Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, February 23-25, 2013

Several sets of FAQs for you today, plus tips on trilogies, writing magic, getting more out of Google+, and building your writing community. But before we get to that…

A LITTLE MORE LEAD-UP

Starting Friday, Great Stuff will not only have a new home but a slightly different name. I’m changing it to focus on what it provides: value to you. So when we make the move, look for “Great Stuff for Writers,” in place of the current title. It’ll have its own place on the new web site’s menu line. My other posts, under the title of Critique Technique, will remain the same, but they too will have their own menu line item. On Wednesday I’ll give you the new web site name and URL and then on Friday—deep breath—it’ll all officially go live.

CRAFT

KM Weiland (@KMWeiland) finishes her series on scenes and sequels with some Frequently Asked Questions. Alas, her call for questions elicited only two and, well, let’s hope that those folks just came to the series late. So instead, Katie pulled in some questions that had been asked in the comments to previous parts of the series. Some are pretty basic but others drew out insightful or informative answers. Here’s a big THANK YOU to Katie for the series. It’s a keeper. (Do I sense a small ebook? :))

Other author’s who’ve written about writing a series have discussed overall story and character arcs and the like, and those are important things. Jordyn Redwood (@JordynRedwood) discusses some other details specifically regarding Writing a Trilogy that, if not taken care of, can catch the writer out, things like timelines, characterization absolutes, and moments that tie later books back to the earlier ones. Series writing introduces layers of complexity not found in a standalone work, so posts like this are valuable.

Here’s a big shout-out thank you to Becca Puglisi (@beccapuglisi) of The Bookshelf Muse for bringing in horror writer Michaelbrent Collings to discuss The Magic of Misleading. Why? Because reading it made me realize one of the things that’s missing from the first draft of my current WIP. Are you ready? Here it is: “the secret to misdirection isn’t withholding information, it’s giving extra information, and focusing the audience’s attention on that.” (emphases his) That light you see is the 25 Watt light bulb flickering on above my head! There’s more to the post, of course, but this is a nugget I’ll be keeping. Maybe you will too.

BUSINESS

Query letters: one of the greatest mysteries in the business of getting published. What makes a good one? What do agents want??????  Back in September of last year, Chuck Sambuchino (@ChuckSambuchino) wrote a roundup of frequently asked questions. Now he’s back with Query Letter FAQs (Part II): 10 More Questions Answered on Writer Unboxed. If you’re currently querying or want to get published by a traditional publisher, take a look at this post. But keep one thing in mind that Chuck only hints at: always always ALWAYS check the web site of the agent or agency you’re submitting to first to find out what they want and how they work.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Demian Farnworth’s (@demianfarnworth) Seven Ways Writers Can Build Online Authority with Google+ (really 6 do’s and 1 don’t) is something of a paean to Google’s social media platform, but I suppose you could call it a practical paean. As I’ve noted elsewhere, in many ways Google+ isn’t all that unique (the major exception being the Hangouts free video conferencing feature), but what they’ve done is take a number of things other social media sites do, such as LinkedIn’s groups, and amplified them (Google+’s circles). So if you’re already on Google+ and want to know how to use it better, or you’re still trying to decide whether to add it to your social media repertoire, it’s probably worth your time to visit this long post on Copyblogger.

THE WRITING LIFE

We all know—and keep telling each other! :)—that the writing life is a lonely one, right? Well, it doesn’t have to be, and Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA) is starting a series on how you can expand your circle, or as she calls it, Build Your Writing Community with In-Person Events. She offers tips on where to find such events, which to choose, and what to do once you get there. If you’re looking for ways to escape your garret, this could be for you. Then in part 2, she discusses Writing Classes and Workshops. Surprised that someone hosting a blog on creating a do-it-yourself Master of Fine Arts equivalent would be advocating finding classes? Don’t be—it makes sense in the context of creating your own community. Classes are simply another way of meeting like-minded and like-skilled writers. And be sure to check out her tips for evaluating the people and the classes.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, February 16-18, 2013

Quite a variety of Great Stuff today: it’s been a productive weekend on the blogosphere.

One mini-announcement before I turn you loose, I’ll be “attending” the IndieReCon online writers’ conference Tuesday through Thursday, so Wednesday’s and Friday’s posts may be a bit thin.

CRAFT

KM Weiland’s (@KMWeiland) penultimate entry in her series on scenes and sequels has to do with Variations on the Sequel. These variations can happen in the reaction (it’s ongoing, delayed, or shown in a flashback), in the dilemma or decision (such as if the decision turns out to be a dead end), or in the entire sequel (how quickly or slowly it happens, whether its elements are in order or not, or are disproportionate in length or strength, or if the sequel is interrupted by a new scene). Of course, this summary doesn’t do the post justice, so click that link and get the whole story, as it were.

BUSINESS

I have no idea what prompted Suw Charman-Anderson to write Piracy, Saviour of the Book Industry for Forbes magazine, but her message to the publishing industry is somewhat similar to what Cory Doctorow has been saying to writers for over a decade: not only is piracy of written works a minor problem at best (Charman-Anderson calls it a boulder in the road), it’s (@Doctorow says) an opportunity to reach more readers, many of whom will eventually pay for their free copy or buy another one and, again from Charman-Anderson, opens up the possibility of a secondhand ebook market. I wonder who will listen.

Meanwhile, Joe Konrath’s (@JAKonrath) now ebooks are selling like hotcakes, maybe better (does $15,000 of income in a week sound good?), in part because he’s been giving them away via the KDP Select program. In Hungry Dogs, he explains how readers are like those hungry dogs—in good ways!—and offers six keys to Konrath-like sales numbers. Note (once again) that he, like Doctorow, is NOT worried about giving away copies.

