. It is now in fast decline, losing members at a torrid pace. Twitter, YouTube and Facebook were hardly a mention a few years ago and are now Social Media's 800-pound gorillas. But what about a few years from now? Will they suffer the same fate as MySpace, as social networkers migrate on to swankier new sites?
That's very likely, which is why you don't want to make those sites the flagship of your Social Media outreach. If you build a major reservoir of content about your company on Facebook, how do you transfer all that data over to the hot, new, emerging Social Media site? That's a problem. That's a hassle. And we all try to minimize business problems and hassles.
Do this instead: Create a company blog integrated into your website, and use that as the centerpiece of your Social Media campaign. It has lots of advantages. As Patrick Schwerdtfeger points out in his excellent book Webify Your Business, search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo favor blogs.
Here's why. Search engines hunt for three primary things when assessing the value of a website:
- The quantity of unique, relevant content
- The newness or freshness of that content
- The link structure surrounding the website
Blogs cater to all three of these metrics. Bottom line: As you consistently add relevant content to your blog and, hence, your website, it will climb up the search-engine rankings. That means more people searching for information about your products, services or industry will find your website, blog and company.
Now that you're creating blog content, use the dozens of Social Media sites that exist to blast that content out to the world. Yes, that's right, I said dozens. Most people are familiar with the big five sites but have never heard of Social Media sites such as Yammer, Vox, Shout'em, LiveJournal, Jaiku, Plurk, Bebo and many others.
To give you some idea, I send my blog posts to more than 30 Social Media sites.
Right about now you're probably freaking at the thought of managing a constellation of Social Media sites. Set down the valium. It's not as difficult as it sounds. Registering for all these sites can eat up an entire day. But you can population those sites in one fell swoop by using a site like Ping.fm. Ping allows you to post and send a message one time through its interface - then Ping automatically posts your message on the dozens of Social Media sites where you've opened accounts.
And, yes, all of these sites are free.
So, for example, if you own a jewelry store you might write a blog article that explains how lay people can tell the difference between a diamond and a cubic zirconia. Because sites like Twitter and Shout'em restrict messages to 140 characters, you might compose a Social Media message that says: "A diamond is a woman's best friend and a CZ her worst enemy. Here's how to tell the difference http://tinyurl.com/yk4bv2t."
Peak the reader's interest with an enticing teaser, then give them the link to your blog article to learn what you have to teach. Your blog's URL is likely to eat up many of those precious 140 characters, so use TinyURL or Bit.ly and other similar sites to shrink it down to size. Ping automatically shortens your URL to economize on space.
Although using Ping or similar web services solves the issue of having to deal with too many Social Media sites on a one-by-one basis, the bigger issue is blogging. Many businesspeople find themselves at a loss for subject matter. If you run a frozen yogurt shop then, yeah, you're probably not going to find enough topics to write a year's worth of blog posts, let alone keep the blog running strong for the next five or 10 years.
Lesson one, blogging and Social Media are not for every business. If you cannot create oodles of content about your business, industry and related matters you won't be able to sustain let alone interest people in your blog.
Lesson two, you probably have more to write about than you think. Make your blog personal. Write about yourself. Write about your customers. Write about your employees. Remember, a blog posting can run from just a few paragraphs to thousands of words. Just make sure it's interesting, educational or engaging so readers subscribe and stick with your blog.
Lesson three, blogging and Social Media are long-term commitments. Don't even expect to start seeing results for at least six months, though a year is more realistic. Over the course of years the blog really starts to do some heavy lifting for your business because the content has been piling up and the search engines are directing people to your site with increased frequency. Then again, if you don't have the stamina or discipline to write two or three blog posts a week for the rest of your business career you better have the budget to pay someone to do the work for you.
No, it doesn't take a full-time person to blog and manage your Social Media sites. Yes, you could easily employ two full-time people if you worked all the available internet channels and best practices. You don't have to do it all to get results. Just do it and do it consistently.
There are a million things to know about blogging and its intersection with the Social Media world. That goes way beyond the scope of this article, which is why I recommend you get a copy of the aforementioned book Webify Your Business and follow blogging hotshots like Denise Wakeman, who has a free five-part video course on business blogging, and Darren Rowse of ProBlogger, whose articles include one titled Blogging Tips for Beginners. To learn lots about Social Media visit Mashable often and check out its guides to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.
You'll be surprised how quickly expertise is assimilated and you're blogging and working the Social Media channels.
As Denise Wakeman is fond of saying, Blog on!
Mike Consol is president of MikeConsol.com, which provides business writing seminars, Web 2.0 strategies and media training. Consol spent 17 years with American City Business Journals, the nation's largest publisher of metropolitan business journals with 40 weekly newspapers across the United States.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Guest post by Irene Watson
Anyone who has ever wanted to write or tried writing has probably heard the advice, "Show Don't Tell." It's advice that bears repeating no matter how long we are writers. But what exactly does it mean?
When we tell people something, we usually summarize. For example, we might say, "I bought a new bed today." When we show, we go into detail. In this case, we would explain how we decided we needed a new bed because the old one's mattress was sagging. We describe how we went to four stores to compare prices and experimented by lying on twenty-seven different mattresses. We list the price ranges, recall the salesmen who helped us, and explain why we chose the bed we did. Then we relate what happened when the new bed was delivered. We convey our excitement over a new bed, and we conclude with the end result-the good night's sleep we experienced, or perhaps, we did not sleep so well and we tell why. Buying a new bed does not sound exciting, but it can become a humorous and even adventurous story if we do a good job of showing instead of telling.
