Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, February 12 & 13, 2013

Hope you’re not a triskaidekaphobe! Today’s double-13 day, and tells you it is: 2-13-13, or 13-2-13, if you prefer. Thirteen what to thirteen? Which reminds me of Albert the Alligator, a character from the old Pogo comic strip, for whom the 13th day of the month was always Friday the Thirteenth, even if it was a Wednesday.

What does that have to do with today’s post? Not a darn thing, as far as I can tell. In fact, you’re double-lucky to be finding out about today’s Great Stuff. Read on!

CRAFT

Here’s some really practical advice that we can all use: Writing Gender-Specific Dialogue from the Writer’s Digest There Are No Rules blog. Excerpted from a book by romance writer Leigh Michaels (@leighmichaels), the piece gives advice to women on how men think and act, and hence speak, and vice versa for men writing female characters. For example, women know and notice which colors go together and which don’t, while men generally don’t notice or care. That reminded me of a woman in my writer’s group who had a (straight) male character noticing that a woman’s eyes matched the color of her uniform. Um, sorry, no. We ad-dress-ed that. 😉 Have you run into this kind of thing? How did you address it?

Some writers like to have music playing in the background when they’re writing. Not me, it’s too distracting. But if you’re like Ann Aguirre (@MsAnnAguirre) and Let Music Set the Mood when you’re writing, you’ll definitely get her piece on Writer Unboxed today. But even if you’re not a writer/listener, there’s something for you here: a song may not set your mood, but it can set the story’s mood or reveal something about a character. In my first novel, one of my characters is a fan of rock music from the ‘60s to ‘80s and snippets from those songs will pop into her head from time to time, usually at high-stress moments. It tells you something about her and adds a new dimension to the scene. Do you do anything like this?

You might not expect to find advice on story-telling on ProBlogger, but that’s what Gregory Ciotti (@HelpScout) offers in The Science of Storytelling: 6 Ways to Write More Persuasive Stories. The piece is based on research by Dr. Philip Mazzocco and Melanie Green having to do with court arguments, but their six keys apply in fiction too. They are: audience, realism, delivery, imagery, structure, and context. Space doesn’t permit me to discuss them here, but slide on over and check out the article.

BUSINESS

So, we’ve all heard that the job’s not over when the writing’s done when it comes to books, right? Sure, but what exactly does that mean? Enter Boyd Morrison’s (@boydmorrison) What to Expect When You’re Expecting…to be Published,  a list of 31—that’s right, 31—things that you’ll do after you get that magical phone call saying your book has been accepted for traditional publication. Indie publishers: think the list doesn’t apply to you? Wrong-o, Kindle breath! Of course, some steps won’t, at least as written. But many will in one form or another, and often they’re entirely on you to do, rather than in response to a request from the publisher. A real reality check here.

Joel Friedlander (@JFBookman) has published many articles on e- and print book design, so Book Design Quick Tips for Self-Publishers doesn’t have anything really new, except for a hint at the end about something he’s going to be launching soon—a book layout service, maybe? But this pretty long but useful post lays out the basics in simple terms. This stuff isn’t cosmic or über-technical and you shouldn’t fear it. Take the time to study and absorb it and you’ll be ahead of the game.

Nancy J. Cohen (@nancyjcohen) is releasing a new novel and using the free option on KDP Select for a few days. More important for other writers planning to self-publish is the other information on where and how to get publicity and reviews she offers in the FREE on Kindle post. If this is something to do, check out the post.

Looking into what the future might hold for Nancy, J A Konrath (@JAKonrath) discusses his recent experiences with having some of his books sold via KDP Select in his post Amazon Numbers. Three lessons to learn: (1) despite what he says, being a “name” in the business helps. It’s not required but your sales numbers will be better when you’re known than when you’re still an unknown. (2) Giving the book away for free boosts for-cash sales. I’m reading Cory Doctorow’s The Problem Is Obscurity right now, and he makes the same point. (Beats you over the head with it, actually.) (3) The more titles you have for sale, the better. Konrath closes this long post with two other discussions. He doesn’t like Amazon’s demand for exclusive sales fights for 90 days if you sign up for KDP Select (no one but Amazon seems to), and self-publishing gives you control over your work, which is a good thing.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Writing advice from @NathanBransford in <141 characters. It’s better than you might expect. (27 characters left.)

THE WRITING LIFE

I could have put Keith Cronin’s (@KeithCronin) Write Like You Mean It up in the Craft section, but since it’s really about attitude—making the effort to make anything you write a piece of quality writing—it fits better here. Keith’s piece is pretty long but he uses that length to approach the basic thesis—if you want to be considered a professional writer, write like one whenever you write, even on Twitter or Facebook—from a variety of different angles with the intent that if one doesn’t resonate with you, another one will. What do you think? Is this your approach?