SOCIAL MEDIA

We haven’t visited the hilarious Catherine Ryan Howard (@cathryanhoward) of Catherine, Caffeinated in a while, but today we get to with her Social Media for Authors: [Groan] Do I HAVE To? Here’s her answer from near the end of a very funny post: “You’ll only make money by selling books, and the first step in selling a book is to inform a potential reader than it exists. For a self-published author, social media is the only gateway to a global audience that doesn’t charge a toll. So yes, I think you have to.”

TECHNOLOGY

If you’re self-published and want to track your sales (of course you do), Carol Wyer (@carolewyer) has posted a Tutorial: NovelRank that introduces you to NovelRank and shows you how to use it. Well, sort-of shows you. Wyer posted lots of screenshots, which was a great idea, but they’re so small it’s very hard to see what she’s filled in, highlighted, circled, or got arrows pointing to. Now, there is a video on the NovelRank site that shows you how to do it, too, but it flashes through so much in 60 seconds that for a new visitor it’s hard to absorb what’s being done and there’s no narration or explanatory text, only background music. So, the idea of the post and video are both good, and the service may well be useful, but you’re going to need to spend some time with the post and site to make it work.

Well, this should be interesting. By his own (indirect) admission, Joel Friedlander (@JFBookman) was a bit of a software snob, favoring high-powered (and high-priced) programs like Adobe InDesign over the relatively cheaper and more pedestrian Microsoft Word. And yet… people still insisted on using Word to format their ebooks! Badly, too often, which made Joel and others like him cringe. So he railed against using Word. But now he’s seen the light and announces today in Book Designer Confesses: The Truth About Word Processors that it’s time to help Word users do book design well, or as well as possible within the capabilities and limitations of programs like Word. And so a series is about to start. Stay tuned!

THE WRITING LIFE

Full-time high school math teacher and epic fantasy writer Patrick Carr posted How to Write While Managing a Full-Time Job: 5 Ways to Maximize Your Time on the Guide to Literary Agents over the weekend. If you, like so many of us, are in this situation, you’ll find these hints helpful. Personally, I would have put #5, “Make writing a priority,” at the top of the list, because if you don’t do this, none of the other four will matter—or happen—but that’s just me. The suggestions are all still good.

There are some people (I’m not naming any names) who are absolutely dead-set against writers’ groups, whatever they might be called. It’s too bad their minds are so closed. For the rest of us, Gabriela Pereira’s (@DIYMFA) Writing Workshop: How to Tell When You Need That Boost is a clear summary of what a group can do for a writer. If you think a group might be for you, check out Gabriela’s four ways to tell and three important factors to consider about yourself and the group(s) you might be considering.

Like anything you see here? Please share it with your writing friends!

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, February 2-4, 2013

Wow! Busy weekend out there on the blogosphere, and Monday morning, too: rules and tools, emotions and responses, Star Wars attacks and attacks on Amazon. It’s all here, and more. No time to lose! Let’s get started.

CRAFT

CORRECTION! Gabriela Pereira’s (@DIYMFA) workshop is on Tuesday, February FIFTH,  (that’s tomorrow) at 1 PM Eastern. Sorry for the confusion!

Anyone who’s been at this business a while knows that there are almost no rules to writing, beyond maybe, “Get your butt in the chair! Now!” So when a post is titled The Rules of Writing, naturally that’s going to raise some concerns. Fortunately, French super-bestseller Marc Levy’s (@marc_levy) “rules” on Writer Unboxed aren’t rules so much as guidelines, and wise and practical ones at that. A couple examples to whet your appetite: “Stop trying so hard to find a subject” and “Don’t show too much, don’t tell too much.”

Along these same lines, Joanna Penn’s (@thecreativepenn) guest post on Write to Done on 5 Ways To Take Your Writing Further includes some techniques I’ve heard before but haven’t seen mentioned much recently, namely free-writing and physically copying the work of published authors you enjoy and respect. Not only are these effective techniques for expanding your writing, they’re terrific for overcoming writer’s block. (See the Brandon Yawa post below too.)

I think it was one of the great Russian writers who said, “If there is no emotion in the writer, there will be no emotion in the reader.” Anyone know who that was? In any case, James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) picks up on that theme with his post How To Get Emotional About Your Novel on The Kill Zone. “Emotion in the author,” he writes, “is literary electricity. It’s the X Factor, the game changer… Readers sense it.” Then he describes a couple of methods for finding it and bringing it out in your work. The last part of the post is a plug for his latest book but also serves as an example of how he was able to create genuine emotion in the story.

Speaking of emotion, KM Weiland (@KMWeiland) continues her excellent series on scenes and sequels with Pt. 9: Options for Dilemmas in a Sequel. What does this have to do with emotion? After the emotion of the reaction to the previous scene’s disaster, now the protagonist should face a dilemma in which he or she has to figure out what to do next. This can be an emotional reaction, too, or a rational one, but it needs to start with a review of what’s happened, an analysis of options, and a plan for moving forward, which will lead to a decision, the next scene and, of course, the next disaster… but that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

Lessons Learned from the Original Star Wars Trilogy to Up Your Writing Game? Seriously? Yup. Lydia Sharp (@lydia_sharp) comes up with them on Writer Unboxed. Specifically, Episode IV (start in the middle), Episode V (destroy everything), Episode VI (expect the unexpected).  Hmmm. Y’know, that gives me an idea…. Thanks, Lydia!

BUSINESS

Joanna Penn’s piece on her own blog, How EBook Readers Shop And The Importance Of Sampling, is a terrific insight into both. Yes, if you own an e-reader, your shopping habits may be different, but if you’re looking to e-publish, even how just one reader shops can be revealing. So are Joanna’s and her commenters’ views on samples: how long they should be, how much time a reader will spend with them, how often they decide not to buy based on the sample, etc. Valuable info here!