Nor does it matter whether we are writing fiction or non-fiction in telling the story. In both cases, we need to show rather than just tell to create an effective story. Non-fiction requires great storytelling just as much as fiction because stories are what readers will relate to so they are able to apply your information to their lives.
Below I'll give two examples, a non-fiction and a fiction one, of how to show, not just tell. My examples will show how "showing" makes writing more effective.
Non-Fiction Show Don't Tell
A lot of non-fiction is written with a how-to or self-help style. Other forms of non-fiction such as history or biography obviously require storytelling, but many types of non-fiction may not come to mind immediately as in need of storytelling. Think about it though-isn't the minister's sermon more memorable when a story is told, as is the college graduation speech, and when you ask people for advice, don't you often want them to tell you a story of what they have done themselves-whether it's your investment banker or judo coach. We all love a good story, so whenever it is applicable, tell one.
In this example, we'll assume you're writing a self-help book, the modern day version of "How to Win Friends and Influence People." One of your points is the importance of making people think you are interested in them by asking questions and listening to them. You can simply tell the reader:
When you meet people, remember that they love to talk about themselves. You will win friends if you convince them you are interested in hearing what they have to say, and you can make them think you are interested in them by asking them questions about themselves.
That is good advice, and you, as the author, might even go on to give the reader a list of questions to ask people that will make them like you and remember you. But giving advice and lists is not going to make the reader remember your advice as well as your telling a simple story, and especially, a story that proves your advice works. Furthermore, we can give people all the advice we want, but they aren't going to listen to you unless they have reason to believe you know what you are talking about. Even if you tell readers you are a highly successful businessperson who has done deals with billionaires and you name those billionaires, readers will not be convinced unless you show them how you went about it.
How would you show in this example? After you state your advice and give your list of possible questions to ask people, tell the reader a story from your own life about how listening to someone and asking him or her questions made a difference for you. Your story might read something like this:
I spotted billionaire Joe Schmo at the networking event, and casting nervousness to the wind, I walked over to him. A lot of people would have loved to talk to him but wouldn't have known what to say. Since I knew he would be there, I went prepared with questions to ask him based on doing a little research online about him and his interests, and trying to find out what I was similarly interested in that could lead to a rapport. The result-after I introduced myself, I said, "Joe, I've always been a huge admirer of how you brokered that deal with XYZ Corporation to install your widgets in all their stores, but there's one thing I've always wondered. I spend a lot of time working, but it takes time away from one of my passions, so what I want to know is how you find time to concentrate on your golf game and score so well when you're so busy scoring in the business world?"
Joe laughed, not expecting my question to end the way it did, and I could see he was relieved to talk about golf rather than work. He replied....
From here you could relay Joe's advice to the reader-maybe Joe even told you a story, which is a real bonus since the reader will then get two helpful advice stories. Beyond that, you can go on to show how that first meeting with Joe resulted in his inviting you to play golf with him, which led to a friendship, and later, some great business deals. Rather than just telling your readers about the importance of listening to people, suddenly you have a prime example of how listening to someone talk about something as seemingly innocuous as his golf game can lead to million dollar deals and a win-win situation for everyone.
Fiction Show Don't Tell
In fiction writing, authors usually know they need to "show don't tell" but that can be misconstrued into providing detailed description. Elmore Leonard advises writers to remember to leave out the boring parts, and often, the boring part is the description. Does it really matter to the story that the car is a red 2007 Honda Civic with 67,000 miles on it? Probably not.
What does matter is the characters, including their actions and their motivations behind those actions. Too often, new fiction writers try to sum up their characters with a few lines of description to introduce them, only to miss opportunities of showing not telling to make the characters endearing to the reader.
Here's an example of showing not telling that might be taken from the middle of a novel:
A few years passed away until Matthew was twenty-seven and Rebecca twenty-five. Since the birth of their first born, Rachel, two impish little boys had been added to the family who kept Rebecca busy. Then Matthew was laid off from working at the mine and the family had a hard time making ends meet.
This passage simply informs us that time has passed and sets us up for the family to have future troubles, but it could actually be an effective scene that conveys the characters' emotions. For example:
When she heard the screen door slam shut, Rebecca looked up from the birthday cake she was frosting to see who was home from school. When she saw Rachel trot into the kitchen but the twins not following her, she asked, "Where are your brothers?"
"They stopped because there's a big crowd down at the mining office. Something's going on there."
"Oh dear, not a cave-in I hope," said Rebecca, immediately feeling the need to sit down. Hardly a day went by that she did not worry about Matthew working there.
"No, Mrs. McCarty says she thinks there's going to be a lay-off."
"Oh, what a day for a layoff," said Rebecca, suddenly remembering the money she had just spent for the twins' birthday presents. She knew she shouldn't have spent that much money, but they were six now and quickly growing out of their pants, so she'd had to buy them new ones, and they were such good boys that she couldn't resist buying them a bicycle-she hoped there wouldn't be too much fighting over having to share it. Maybe next year they could afford another-at least she had hoped so, but there wouldn't be a second bicycle if Matthew were laid off-there wouldn't be much of anything, she feared.
"Well, we'll wait until your father gets home to see what he says," Rebecca said, not wanting to worry her daughter unnecessarily. "Go change your clothes and get your chores and homework done before supper."
This passage makes clear that Matthew and Rebecca have more children. It expresses Rebecca's love and fears for her family, and it tells us something about the twin boys through Rebecca's thoughts rather than a straightforward factual description that does not make the reader feel connected to the characters.
Showing not telling is a fundamental aspect of good writing, whether it's fiction or non-fiction. Telling the story is really about "showing" and whenever it's possible, writers should tell stories to win over their readers.
