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.

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Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, December 13 & 14, 2012

Happy Friday, everyone, from snowy southern Arizona. You read that right—snowy. Not Minnesota-snowy, but we are getting snow showers today. Nothing’s sticking—the ground is much too warm—but yes, 10 miles from the Mexican border, we do get snow. The mountains should be gorgeous once the clouds lift enough that I can see them. Anyway, that makes today a good day to stay inside and WRITE!

CRAFT

Ever find your story wandering off not just into places you never intended but into the deep, dark, dismal forest, just lost, lost, lost? Yeah, me too. Lisa Cron (@lisacron) offers a path out of those woods (or a way to avoid getting into them in the first place) in How To Keep Your Story On Track: Chart “Who Knows What, When” on Writer Unboxed. Outliners may love this method, since its character-knowledge-lines tie directly to a story’s scene-by-scene outline but even pantsers will find it useful, although at a later stage in the development process.

Another way stories get slowed down is when the author inserts “filler”: sentences, paragraphs, scenes, even (gasp!) whole chapters that add nothing to the story. Fortunately, editor Laura Carlson comes to the rescue with How to Cut the Filler and Tighten Your Book on KM Weiland’s WORDplay blog. If you’ve ever written anything that turned out to be filler (c’mon, of course you have J), this post will be helpful.

Last Wednesday, after I’d put up my post, Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA) put up a 4-page Writing Goals Sheet, a downloadable PDF file that covers near-term and long range goals, funding and resources, and more. It’s all very pretty but you need to know how to turn on the typewriter function in Adobe Reader if you want to type directly onto the document. (To do so, in the latest Reader version, click on Comment on the right side of the screen, then click on the big capital T. That will give you a special cursor that you can place in the document where you want to start typing.) Of course, you can always print out the sheets and fill them in by hand.

BUSINESS

Writer Beware® Blogs! hosts guest blogger Mridi Khullar Relph (@mridikhullar), who provides useful information on International Writing Scams and How to Protect Yourself. It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that many of the overseas scams Mridi discusses have kissing cousins (or identical twins) here in the U.S. but working outside your home country always adds additional complications, so if that’s something you’re contemplating doing, or already doing, be sure to give this post a look.

The cover of your book, irrespective of format, is critical to whether it’ll be purchased or not. I know that seems unfair—that some graphic artwork can have more influence on a potential reader than your own words—but it’s true. If you’re publishing independently, what do you do? Design it yourself? Hire someone to do it? If so, who? Joanna Penn (@thecreativepenn) has invited guest poster GX (@graphiczsdesign) to discuss this in Want Professional Ebook Covers on a Budget? Try Ready-To-Go Options. GX discusses his (?)/her (?) own company’s work and how authors can use ready-to-go covers, and one of the comments also suggests three other sources.

THE WRITING LIFE

Jurgen Wolff (@jurgenwolff) retells a story originally told by Tim Ferris, the author of “The 4-Hour Work Week” in How big should your next writing or other creative goal be? (The missing reasons) on his Time to Write blog. The basic point is that if you aim for mediocre goals, that’s the most you’ll achieve. Aim higher and you have the chance (nothing guaranteed but the chance) at something far better. Thanks to my friend Lucinda for pointing out this piece.

Of course, if you aim high, there’s the risk of doing nothing but leaving a big splat mark on that tall building you tried to leap over in a single bound. Two posts address this fear: Nathan Bransford’s (@NathanBransford) Living on the Edge of Confidence and Self-Doubt and Rachelle Gardner’s (@RachelleGardner) 5 Ways to Deal with Failure on the Books & Such Literary Agency blog. Both discuss living with the fact that failure is a part of doing and that how you deal with failures is more important than the failure itself. If you’re needing a confidence boost about now, check out these two posts.

Rachelle then comes back with a post on her own blog about creating a realistic Holiday Writing Plan. Her five suggestions are nothing but common sense, but as the saying goes, sometimes common sense ain’t so common, which makes reminders like these valuable.

So what do you think? Have any thoughts or observations about any of these posts? Share them in the Comments below.