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has started a monthly feature called Best Business Advice for Writers, and the January edition is full to overflowing with links to other posts and articles that are full to overflowing with information. The ol’ veritable plethora, right on your screen: GoodReads, cover design, self-publishing lessons-learned, WordPress plug-ins, Kickstarter, and more. Goodness. It’s a week’s worth of reading all by itself! Pick what most interests you.

Whoa, this is a tough one. Clare Langley-Hawthorne reports on The Kill Zone on a series of Concerted Amazon Attacks meant to discredit and kill the sales of a book. The book, an apparently non-sycophantic biography of Michael Jackson received so many 1-star reviews on Amazon (over 100), many of which were factually inaccurate, that despite Amazon’s selecting it as one of their best books of the year, sales were a small fraction of the number of books printed. So, whose free-speech rights prevail in a case like this: the authors’ or the reviewers’? Or is this an either/or decision at all? What do you think?

THE WRITING LIFE

It might be a bit of a surprise to see a post from ProBlogger here in the Writing Life section, but Brandon Yawa’s (@BrandonYawa) How Compassion Cures Writer’s Block fits. Interestingly, his idea is NOT compassion by the author for someone else, but compassion by the author for him- or herself. Self-forgiveness, in other words, when the words won’t come, plus a few non-writing techniques for getting that mental break that releases the block. Marc Levy (above) says not to fear writer’s block because it’s a natural thing. Without the fear, then, the forgiveness should come more easily. Hope so, anyway!

If you’ve ever been in a writers’/critique group, you’ve probably encountered people like those described in Donna Cooner’s (@donnacooner) Top 10 Worst Types of Critique Partners. If you haven’t, yes, you might well encounter people like these. But don’t assume as some writers and bloggers (NOT Donna) insist that all groups are like this. They’re not, and a good group is worth its weight in ink cartridges.

So, can you name that Russian writer? Have you run into any of those awful critique partners? How about great ones? Tell! Tell! (This is one time you don’t have to “show.”)

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, January 17 & 18, 2013

A full weekend’s worth of Great Stuff reading for you! We open with opening lines, pass through structure, find information and the right (or wrong) readers, gain Facebook fans, writing tools (including a quick-ish way to publish a Word document to the Kindle), and close with a little help from our friends. Should be something for just about everybody.

CRAFT

This is the best piece to start out with: Zachary Petit’s Famous First Lines Reveal How to Start a Novel. Lists of great or terrible opening lines are a dime a dozen, but Petit turns the post over to Jacob Appel, who suggests seven ways to start, and we’re still talking here about the very first sentence or two. These tips are excerpted from a longer Writer’s Digest article (which the link in the post DOES NOT lead you to) but they stand well on their own.

Anna Elliott (@anna_elliott) discusses the differences and connections of Plot vs Story on Writer Unboxed, including what’s more compelling (story) and how to craft that story, whether you’re a full-out outliner or, like Anna, someone who starts from character.

You might think, then, that J E Fishman’s (@JEFISHMAN) 5 Elements of Story Structure on KM Weiland’s WORDplay blog would present a contrary view to Anna’s, but it’s complementary. Element 4 is character development (after establishing and disrupting normalcy and creating turning points, and before restoring order), so it’s just a different way of approaching the bigger problem of creating the story.

BUSINESS

Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s (@kriswrites) Found Information has several items worth reading—on how book cover design is so important to branding (identifying the genre and series, if appropriate) of your novel, whether in print or e-book format; kids (and adults) are reading more than before, in print and e- formats, despite all the hand-wringing you hear; and the story of how persistence finally paid off for Eleanor Burford Hibbert (a.k.a. Victoria Holt, Jean Plaidy, and Philippa Carr, plus 6 other pen names). Unfortunately, you have to get past two sections of self-satisfied I-told-you-so chest-puffing first. Fortunately, you can drag your scroll bar down to that third boldfaced header.

OK, let’s assume you’ve accepted the idea that you have to market your work. And you’re trying. And nothing seems to be happening. Or not enough. Gary Korisko (@RebootAuthentic) wonders, Are You Targeting the Wrong Readers? and then offers 7 tips to fix the problem. To some extent he’s channeling Seth Godin’s “tribes” and Kevin Kelly’s “1000 true fans,” but that’s not bad at all.

SOCIAL MEDIA

So you’ve got a Facebook fan page, or think you should have one? If so, then Gillian Marchenko’s (@GillianMarchenko) 3 Top Tips to Gain Facebook Fans on your Author Page on WordServe Water Cooler could be very helpful. That tip about Facebook’s rule against advertising on your cover photo could be a page-saver, all by itself!

TECHNOLOGY

At first I thought Michael Hyatt’s (@MichaelHyatt) My Top 10 Favorite iPad Apps and How I Use Them wasn’t going to have much value to me (and maybe you) because I don’t have an iPad (does that make me some kind of criminal?). But it turns out many of the apps have non-iPad versions as well and I can vouch for their value: Google Calendar, Dropbox, Google Reader, Kindle’s emulator versions, and Hootsuite.

When I saw the title to Ed Ditto’s (@BooksByEd) post on The Book Designer, How to Publish Your eBook from Word to Kindle in Under Ten Minutes, I thought, Cool! I need to know that. Then I read his process: use Scrivener. Gaaah! Well, sure, that’s certainly a way to do it. And since Scrivener is famous for its format conversion capabilities, it makes sense. So, OK, let’s read through the rest of the post. The good news is that Ed’s done a nice job with step-by-step instructions and plenty of screen-shot illustrations (Mac-based, but the PC steps are similar if not identical) that really take advantage of Scrivener’s tools. If you can read and carefully follow these instructions, you can do it. “Under ten minutes?” Maybe not but that’s OK. And $40 or $45 for a copy of Scrivener and the time to climb the learning curve is A LOT cheaper than spending hundreds of bucks to have someone do this for you. I’m bookmarking this one.