In closing, here are a couple of non-fiction and fiction sentences. Read each one and think about how you can change it from telling to showing:
King Henry VIII ordered the monastery to be torn down.
Americans attend church less regularly today than they did fifty years ago.
When installing your new faucet, make sure you first turn off the water.
John and Mary were engaged on Thursday.
Hilda was going to go to school at Harvard but then changed her mind and went to Princeton.
Harry loved his guitar so much that his parents would not have been surprised if he slept with it.
Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Writing a nonfiction book outline can take months. A new book is rattling around in my head. Before I started it, I decided to research outlining and came across something called mind-mapping. How does it work? Would it work for me?
Judy Collins discusses the outline approach in a Hub Pages website article, "Book Chapters -- Organize and Outline with Mind-Mapping." She defines the process as a "color-coded note taking technique that offers the author a flexible approach." As the name implies, it is a visual plan, with the book title in the middle of the page.
Branches, written in different colors, come out from the title. They include an introduction that has a "hook opener," answering the reader's questions, chapter points, sub-points, and a sample writing format. Fiction and nonfiction books have a slightly different map.
Collins thinks mind-mapping has six benefits. First, it is flexible and accommodates to errors. The approach builds on the mind's ability to remember pictures. Creating a map is faster than writing a detailed outline. The map has key words and phrases, which are also easier to remember. The author sees a big picture at a glance. Organizing chapters is easier. Finally, sales increase because potential buyers can understand the book instantly.
Alan Bohart details the outlining approach in his Search Warp website article, "Writing a Book Outline." The outline is one of the most overlooked writing steps, Bohart says, because "nobody likes to do the prep work and everybody loves to write." If an author has not done the prep work his or her book could fail. While Bohart admits the old-fashioned outline is easy to understand, he thinks the visual approach is better.
Are you thinking about writing a book? According to Bohart, you need to take the time to write a good outline and the result will be work of "higher quality."
Susan C. Daffron discusses the pluses of mind-mapping in her Internet article, "How to Create an Outline for Your Non-Fiction Book.'' An author's outline is a road map of the book, she says, and "the longer a document is, the more important it is to have an outline." Mind-mapping begins brainstorming. General areas are identified first and then grouped into sections. Then narrower topics are added under each section. This approach makes writing a book more manageable, according to Daffron.
I identified general topics, but realized I needed to do more research before I could slot in sub-topics. So my map is on hold. Still, I plan to use this approach and you may decide to use it too. The approach gives us a glimpse of our minds at work and that is intriguing.
Copyright 2010 by Harriet Hodgson http://www.harriethodgson.com
Harriet Hodgson has been an independent journalist for 30+ years. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of Health Care Journalists, and Association for Death Education and Counseling. Her 24th book, "Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief," written with Lois Krahn, MD is available from Amazon.
Centering Corporation has published her 26th book, "Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief" to a New Life" and a companion journal with 100 writing jump-starts. Hodgson is a monthly columnist for the new "Caregiving in America" magazine, which resumes publication in August. She is also a contributing writer for the Open to Hope Foundation website. Please visit Harriet's website and learn more about this busy author and grandmother.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Guest post by L. Diane Wolfe
Call me weird, but I love this phase! I enjoy revising my work, improving the writing and tightening the scenes and dialogue.
Editing comes with an added bonus - it can re-inspire! If we've grown weary or find we are stuck, rereading can ignite our passion once again.
Every time we pass through our manuscript, we'll discover something that requires improving, changing, or fixing. Allowing our work to sit for a week or two helps us attack it fresh as well. We don't want to start running circles around our work, but we can't skimp on this process, either.
What do we need to look for when editing?
• Grammar - Is grammar usage correct? Is the punctuation in the right place and capitalization proper?
• Overused terms - Are there words or phrases we use too often? Do we repeat words in a paragraph? Do we find clichés? What can we fix by consulting a Thesaurus?
• Excessive description - Are we following the adage "show don't tell?" Are there scenes best left to the reader's imagination? Do we describe scenes or people that have no relevance to the story? Do we provide details a character wouldn't notice depending on gender?
• Continuity - Do colors, names, and places vary from one scene to another? Are there glitches in the timeline?
• Staying in character - Is behavior consistent? Is dialogue consistent? Are there changes in personality for no apparent reason? Do characters respond in a manner that's gender appropriate?
• Point of view - Is our POV consistent? Do we suddenly take on the roll of narrator? Do we head hop too often or too fast? Do we reveal things outside of a character's POV?
• Story flow and pacing - Do scenes feel rushed or overlong? Does the story move quickly in the beginning and then drag in the middle? Does anything feel forced or contrived?
What can we do to improve our editing technique?
• Read large chunks at a time. Sometimes it's difficult to gauge flow when we only read a page or two. Uneven lulls in the story become more apparent when we follow a scene from beginning to end. Continuity mistakes are easier to spot as well.
• Read aloud. Uneven dialogue is easier to spot when we hear the words spoken. We catch stilted, unnatural exchanges. Reading with a partner of the opposite sex exposes improper gender words and phrases. Flow of story and narration also benefit when we read aloud.
• Employ a test reader. We are close to our material and sometimes miss the obvious. A neutral test reader often spots flaws and mistakes we may have missed. We know the story by heart, but a test reader can't read between the lines and will question items and passages that don't make sense.
We are not the ultimate editor of our work. A professional is still required before submitting or self-publishing. However, we can improve our story and present our best effort if we learn to master the basics of editing. And growing as a writer is what it's all about!