THE WRITING LIFE

Jan Dunlap’s piece, The Joy of NOT Going Solo on WordServe Water Cooler isn’t about team writing, as I thought it would be, but about the benefits writers get from joining a writers’ group that’s right for them. That last phrase is key: the wrong group can be harmful but the right group can be amazing.

Don’t be afraid the share the Great Stuff. That’s what friends are for, eh? Have a great weekend.

Critique Technique, Part 39—Pace: Speed It Up, Whoa It Up, or Change It Up

photo credit: dawvon via photopin cc

photo credit: dawvon via photopin cc

Last time we identified the general questions critiquers want to ask about scene and story pace—does it vary, is it appropriate, and if not, what needs to change—and eight factors that affect pace: sentence and paragraph length, active or passive voice, dialog versus narrative, tone, language, description, complexity, and what’s happening.

Now let’s apply the factors to the questions.

Does the pace vary? As I noted last time, even the shortest piece may have a varying pace but once you get beyond the flash-fiction story or filler article, it has to change. Readers need changes of pace to keep their interest. If the pace doesn’t change in a piece, either nothing’s happening or the author doesn’t know how to present the changes that are happening.

Changing pace is one way the author tells the reader something different is happening in the story, something is changing. For example:

  • A scene of frenetic action, written in short, simple, highly active, and dialog-free sentences wraps up. It is followed by a scene of quiet conversation that uses tone, language, and longer sentences to slow the pace down while keeping the tension up.
  • A languid description of an apparently idyllic river valley (long narrative sentences, quiet tone, lots of descriptive details) suddenly shifts when a space ship screams down to a landing and disgorges a company of storm troopers (short sentences, active language, dialog among the troopers, different and fewer descriptive details).

Is the pace appropriate to this moment in the story? While it’s possible to create a scene that would normally be presented slowly, let’s say, at the opposite pace, it isn’t easy. At least not intentionally. Musicians sometimes mix music in a minor key, which usually indicates a sad emotion, with an up-beat tempo, creating a cognitive dissonance.

While a skilled writer may be able to do something similar, you more likely will find a dragging scene that would be better at a faster pace or one that goes too fast and needs to be slowed down.

When a scene drags, it’s a good bet the author is providing too much information, has selected an inappropriate tone or style, or has let the scene go on longer than necessary to achieve its goals.

On the other hand, if a scene goes by too fast, the author probably hasn’t developed the elements of the scene enough: it skips from one incident to the next without taking any time for character reaction, setting or plot development, etc.

Is the pace appropriate for the entire piece? This question is a much harder one to answer, particularly if the work is book length, because you may not see the entire piece at once. The more time that passes between chapter reviews, the harder it will be to make a judgment.

If you can see the entire story, you need to have a sense of what message the author was trying to convey. Pace and tone will be closely connected here.

The author’s going to have a lot of work to do if a long work’s pace isn’t appropriate for its topic or message but don’t let that keep you from giving him or her that feedback—in fact, it may be essential for the work to succeed.

What needs to change, and how? This will be much easier to deal with at the scene level. Here are questions you can ask as you review a piece:

  • If sentences and/or paragraphs are too long, how can the author shorten them to pick up the pace? If they’re too short, what can she do to slow things down?
  • If sentences are written by the author in the passive voice (as this clause is), how could he convert them to active voice (like that)? There will be very few situations where you’ll want him to convert an active sentence to passive voice. An example might be a brief burst of bureaucratic writing to show an organization blocking the protagonist.
  • Is the author using narrative to describe what a character is feeling, rather than having her show her feelings by saying something? Conversely, is she having a character explain something where a one-sentence summary in narrative would be more effective?
  • Are the author and his characters using language that’s appropriate to their personalities and to the situation they find themselves in? If not, suggest more apt words.
  • Tone is more likely to be not quite right than completely wrong. So, would  a slight change in tone change the scene’s pace enough to fit better? Talk with the author to get a sense of what she intended before you make your recommendations.
  • Every descriptive detail should matter to the story. Do they, or are they bogging the story down? In this case, suggest what he could cut and explain why.
  • Conversely, is the reader having trouble creating an image of the scene and setting because there’s too little description, or it’s unhelpful? If so, ask the author to describe the scene to you out loud so she can capture the important details.
  • Is the author presenting so much information—not just setting or other details, but linguistic asides, secondary plot lines or activities, unnecessary characters and conversations—that the pace grinds to a halt? Then, as with descriptive details, suggest what could move or be deleted to refocus the scene on its central elements.
  • Are a scene’s events essential to its goal and purpose? Show the author how he can remove unnecessary actions to move the scene along. On the other hand, if the scene is too sketchy, show him how he could expand the scene to both slow it down and deepen it.

As you’ve seen, pace is a complex thing to evaluate and critique, with many subtle and interrelated parts. How do you help an author adjust the pacing of his or her work to make it more effective?

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/dawvon/6991298758/”>dawvon</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope that whichever December holidays you celebrated, if any, brought you peace, joy, and maybe even some new stuff. And if you didn’t celebrate any holiday formally, I hope you at least absorbed the (non-commercial) spirit of the time without the religious content. It’s possible!

While I haven’t been blogging during this time, I have been reading lots of blog posts. There’s LOTS of stuff here, more than I’m sure you can absorb in one reading. Scan it, pick out what interests you and come back to the rest later—or not. That’s okay too.

One last thing before we get to all the Great Stuff below: I’d hoped to be making a Big Announcement today but alas, due to technical matters beyond my control, that announcement will be delayed by about a month. In the meantime, you’ll still find Great Stuff right here.

CRAFT

The holiday season is no obstacle for KM Weiland (@KMWeiland) to continue her series on scenes with Pt. 3: Options for Goals in a Scene. We already know that a story’s protagonist and antagonist need to have story-level goals and that the protagonist in each scene needs much more immediate and small-scale goals, a point Weiland reemphasizes. The important point she adds in this post is that sometimes a scene goal is actually part of a larger one that will take multiple scenes to reach or fail to reach. Thus partial (single-scene) goals build together into that overarching (multi-scene) goal.

She continues with Pt. 4: Options for Conflict in a Scene. Story is conflict. We all know that, or should, and there needs to be some kind of conflict in each and every scene. In this post, Katie discusses two key elements of scene conflict: options for the kinds of conflict the scene can have and whether the conflict is integral to the scene and the story. Terrific stuff. One subtle point worth noting: scene conflict doesn’t have to be huge but it has to be. Some of her examples illustrate just that.

With the year seemingly rushing to its end as I write this, it’s appropriate for Katie to also write about not rushing a story along in Should You Slam Your Story’s Brakes? on her WORDplay blog. While it is important to keep a story moving, there is such a thing as going too fast too, she writes, and that’s a good time to use other techniques besides speed to build a story’s tension.

Donald Maass (@DonMaass) is always good for thought-provoking columns on Writer Unboxed and The Paradox is no exception. He actually discusses two: that your story matters “more than anything, and… not at all” and that characters should both embody their conflicts and yet not be in a hurry to resolve them. The first paradox allows you to take the time you need to flesh out your story, and the second allows your characters to become rich and full. Great Stuff!

Maybe it’s not surprising but agent Paula Munier (@PaulaSMunier) of Talcott Notch Literary Services also disagrees with Dean Wesley Smith (below) on the value of writers’ groups in her Literary Agent Interview on the Guide to Literary Agents. She’s got other important advice, too, that can’t be repeated often enough. The interview’s brief so I won’t try to reprise it here.

If you’re interested in cover design and the thinking that goes into it, check out Joel Friedlander’s (@jfbookman) A Book Cover’s Evolutions—Embrace of the Daimon. This cover went through four iterations, starting in the late 1990s, one published, one soon to be, with some pretty significant changes along the way.

BUSINESS

Mark Coker (@MarkCoker), founder and CEO of Smashwords, writes a very, very long (multiples-of-Kris-Rusch long) 2013 Book Publishing Industry Predictions – Indie Ebook Authors Take Charge on the Smashwords blog. This is by far and away the longest blog post I’ve read or written about here, but since Smashwords has become such an important player in the indie-pub world, Coker’s thoughts carry weight, even as he freely acknowledges that each and every one of his 21 projections could be wrong. Still, if you’re interested in the indie-publishing world, especially if you’re already in it or planning to/considering getting into it, this post is worth the time (plan on an hour) to study. Thanks to Joel Friedlander for pointing it out.

Joel also highlighted Free Book Promotions by James Moushon (@jimhbs) on Self-Publishing Review. Moushon offers a set of 10 planning steps authors should take before engaging in a giveaway program, plus steps to take during and after. He also includes comments from writers who have done giveaways—and not all are positive about the experience! I hope that was intentional: an expectations-management exercise. Moushon also seems to focus on using Amazon’s KDP Select distribution channel for this effort, which some (Coker among them) caution against because of Amazon’s 90-day exclusive distribution demand for participation in KDP Select. Good information here, but also some ideas to approach with caution.

I generally don’t include Porter Anderson’s (@PorterAnderson) Writing on the Ether posts on Jane Friedman’s blog because they’re so long but I’ll make an exception this time because he includes an extended set of excerpts from a discussion that begins with a Steven Levy comment in an interview in Wired magazine, in which he says, in part, “I don’t really give a shit if literary novels go away. They’re an elitist pursuit.” Besides extended excerpts from this piece, there are also extended excerpts from a November Charlie Rose Show featuring Tim O’Reilly, Ken Auletta, the other Jane Friedman (the former HarperCollins CEO) on this whole topic of elitism in publishing and the rise of e-publishing and crowdsourcing for books. I found it interesting; maybe you will, too.

THE WRITING LIFE

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) reissues an article she originally posted in the July/August 2011 issue of Writer’s Digest, with some edits, titled How Long Should You Keep Trying to Get Published? In this long-for-a-blog piece, she examines four things writers do that sabotage their efforts to get published; how to evaluate where you are on the path to publication, including signs you’re getting close; three signs that it’s time to change course, perhaps even away from writing; and three ways to revise your publishing plan. All good stuff, if hard truths. With one exception: one thing Jane didn’t change from the original article, I don’t think, is that she treats independent publishing as the last refuge of the incompetent and (from the perspective of traditional publishing) unpublishable. This, I think, is tremendously unfortunate and fails to reflect how the whole publishing industry is changing. Much of what she writes DOES apply to writers who want to publish independently, rather than through a traditional house, large or small, though, and this disrespect for that decision doesn’t take away from the value of her other observations.

New Year’s is a time for all those wink-and-a-nod resolutions that are forgotten by the end of the second week. But Jordyn Redwood (@JordynRedwood) on WordServe Water Cooler and Michael Hyatt (@MichaelHyatt) on his own blog take similar cuts at goal setting. Hyatt’s Do You Have a Personal Platform Plan for 2013 and Redwood’s Goals?!? are focused on slightly different things but it’s interesting how much they parallel each other. Read both for the details and the reinforcement. Hyatt also links back to a two-year-old post on setting goals using the acronym SMART: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

Dean Wesley Smith (@DeanWesleySmith) continues his New World of Publishing series with a powerful and highly challenging fourth installment: How to Keep Production Going All Year. Naturally, this post builds on the previous three (which you can find here, here, and here). “Production” means writing “new” (that is, publication-ready) words and Smith offers four different ideas for how to set long- and short-term goals for the year and , importantly, how to deal with the inevitable failures to meet those goals that life is going to impose on us. Smith’s goal here isn’t to just help you be more effective, it’s to separate the pros from the wannabes and his methods will certainly do that.