- Author & Speaker, L. Diane Wolfe, http://www.spunkonastick.net
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Guest post by Justin P Lambert
I'm always a little amazed at the varied views of ghostwriting: what it is, what it costs, what it can mean to you, your personal success, your career or your business. If you look around online or root through your local library, you'll find an incredible array of opinions about this subject, and you'll be lucky to find two that agree. So, since I try never to shy away from a good hearty battle of wits, I'm throwing my hat in the ring too! Here are, in my opinion, the five things you absolutely NEED to know about ghostwriting:
What it is: Ghostwriting is anything written on your behalf, that carries your name as the author and/or presents you as the source. That's the simple bottom line. There's nothing complicated about it. Based on that definition, it can take just about any form: books, magazine articles, e-zine articles, blog entries, speeches... the possibilities are essentially endless.
What it is not: For one thing, ghostwriting is not limited to the flashy make-the-celebrity-look-like-a-writer "autobiographies" that we've all seen flying off the shelves. (Not that I would ever turn down that kind of action, mind you. That's really good money.) As noted above, it goes far beyond that. And true ghostwriting would never include "as told to" or "with" and the name of the ghostwriter on the cover or byline of the finished product. That's called co-writing. A ghostwriter remains anonymous, and for good reason, as we'll see.
How it works: Generally, a ghostwriter will begin by offering a free or low-cost consultation, which allows the ghostwriter and the potential client to discuss the client's needs in depth. A rough timeline and outline may be drafted during this meeting to allow both to get an idea of the scope of the project, and to facilitate the ghostwriter's fee calculations. Once both agree they're a fit for the project and a fee is agreed upon, one or more further interviews are usually arranged based on the amount of client input needed. Drafts are written and submitted to the client according to the pre-planned schedule and feedback is provided and acted upon until the client is satisfied with a final product. A good ghostwriter will make this entire process easy and painless, handling it like the professional service it is.
What it costs: Both extremes are scary. If you look around online, you'll find writers on some freelancing sites willing to write a book for you for $1 a page or less. In all honesty, that's pretty scary. Just using some round numbers, let's agree an average soft-cover book has about 250 words per page and has about 250 pages. That's 62,500 words. Considering that the average-to-good typist can type around 50 words-per-minute, that comes out to just under 21 hours of straight typing. Roughly $12 per hour. Which isn't horrible for typing. But, if you want your writer to actually think about what's being written, to talk to you a little bit to get your thoughts on your book, to spend some time outlining, drafting, proofreading, editing and rewriting what he's writing, well, it's going to take a little more time. And how comfortable are you working with someone who values their time at $2 an hour? Of course, the opposite extreme is difficult to accept also. While I know enough about the value of a well-ghostwritten book, $75,000 would be tough for me to swallow. But some are charging that much and more. Let's just leave it that a high-quality ghostwriter is going to be figuring their fee by valuing their time at anywhere between $60 to $120 per hour, and it's going to take some time to really do the job right. But a high-quality ghostwriter is also going to know how to perfectly translate your thoughts to the printed page as efficiently as possible.
What it's worth: A well-ghostwritten article or book can, quite literally, make you an expert in your field of choice! How valuable is that? Only you and your imagination can limit it. Just imagine being "the guy who wrote the book on..." whatever. Or being able to put "Published Author" on your resume. Can you reasonably expect increased income? Job security? A promotion? How about your self-esteem? Your confidence level? Your ego? Don't downplay how valuable THAT can be!
Justin P Lambert is a freelance copywriter, ghostwriter and speechwriter who offers his thoughts on all-of-the-above and more with each daily post on his blog: http://justinplambert.wordpress.com. Come join the fun!
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Guest post by Katherine Ploeger
One of the roles of a writer in this world is to observe and experience life, find relevant points of interest, and write about them to inform or persuade (and entertain) readers about the topic. With viewing life's joys and challenges, in experiencing them personally, observing them in others around them, and / or researching them, writers put information together in such a way as to bring clarity, instruction, and / or evidence to the reader's attention. With this activity, writers share their expertise with their readers to help make life better and more interesting.
Nonfiction writers observe and experience problems and challenges, learn about the issues, develop solutions, and relay this information to their readers. Writers have a unique ability to identify, gather, organize, and relate all of this information so the readers can identify their own problems as one written about, implement the solutions suggested, and gain a life easier or better, at least less challenging.
Topics available for discussion (and expertise) are infinite. You can be an expert on any topic, literally. You may be an expert in your business or profession, fueled by education and experience. You may be an expert in an activity considered by many as a hobby, fueled by your own passion for the activity or topic. For example, readers might be looking for information about training a dog, keeping weeds down in a garden, weaving baskets from straw, or learning about the best hiking trails. The possibilities are limitless.
Whatever the topic is, whatever your expertise is, you know a lot about the topic because of your own interest or passion. You have been a beginner with the topic with all the questions and misconceptions or assumptions about it. You have learned about the topic through research or experience, simply "getting your feet wet." You have experienced the problems associated with the topic, made all the mistakes, which you have learned from. And you have come up with solutions to the problems and mistakes to share with others.
Your expertise in that topic allows you to write about it, so readers can benefit from your insights.
So you decide to write an article, or start a blog, or write a short e-book or a full-length book about the topic. You will relate all of your wisdom, so the readers can benefit from your experience, knowledge, and understanding of the problem and its solutions. You will write from your vantage point as an expert.
Fiction writers, too, use their expertise in their writing. However, instead of addressing the problem straight on, as a nonfiction writer would, they sneak their expertise into the story by having the characters suffer the problem and stumble on or learn about the solution that works best. They have the character make the mistakes real life people make and then learn ways to overcome those mistakes to make life better in the story.