There’s one piece of advice I strongly disagree with, though: not showing others your work in progress. As I noted in my comment to the post, that’s fine if you’re an experienced author, but if you’re new, you need feedback on what you’re doing wrong—and you will do lots wrong. Specific, constructive, actionable feedback is vital to the new writer who wants to get better quickly. (I should note that Dean and a group of commenters responded negatively to this opinion, particularly as it related to getting feedback from writers’ groups. That’s fine: everyone’s welcome to their opinions. But I will not be convinced that all writers’ groups are wrong for all writers. Each of us has to make our own decisions based on our own personalities and needs and what local groups can do for or to us.)

 

Here’s wishing you LOTS of Great Stuff in 2013.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, December 1-3, 2012

Busy, busy weekend, with lots and lots of Great Stuff on the web. No more delays—let’s get right to it all.

CRAFT

OK, it sounds like an oxymoron, or maybe a new twist on a long-standing theme, or maybe even a new way to cross genres, but in fact Mark Alpert’s (@AlpertMark) The Poetic Thriller is none of these. Well, not quite, anyway. Along his writing journey, Mark realized that poem and thrillers should both (you’ll pardon his pun) “end with a bang.” Maybe not literally with a gunshot but with a line the reader won’t soon forget. Not just thrillers, either, by the way.

There were several posts relating to character over the weekend.

  • James Scott Bell’s (@jamesscottbell) What Writers Can Learn From Downton Abbey on The Kill Zone is one. Five of the 7 things he identifies have to do with character.
  • Harvey Stanbrough’s (@h_stanbrough) first part of a coming series on realistic characters, Stereotypes and Character Traits delves into what mix of what types of traits primary characters, especially the protagonist and antagonist,  and secondary characters should have.
  • Geoff Wyss’s Character and Mystery on Glimmer Train’s bulletin seems to contradict, at least in part, what Harvey wrote, but in large part that’s just the difference between the culture of literary fiction and other genres. Thanks to Jane Friedman for pointing out this article.

Receiving feedback on one’s writing, like editing and rewriting, are (or should be) part of our writing process. So Joanna Penn (@thecreativepenn) brought in Jake [Last name not revealed! What’s up with that?], founder of a feedback and editing advice web site called DocuToss to write about Editing Through Community Critique. He makes some good points about why we should seek out feedback from others, and maybe you’ll want to check out DocuToss, but I know, dear readers, you also know about my Critique Technique posts, and I hope they’re useful to you.

SOCIAL MEDIA AND BUSINESS

Denise Wakeman’s (@denisewakeman) Four Super Easy Ways to Create Quote Graphics for Facebook, Pinterest and Your Blog introduces some really cool tools. You know what a quote graphic is, of course: an image of some sort used as a background behind a quote. So now you can choose between Pinwords, Pinstamatic, Quozio, or Picmark to brighten up that post. What’s even more cool is all are free, all are purely web-based (no downloads required), and only Picmark requires you to create an account.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) compiled a set of 8 pieces she calls Best Business Advice for Writers on her own blog. Two stand out but all are worth a look.

  • Otis Chandler (@otown), the founder of Goodreads wrote How Readers Discovered a Debut Novel: A Case Study and I think it and the accompanying slide presentation available via slideshare are must-reads for any budding author. Critical information here on how one author (Colleen Hoover) went from unknown to picked up by Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books YA imprint in just 7 months! OK, a sample size of one should be treated with caution, but the study shows what she and Goodreads readers did to make that book a success.
  • Darcy Pattison’s (@FictionNotes) Facebook Best Practices for Profiles, Pages, Groups, and Posts is quite long and will take time to read and absorb, but if you want to get better results from this social medium, it’ll be worth your time to study this one.

Joel Friedlander (@jfbookman) reminds us that when it comes to social media, A Community Means Getting a Response, and then goes on to suggest ways for you to do just that.

I know this post will have only limited appeal, but if you’re thinking about turning a blog into a book, check out Becca Puglisi’s (@beccapuglisi) guest post on How to Blog a Book, titled How a Blog Series Created Reader Demand for a Booked Blog. If Becca’s name rings a bell, it’s because she and Angela Ackerman of The Bookshelf Muse are the co-authors of the various thesauri they’ve put on the Muse. And you probably know that they turned their emotion thesaurus into a book, which is what this post is about: lessons learned along the way. Useful material if the idea’s been on your mind.

Speaking of turning, sure, plenty of us have thought or dreamed about, maybe even planned for having our book turned into a movie. But what about a TV series? Laurie Scheer (@UWwriters) discusses A Novel Idea for a Series: When Writers Think About Adapting Their Novel for TV on Writer Unboxed. Long post short, there’s a lot more to it than you’d probably expect at first, and a lot of work you’ll have to do. But, if the idea intrigues you, check the post out.

Staying on the subject of movies (sort of), mystery writer James Moushon (@jimhbs) looks at book trailers and wonders, Do Authors Get Enough Bang for Their Buck? The short answer to this long post is sometimes yes, sometimes no. Fortunately, he suggests ways for writers to get a trailer that’s a yes. Warning: the red background of this blog is a bit hard on the eyes.

On a lighter but still serious note, Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) lists 7 Query Lines to Make an Agent Sigh (and not in a good way). Don’t use these. Please!

THE WRITER’S LIFE

I have to admit when I saw this title on Writer Unboxed—What Working Out Taught Us about Writing OR How We Saved Our Writerly Asses—I wondered if it was one of those posts that would end up with a 404 Page Not Found error. Or worse. Not so. In fact, it’s Julia Munroe Martin (@wordsxo) and Bernadette Phipps-Lincke (bernadette.lincke on Facebook) writing about how getting regular exercise helps their writing. It’s a long post, so it’ll take a little endurance to get through it, but they’re right and I know I should be getting more exercise than I am, too. So, OK, “yes, dears.” 😉

FUN

Know a special writer? Of course you do. Want to give them a special holiday gift? Check out OPERATION: HELP THE ELF! On The Bookshelf Muse. You can also put your name and blog address if you have one on Santa’s “Nice List.” 🙂

Have you “Liked” this Great Stuff post, or another one in the past? Thank you! But don’t keep it a secret! Tell just one writer friend about it. They’ll be glad you did.

Critique Technique, Part 35—The Critiquer’s Mind

I thought I’d take a break from the regular material of the series to talk about something that is central to your success as a reviewer: your mind. To an extent, this means your memory, but it also has to do with your attitude about and approach to critiquing, and your level of commitment to the task.

MEMORY

It’s important that you have a good but specialized memory. You can’t let the words just flow in one eye and out the other. They have to stop and make your acquaintance, or to put the focus in the right place, you have to make theirs.

You need to be able to recall specific kinds of details—about what a character did or said before, for example, or how the author described something—even if it’s been weeks or months since you last read a part of a work.

That’s not a skill that everyone has. Some (most?) who don’t can develop it, but it takes conscious attention to the requirement on your part, a determination to learn the skill.

If you’re a member of a critique group, you’re potentially in an ideal location to learn how to do this. I say potentially because not all groups are created equal. For your group to be the right kind of learning environment, there needs to be at least one person who already has the working memory to track the kinds of details this whole series is about and has the ability to communicate clearly and effectively what they find, so you can learn from them.

This is an active process on your part! First you have to read a work as closely as you can, actively trying to spot the good and bad in it yourself, then actively listen to the other reviewer, and then actively review or reread the piece, looking for what they found.

This really isn’t any different from learning to read a text for its symbolism, theme, or deeper meaning—those things your high school English teacher tried to get you to write about in your term papers.

OK, maybe that’s a bad memory. Sorry! 😉 (But you remembered it! That’s a start.)

The more you practice this skill, the better your powers of observation and your memory for these kinds of details will become, but trust me, you’re not going to get it by osmosis. If it’s not already a part of your skill set or you don’t have that turn of mind, it’s going to take effort on your part to achieve.

ATTITUDE

“Attitude” means a lot of things in this context. One meaning is having the willingness to learn new skills, like the ability to remember details within and across chapters. Another is how you treat the other writers in your group: how respectful you are of their efforts no matter their current level of skill, how you present your critique to them, especially regarding the parts that need improving, etc.

Those are important but I want to address different aspects of attitude. The first is your view about how much critique you provide when. In my own group, I have a member who will not thoroughly review a writer’s early drafts. Her rationale is that the writer will be making changes anyway, so a detailed critique isn’t necessary.

This view assumes the author already knows how to edit their own work, something I have seen proven wrong time after time.

In a situation like this, the critiquer’s role is especially important because they are—or should be—providing insights and suggestions to the author that he or she would not have had otherwise. The reviewer is teaching the writer how to write and edit.

The second attitude is giving first in order to receive later. In a moment I’ll discuss how critiquing others’ work will improve your own but here I want to emphasize how much you have to give. No matter how experienced you are—or aren’t—by doing the best you can to honestly and fairly critique a work, to try to help your fellow writer do better, you establish a relationship of trust and respect that will encourage them to do the same for you. That’s the payback you’ll get from paying critique forward.

COMMITMENT

The last thing I want to discuss is the critiquer’s level of commitment. Being an effective, helpful reviewer means reading a piece much more carefully than an ordinary reader does. The fact that this series already has over 30 posts on specific things to look for—and almost 30 more to come!—illustrates how much there is to do.

Reading a piece once and then telling the author, “Well, I liked it…,” isn’t effective or useful critique. Neither is reading the piece once and telling the author, “Well, it sucks.” Both fail because they neither tell the author why you liked or hated the piece nor how it could be made better.

When I critique a piece, I read it twice. The first time I try to simply read it through without writing anything in the manuscript, to just get a sense of the story and its flow. After I’m done, I write about my overall impressions.

The second time is when I get down to the nitty-gritty: everything from spelling and punctuation errors to problems with plot, characterization, flow, pace, dialog, and so on.

Make no mistake: this takes time. Sometimes it takes a lot of time. But I treat this work as part of my job of continuing to learn my craft. Whenever I suggest a way to improve someone else’s work, I’m teaching myself how to find and fix the same kind of problem in my own. To me, this is time invested, not time wasted or lost. It’s part of my commitment to my craft.

In conclusion, then, a carefully tuned and focused memory, specific attitudes about critiquing, and a commitment to the task are key elements of the mind of an effective and valuable critiquer. A well and thoroughly done critique benefits both the author and the person giving the critique. Do it well and you’ll be a better writer for it.

What qualities do you think a person needs to be an effective critiquer?

 

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, November 3-5, 2012

It’s interesting how the best posts over the weekend had to do with the writing life. We’ll do a couple of others first.

CRAFT

There’s a genre that lives on the boundary between mainstream fiction and fantasy and incorporates elements of both. In Defining Magic Realism Harvey Stanbrough (@h_stanbrough) discusses the genre and its key characteristics. If this is a genre you’re interested in or just curious about, check out this post.

SOCIAL MEDIA

I’m not a Google+ user myself but Maria Peagler’s (@SM_OnlineClass) How to Use Google+ as an Author Platform on Write to Done is one of the most thorough yet practical and approachable articles of its kind I’ve seen. If you’re already a Google+ user or considering signing up, this is a must-read article.