Fiction is fun for readers and viewers because they can see how another person, the character, solves this common (or uncommon but still interesting) problem. How does the character deal with the challenge when first confronted with it? What fears are brought up? How does the character finally solve the problem or deal with the challenge? And how can the viewer or reader learn from the character's missteps or mistakes and eventual success to apply lessons learned in their own, real lives?
The fiction writer has the added challenge of inserting this expert wisdom and knowledge into the story (whatever form that may take) in such as way as to make the knowledge part of the story and not a 2x4 beating the reader over the head with the information.
Writers become experts in their topic or topics through research, education, experience, and continuing passion for the topic. And it is their job to share that expertise with the readers.
Katherine Ploeger, MA, MFA, is a writer, editor, writing coach & consultant, and publisher. She writes practical, process-oriented publications for writers of all types. She publishes at Quilliful Publications ( http://quillifulpublications.com). Her latest book is Write That Nonfiction Book: The Whole Process. She also writes workbooks for writers. Two recently published are Common Writing Errors Workbook and Time Travel Workbook for Fiction Writers. She also offers lots of free and helpful information at her blog, Katie's Writing Notes at http://katieploeger.com.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Guest post by Mike Consol
Much is made of the ABCs of writing - accuracy, brevity, clarity - but there is a fourth more, advanced component to good writing. That's "euphony," a word many people do not know. It's time to change that. Euphony means agreeable sound, especially in the phonetic quality of words. Lyrical writing is euphony. To master the ABCs of writing will certainly make you a strong and effective writer. But you can be accurate, brief and clear and pretty dull if your writing is devoid of euphony. So it's something we need to pay attention to.
Creating a pleasing or musical sound between words sometimes requires adding a little extra verbiage, sometimes less verbiage. Either way the payoff is well worth it. More often it's a matter of choosing the right words and arranging them in a lyrical order. Word choice is always critical; so it the arrangement or order of those words. Take the example of music stars Darryl Hall and John Oates. When they explored on the music scene fans quickly shortened their name to simply Hall and Oates. It was a choice that demonstrated their sense of euphony. Compare that shorthand name to the alternative: Oates and Hall. It just doesn't flow. It lacks melody. It just doesn't sound right.
Similarly, the big public relations firm Hill & Knowlton would have called its sonic sensibilities into question if the partners had instead named the firm Knowlton & Hill. The latter isn't awful, just less melodious. Nuance is critical to good writing.
Let consider some other examples of word pairings.
>> Abercrombie & Fitch vs. Fitch & Abercrombie
>> Baskin-Robbins vs. Robbins-Baskin
>> Black & Decker vs. Decker & Black
>> Peter, Paul and Mary vs. Mary, Paul and Peter
>> Romeo and Juliet vs. Juliet and Romeo
>> Thelma and Louise vs. Louise and Thelma
>> Peaches and cream vs. cream and peaches
In each case the former is a combination that offers more word affinity than the latter. Those are just brief word combinations. Let's consider some full-length sentences. In his bestselling novel Bonfire of the Vanities author Tom Wolfe wrote: "The clerk was a bull-necked Italian named Charles Bruzzelli."
A lesser writer might have promulgated the same thought but settled for this less lyrical arrangement. Perhaps something like this: "The clerk was an Italian named Charles Bruzzelli and he was bull-necked."
Comedic Florida novelist Carl Hiaasen wrote: "As we glided through the woods to the music of birds and the splish-splash of our paddles stitching the black water, I tried to summon an image of Chapman."
An editor with a tin ear might have drafted the thought a little differently, maybe like so: "As we glided through the woods I tried to summon an image of Chapman to the music of birds and the splish-splash of our paddles stitching the black water."
British author Douglas Adams, of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fame, gave us this gem: "The turmoil of the day stood still for a moment and kept a respectful distance."
A sloppy spell of thinking from Adams might have instead produced this: "Keeping a respectful distance, the turmoil of the day stood still for a moment."
We can all be pleased that the legendary John Updike wrote: "He tries shaving without looking at his face, which is never the face he wanted. Too much nose, not enough chin," rather than, "He had too much nose and not enough chin, which wasn't the face he wanted. So have tried shaving without looking at his face."
Ditto for this Updike sentence: "It is important to strike within the first few moments of awakening, before the dream's delicate structure is crushed under humdrum reality's weight," which could have alternatively been drafted as, "Before the dream's delicate structure is crushed under humdrum reality's weight, it is important to strike within the first few moments of awakening."
The quality of the authors' thinking in every case makes even the lesser rewrites far more interesting than most English sentences. Still, the importance of nuance and arrangement in achieving the highest level of euphony is apparent.
None of this is meant to diminish the importance of the ABCs of writing. Accuracy, brevity and clarity are prerequisites to achieving euphony. You would be hard pressed to make flabby, muddled and inaccurate writing sound pleasing to the ear.
Simply put, euphony is required to take one from a good to great writer.
Mike Consol is president of http://www.MikeConsol.com. He provides corporate training seminars for communication skills, business writing, PowerPoint presentation skills and media training (both traditional media and social media). Consol spent 17 years with American City Business Journals, the nation's largest publisher of metropolitan business journals with 40 weekly newspapers across the United States. While at ACBJ, Consol held a variety of key posts.
Friday, June 11, 2010
Guest post by Irene Watson
Too many times I have heard authors tell me "I hate to read but I love to write." What is wrong with that statement? First of all, it is difficult to know if your writing is successful if you have nothing to measure it against. Reading other authors-not just current and popular ones, or writing that is quickly written for blogs or journal articles, but truly great writers (classics and modern recognized books)-can help a writer to learn more about writing than anything else.
It's a common misconception that to be a writer, you need to take creative writing classes. While writing classes have their value, first, I want to point out that Charles Dickens (or Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, etc.) never took a creative writing class. Secondly, while there are many fine writing instructors out there, most writing classes are organized as writing workshops where students trade and critique each other's writing. While this method is somewhat effective, I firmly believe you are less likely to learn from a student in the same class, who is equally trying to learn how to write, as you will learn effectively from someone who already writes well.
Especially among self-published authors, I see many badly written books that make it clear their authors have read very few similar books in the same genre they are writing. If you are going to write a children's book, you need to know something about children's books. The best way to acquire that knowledge is to read about a hundred children's books in the same category you are writing.
For example, if you are going to write a children's fantasy book, you will probably want to read "The Wizard of Oz," "Alice in Wonderland," "The Chronicles of Narnia"-all classics, as well as popular children's books today, including the "Harry Potter" series and many others. That way you can determine what about these books is magical and makes them appealing. The same is true whether you're writing self-help, romance, mystery, or even serious non-fiction books such as history or science. No matter how good your information or plot is, the presentation is what will make it effective and readable. Good writing is just as important in non-fiction as fiction, just like the presentation makes the difference between a good and a bad documentary.
When I was in elementary school and first being taught to read and write, the teacher often had the students copy passages out of books or short paragraphs or stories she would write on the board. Part of the reason for this practice was to help us to work on our penmanship, but it also served to teach us style and sentence structure on a somewhat subconscious level.
Reading, and better yet, copying passages from great authors is a fundamental and extraordinarily helpful way to learn style. As an example of good style, I'll use a couple of passages from one of Charles Dickens' best novels, "Bleak House." Depending on what kind of writing you want to do, however, will depend which authors' style you may want to model. If you want to write science fiction, you might choose to copy passages from Michael Crichton or Ray Bradbury, or if writing horror, from Bram Stoker or Stephen King. It doesn't matter if everyone thinks these authors are great or not. If they are books you find appealing and that have a following, then they are worth studying to determine what makes them effective. That said, take what is best or usable from other authors' styles, but create your own style as well.
A wonderful passage from "Bleak House" is the second paragraph of the first chapter:
Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.
I won't go into detail here, but I doubt many people will think this descriptive passage ineffective. Dickens' use of repetition provides a true description of fog that remains with the reader and also works as a metaphor for the foggy nature of the novel's story where many secrets are hidden in a "foggy" past, and the brains of many of the characters, as well as the workings of social institutions, are "foggy."
Another fabulous passage from Dickens that teaches writers much about style is toward the end of "Bleak House" when the main character Esther agrees to marry Mr. Jarndyce.
I put my two arms around his neck and kissed him; and he said was this the mistress of Bleak House; and I said yes; and it made no difference presently, and we all went out together, and I said nothing to my precious pet [Ada] about it.
In this passage, Dickens uses what has become known as the "And-And-And" device where he links the sentences together with "and" to build emotion in the scene. This technique should be used sparingly, but at a climactic scene where emotion needs to be conveyed, it can be incredibly powerful.
"Bleak House" is just one of hundreds of novels that can teach a writer, through reading and studying an author's style, how to write effective prose. Anyone interested in Dickens' style specifically would do well to find a copy of "Bleak House" that includes Vladimir Nabokov's marvelous introduction based on his Cornell lectures in which he discusses Dickens style.
I chose the "And-And-And" device as an example precisely because it shows an effective use of the word "and." All too often, I read authors who do not know when to use and when not to use "and." That may sound ridiculous, but here are a few examples.
I went to the door to open it, and the bellboy entered the room.
Mary had to go to a funeral, and she bought a new dress to wear.
He remembers she is looking at him, and he keeps a straight face.
The use of "and" is appropriate when two things are equal, such as "I like to eat at Joe's Restaurant, and I like to eat at Marie's Diner," although in this case, if Joe's Restaurant were fancy and Marie's Diner were not, it might be more effective to say, "I like to eat at Joe's Restaurant, but I also like to eat at Marie's Diner." In the sentences above, more effective phrasing would read this way:
1. When I went to the door to open it, the bellboy entered the room.
2. Mary had to go to a funeral, so she bought a new dress to wear.
Because Mary had to go to a funeral, she bought a new dress to wear.
3. He remembers she is looking at him, so he keeps a straight face.
When he remembers she is looking at him, he keeps a straight face.
Virginia Woolf, in her famous essay, "A Room of One's Own" describes the purpose of sentences as: "a book is not made of sentences laid end to end, but of sentences built, if an image helps, into arcades or domes." In the examples above, the misuse of "and" is equivalent to laying phrases or sentences next to each other, of showing the two phrases of the sentence are equal. Instead, using "so," "because," or "when" builds those domes Woolf talks about by showing how one sentence leads to another, by showing cause and effect, and by ultimately, moving the story or sentence and its meaning along.
I could say a great deal more about the value of reading the very best authors for style, plot, character development, and organization. I recommend reading constantly. Try to read a book a week. Try to read every book you can get your hands on that is similar to the book you are writing, and read a lot of books in different areas so you see diversity of style. If you find yourself reading bad books, ask yourself why they are bad and compare them to good books. Analyze what is good and what is bad. Learn from both good and bad writers on your way to becoming the best writer possible.
Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Guest post by Linda Aragoni
For their size, apostrophes cause writers an extraordinary amount of grief. Fortunately, understanding the two primary functions of apostrophes will prevent most of that grief.