BUSINESS

Nathan Bransford (@NathanBransford) posts a long-for-him piece on why The Publishing Industry Is Not Deserving of Special Protection. This, of course, goes back to the various lawsuits floating around regarding Amazon and the Big-6 publishers, and his point is that while there’s some reason to be concerned about a potential Amazon.com monopoly over book distribution, that’s no reason for protectionist legal rulings simply because an industry is going through changes. Books will still get to readers. The prices may be lower and the distribution methods different, but readers will still read. Will the publishing houses embrace change and help shape it, or will they fight it to their own deaths?

THE WRITING LIFE

I’m tempted to write that it’s sad we need etiquette reminders and what a reflection that is of this day and age and yada yada yada but I’m not so sure this time and generation is all that much different from those who’ve gone before. In any case, Rachelle Gardner’s (@RachelleGardner) Manners Matter: 13 Etiquette Tips deserves a look. My absolute favorite, and one we need to stand up for when we’re on the losing end of it, is #11: “Pay attention to the person with whom you’re interacting.” In other words, when you’re talking with someone in person and your cell phone rings, LET IT RING. That’s what voice mail is for! It’s rude and disrespectful to blow someone off to answer your phone, check the latest instant message or tweet, or whatever. Why we don’t understand that is beyond me. GRRRRR.

On the topic of personal interactions, James Scott Bell’s (@jamesscottbell) post Making Readers One at a Time is not only an great example of treating someone—in this case, a perfect stranger—with kindness and respect, he shows how he was able to turn that stranger into a new reader of his books.

Continuing with that theme, Becky Johnson (@beckyajohnson) writes about Stranglers or Wranglers? The Super Power of Encouragement on WordServe Water Cooler. Her story is about two critique groups at the University of Wisconsin. One called themselves “The Stranglers,” the other “The Wranglers.” Over the years, the members of the Stranglers, who had focused on criticism, never achieved any literary success, while the Wranglers produced a Pulitzer Prize winner. Johnson’s point: be sure to include encouragement in your critiques. Always good advice.

Finally, Mark Alpert issues a warning: Be Careful What You Read!!! It started when he noticed that after reading a log of Tom Wolfe’s writing, he began to write like Wolfe! Especially when it came to using exclamation points! To excess! Everywhere! What about you? Do you tend to pick up certain tendencies if you read a lot of one author’s work in quick succession?

Critique Technique, Part 33—Contradictions

Contradictions are the stuff of conflict. Contradictions between:

  • characters’ words and actions,
  • what they say to different people and/or at different times,
  • what they do at different times or in different circumstances, or
  • the responses of different people to the same stimulus

all increase a reader’s tension and interest in the story.

At least so long as the contradictions are intentional on the author’s part.

If they’re not, that could be a problem. Or an unintended/unexpected opportunity. Your job as a reviewer is to not only spot the contradictions, but to evaluate them for effect and intent. Sound difficult? It doesn’t have to be. Here’s how to do it.

It’s easy to evaluate contradictions when the contrary words or acts are close together. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. In fact, more often than not, they’ll be pretty far apart. That’s when this kind of assessment can be difficult, especially if you’re not reading an entire piece at once.

Here’s an example. Let’s say that in chapter three Bob says he respects Alice. He’s impressed with her knowledge and determination. Now supposed Bob and Alice go their separate ways in chapters four to six, but in chapter seven, Bob calls Alice lazy and stupid. That’s a pretty sharp contrast, and if it seems to come out of the blue, you’re likely to remember Bob’s earlier statements and wonder what’s up now. But if Bob’s later comment is diffident, that Alice’s work is okay, will you catch the conflict? You should, but it’s harder to do.

In a later article, I’ll discuss how to remember details across large parts of a text or over long periods of time.

So let’s say you’ve spotted one of those kinds of contradictions. What’s next?

The first thing you want to look for is its effect: how it affect the characters involved. Does it:

  • Create new and interesting problems for one or more characters?
  • Does it make matters worse for them?
  • Do those problems change the direction of the story, especially in interesting and/or unexpected ways? And does the author follow up on that new direction?

Contradictory behavior in a character reveals something about her. This is good. Or at least, it can be.

Next, you want to assess whether the author prepared you for the contradiction. It’s important for the author to have set up the behavior before it happens. This is a place where a lot of writers fall down.

He can set up the contradiction in a number of ways:

  • Circumstances in the character’s life and environment can force a change that leads to the contradiction.
  • The character herself might have been evolving due to an accumulation of small changes.
  • What the character said or did originally may have been dishonest, misleading, or just incorrect. Or what he’s saying or doing now may be. What was or is his motivation? Could readers see that?
  • The character is responding to what another character says or does that she didn’t expect.
  • The character’s statement or action is unintentional, based on what he’s said and done before.

If the author set up the contradiction and its effect is clear, that’s great. But if she’s missed on either one, that’s a sign there’s a problem and you as the reviewer need to identify what went wrong.

The bullets above give you the guidance you need to assess the situation—with one caveat. It’s possible the author’s “failure” could be intentional: he might be withholding information from you as a way to increase your tension and need to know what happens next. That’s why it’s important to keep reading, as much as possible, to see if that was, in fact, the author’s intent. If you critique what appears to be a mistake too soon, you might have to go back and delete or revise that comment.

To summarize, then, when you’re evaluating something that a character in a piece has done or said that seems to contradict his earlier statements or behavior, check for the effect the contradiction has on the characters, the story, and you, and look to see if that contradiction was set up beforehand. Well-placed contradictions make stories more interesting and keep the reader engaged. Be sure to compliment the author when they do them well.

What do you look for and what do you consider when you run across a contradiction in a story?