The first main use of the apostrophe is to create possessive nouns. When we say an apostrophe creates a possessive noun, we mean the apostrophe shows that whatever follows the word containing the apostrophe is possessed by, or belongs to, the person, place, or thing named by the word containing the apostrophe. Both the possessor and the thing possessed are nouns. The cat's paw is the paw that belongs to the cat. The boys' coats are the coats belonging to the boys.
The second main use of apostrophes is to replace letters in contractions. Take, for example, the sentence, "I have not had lunch yet." In informal writing, you might write "I haven't had lunch yet," squeezing out the space between have and not and replacing the O with an apostrophe. Letters squeezed out of contractions are usually vowels.
If you know just this much, you can test whether a particular apostrophe is used correctly.
Look at this sentence: the limit is three DVD's per family. Ignore everything before the word containing the apostrophe. Then put the words belonging to after the word containing the apostrophe. "The limit is three DVDs belonging to per family" makes no sense, so the apostrophe cannot be correctly used to indicate a possessive noun.
Now see whether the apostrophe is correctly used to replace letters. Neither "three DVD is per family" nor "three DVD as per family" makes sense.
Those two tests tell us the apostrophe in the example does not belong there. Correctly written, the sentence reads, "The limit is three DVDs per family."
Try the same two tests with this sentence: the dog returned to it's owner. The word containing the apostrophe is not a noun but a pronoun. That means the apostrophe cannot be used here to create a possessive noun.
Now check whether the apostrophe is being correctly used to create a contraction. Neither "the dog returned to it is owner," nor "the dog returned to it as owner" makes sense.
You can safely (and correctly) conclude that "the dog returned to its owner" does not require any apostrophe.
In nearly every case, understanding these two uses of apostrophes will allow you to determine whether you have used the problematic little mark correctly in your writing.
While teaching first-year college students, writer-editor Linda Aragoni taught students study skills for learning enough grammar to correct their own papers. Her e-book Grammar Abusers Anonymous teaches mature high school and adult students how to master grammar in their writing.
Copyright 2010, Linda G. Aragoni.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Guest post by Harriet Hodgson
I did not choose my current niche -- grief resources -- my niche chose me. Four of my loved ones, including my elder daughter and the mother of my twin grandchildren, died in 2007. After these loved ones died in succession I did extensive research on multiple losses and grief. So writing about multiple losses, grief reconciliation, coping, and recovery is my niche. It is a tough one. Books, booklets, videos, CDs and other products in this niche well only when consumers need them. Grief counselors and psychologists also buy these resources. Some publishers in my niche have gone out of business. Others are just trying to move existing inventory. Could niche marketing boost sales?
Eric K. Clemons, Paul f. Nunes and Matt Reilly explain the new niche marketing in their May 24, 2010 "Wall Street Journal" article, "Six Strategies for Successful Niche Marketing." They think niche marketing is more than avoiding crowded and cluttered mass markets. Today, it is looking for "unique market sweet spots, those areas that resonate so strongly with target consumers that they are willing to pay a premium price.
The authors use jeans, nutrition bars, and premium ice cream as examples. Though the "sweet spot" approach may be applied to book marketing, it needs to be used a bit differently. Consumers are still buying books, but they are looking for bargains. Though you can still write in your niche, you may have to write shorter books or even booklets.
If you do not have a niche you may wish to establish one and it begins with answering these questions:
* What kind of writing do you enjoy most?
* What kind of writing do you do most?
* Is your style selling?
* Are you qualified to write on this topic?
* Do thousands of listings pop up when you search the Internet for your name?
* Have you developed talks to promote sales?
* Are you relaxed on radio, blog radio, and television?
Sherice Jacob, author of "Get Niche Quick!" thinks niche marketing comes down to what drives you to write. "What do you feel you could truly make a difference with, just by words alone,?" she asks. Once you have come up with your niche you need to determine if it is saturated. Other others may have written about this topic, yet you may have something new to bring to it.
"By putting a fresh new perspective to it can attract a whole new audience," Jacob observes.
Reviewing your niche every so often is a good idea. Because my niche is challenging and rewarding, I have decided to stay in my established niche. You may decide to stay in your niche or move on to another. Do not feel guilty about either decision. A new niche is an exciting place and an old niche is a comfortable one. Your niche, whatever it may be, should allow you to explore, stretch, and grow. After all, that is what writing is all about.
Copyright 2010 by Harriet Hodgson
Harriet Hodgson has been an independent journalist for decades. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of Health Care Journalists, and Association for Death Education and Counseling. Her 24th book, "Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief," written with Lois Krahn, MD is available from Amazon.
Centering Corporation has published her 26th book, "Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life" and a companion journal with 100 writing jump-starts. Hodgson is a monthly columnist for the new "Caregiving in America" magazine, which resumes publication in August. She is also a contributing writer for the Open to Hope Foundation website. Please visit her website and learn more about this busy author and grandmother.
Friday, June 4, 2010
Guest post by L R Saul
Have you ever read a book where the characters were so real, you found yourself thinking about them long after the book was over? What is it that made them so memorable? Why do some characters stick in our brains for years, becoming our close friends, when others barely come to life even as we read?
Creating unforgettable characters is the first and most important step to creating an unforgettable book. And the good news is, achieving a memorable character is actually much easier and much less work than you think.
Here are three steps that will never fail you:
Step One: Before you write a single page of your novel, sit down and fill out questionnaires about your characters that tell you everything about them. Start with the basics, from height, to eye colour, hairstyle, skin type, even clothing. Then move on to their personality. What is their favourite colour? What is their favourite food? Do they have a nervous habit? What do they tend to do when angry: simmer, explode, sulk, stalk off? What is their history? What were their parents like? Even write down their phobias and hang-ups.
You're not going to use all of this information. There simply isn't the space in novels to add in everything, and too much information about your characters has the same effect as not enough. But if you do these questionnaires, you will know so much about your characters, that you will be able to see them in any situation and keep them consistent. Maybe you have a character who hates his vegetables. Well, then he is going to be the character seen picking out the carrots from his stew while everyone else is tucking in. Then, in a scene when he's not eaten for days, have him eating his stew - carrots and all. This will show your character's hunger far more than telling a reader your character is starving.
Step Two: Choose three or four memorable things about your character - whether looks, behaviour, or background. For example, I'll explain a character I created whom I will call for this article's purpose, Big Guy. While there is a lot to this large battle-ready warrior character, I have singled-out the following four facts: he is enormous in height and size; he is usually grim-faced; his words rumble in his chest; and he is often pacing the floor, ready for action.
Now here is where the magic happens - where your characters truly come to life...
Step Three: Repeat these three or four facts as often as you can, in as many different ways as you can. Nearly every time we see these characters in a scene, try to squeeze in a few of your chosen attributes. Do it through tags, beats, character dialogue, or even in the actions and thoughts of other characters - any way you can.
For example, I might have one of the other characters I created, to reach up and pat Big Guy's enormous bicep. Or I could have one of the characters say, "Sit down, Big Guy, and stop pacing." Or perhaps I might have all the characters laughing at something, except for Big Guy who refused to smile.
Can you see how it's working? You're already starting to imagine Big Guy, aren't you? And he's just one of the minor characters.
That doesn't mean you only mention those three to four things. The reader is going to want to know a lot more than that. However, less is always more in novels, especially when it comes to characters. And the more memorable your characters, the more memorable your novel - and the greater the success it will be.
LR Saul is the author of several fantasy novels for adults and young adults, including Bloodline: Alliance and Bloodline: Covenant. When she's not writing books, LR Saul is thinking about books, reading books, editing books, teaching about books, writing articles about books, or trying to ignore books. To learn more about her or her novels, go to http://www.lrsaul.com/bloodlineAlliance.htm
Do you have any unique ways you bring characters to life?
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Guest post by Marsha J Friedman
Many new authors think the answer is either "when the book is done" or "doesn't the publisher take care of that?"
But unless you are a Glenn Beck or Dan Brown, both of those responses are dead wrong.
The right answer is before you start to write your book! Before you type the first word, it is critical that you think about the project in its entirety - including a plan for marketing and promotion and a budget as well. Here are a few questions you want to ask yourself in this process:
- What do I want to accomplish with my book? Is it a marketing vehicle to build your credibility and grow your business? Or perhaps it's a novel you're hoping will turn into a series, with fans begging for the next installment. Your answers to this fundamental question affect not only what you write, and how you write it, but what kind of promotional effort makes sense for your book.
- Who do I want to reach with my message? Know your audience. Are they teens, men, women, baby boomers or seniors? If you've identified who you are writing to, it will help hone your writing style and your message. But, it will also affect to a very large degree how you go about promoting your book and the marketing opportunities available for reaching your audience. For example, an effective digital promotional strategy that reaches busy young people will not necessarily hit the mark with seniors who are less likely to get their information from the Internet or mobile phones.
- What title and cover design will get book buyers interested in what I have to say? The title of your book can play a key role in the promotion and sales of your book. And, with limited space available for the precise words that will effectively communicate how dynamic and interesting your book is, you can see how important that title can be. There's also the actual design of the book cover to consider which can either forward your key message, or make it seem as dull as dishwater. My point is that an impactful title with a very creative cover plays an important role in the marketing of your book, but this is an expense you must calculate into your marketing and promotional budget. Speaking of budget - this leads me to the last point which is without a doubt, one of the most important points.
- What kind of a budget do I need for the entire project? Regardless of whether your book will be self-published, or you've attracted the interest of a major publisher, a budget for marketing and promotion is an absolute must. And an effective book marketing campaign isn't necessarily cheap, particularly if you're going to hire a professional firm to execute a solid campaign. But, if you choose to do the promotion yourself, there are still expenses involved that you need to factor into your budget, not the least of which may be hiring someone in-house to assist you, either with your book promotion or your normal everyday work that will pile up because of the book promotion!
I'm reminded of Ralph Waldo Emerson's quote, "Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door." It may be catchy, but it's simply not true. Here's the truth: the only way the world will beat a path to your door - or to bookstores, your website or listing on Amazon.com - is if consumers even know your book exists...and that means a great deal of marketing and promotion.
Instead of explaining about the books in the garage to the grandkids, wouldn't it make a much better story to tell them how you became a successful writer?
For 20 years Marsha Friedman has been a leading authority on public relations as CEO of EMSI, a national public relations firm. Her firm represents corporations and experts in a wide array of fields such as business, health, food, lifestyle, politics, finance, law, sports and entertainment. Some of the more prominent names on her client roster are Teamster's President Jimmy Hoffa Jr., Sergeant's Pet Care Products, Former National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane and the famous Motown Group, the Temptations.
She consults individuals and businesses on a daily basis and is frequently asked to speak at conferences about how to harness the power of publicity. Go to www.emsincorporated.com to signup for Marsha Friedman's free weekly PR Tips today! More resources for authors can also be found at www.publicitythatworks.com. Or call 727-443-7115, ext. 202, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.