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.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, September 8-10, 2012

Whoo-ee, it’s been a busy weekend and Monday out there in writer/blogger-land. Lots to share with you, so let’s get right to it.

On the pure craft side there’s really only one post, Harvey Stanbrough’s (@h_stanbrough) To Capitalize or Not To Capitalize: That Is the Question. This is a good summary of a few of the rules regarding capitalization but then there are many more Harvey could cover, and I hope he will. If capitalization is one of your personal bugaboos, give this post a look.

There were a surprising number of posts on the writer’s life, the process of writing, writing tools, etc.

  • If you’re a Scrivener user (I’m just getting started, myself) and you intend to self-publish, then Nick Thacker’s (@nickthacker) Live Hacked post Scrivener: The Ultimate Guide to Exporting Ebooks (Kindle, ePub, etc.) may be just the thing you’re looking for. Thacker takes you step-by-step, with pictures, through the process of converting a Scrivener file into the ePub and .mobi file formats, using both Scrivener’s built-in tools and a separate program called Calibre. NOTE: this is fairly advanced stuff, so if you’re a new Scrivener user and/or aren’t sure you want to handle e-publishing on your own, just bookmark this article and save it for later. Thanks to Joel Friedlander (@JFBookman) for pointing this article out.
  • While we’re on the topic of technology, Whitney Adams lists five Mobile Apps for Writers on DIY MFA. Some, like dictionary.com we’ve probably all heard of; others, like Inspiro, maybe not. But if you’re a mobile-enabled writer, check these out.
  • James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) writes on The Kill Zone about A Writer’s Ego. Face it, we all have one: how else could be dare to write things for publication, to believe what we have to say is worth reading? But of course,our  ego can get us in trouble in all sorts of ways, too, and Bell writes about how to avoid some of those traps.
  • Kim Weiland (@KMWeiland) writes about 10 Excuses for Not Writing – and How to Smash Them on her WORDplay blog. Many of these are inverse-ego (that is, negative self-image) beliefs: “I have no talent,” “people will ridicule my work,” and so on. Kim’s practical yet realistic tips should help if you have problems believing in your own abilities.

Shifting all the way over to the business side now.

  • MAYBE the biggest news of the weekend was Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ announcement that not only was Amazon about to release new versions of the Kindle and at new price points, but that Amazon was going to start offering e-books in serial form. That generated a whole spate of comments.
    • The Bookshelf Muse guest blogger Sue Quinn’s (@susankayequinn) take is all positive: It’s a Great Day to Be a Writer. While she’s not just stoked about this new take on an old concept (Charles Dickens, anyone?), she’s certainly right that we writers have more options and opportunities to reach our readers, whether 5 or 5 million, than we’ve ever had.
    • Joe Hartlaub’s take on The Kill Zone, Books on the Installment Plan is more cautious, looking at what he sees as some of the pros and cons of the concept.
    • Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) takes that view into even more detail in his long, as usual “Extra Ether” post, Serial Iterations. This 4-part post discusses the basics of how serialization is going to work on the Kindle, British writer Roz Morris’ experiences with serialization (some positive, some negative), speculates on how reader reactions to a serial’s installments might influence future installments, and closes with some cautionary notes about what that might mean for writing. My take: interesting idea; some writers will embrace it, others won’t at all, still others will use it only in ways that suits their writing and preferred ways of working; but this is not the end of writing as we know it.
  • One more piece on independent publishing. Irish writer Nick Rooney writes about The Self-Publishing Honeypoton The Independent Publishing Magazine’s blog. Rooney notes how the Big 6 publishers are finally, slowly, getting into the electronic publishing world themselves as they realize its business (read money-making) potential. Two interesting and perhaps disturbing points:
    • Rooney identifies a number of publishers who are using services “powered by ASI” (that’s Author Solutions, Inc., the company with a questionable reputation recently purchased by Pearson Publishing). What, exactly, does “powered by” mean and what “services” are these “independent” (?) companies going to provide?
    • Rooney may not have been aware of it, but “honeypot” has a second meaning in American slang which comes from the days before indoor plumbing. “Thunder mug” is a synonym. Significance?
  • And finally (TOLD you it was a busy weekend!), Joel Friedlander is back with a discussion of Chris Brogan’s Hub and Outpost Method of Social Media Marketing. The concept, intended to be a time-saver, has a writer establishing a social media “hub”–their web site or blog, say–and then picking social media “outposts” from which they can reach the kinds of readers they’re looking for and bring them back to the hub via links. Joel’s going to be hosting a (NOT free) webinar on this topic next week.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, July 9, 2012

Some really interesting stuff out there today, so let’s get right to it.

  • First up are a couple of posts inspired by the Wall Street Journal article Your E-Book Is Reading You. Before you read either of the posts below, you should read the WSJ article. Several reasons:
  1. While it’s long, it covers the subject in depth and from many different angles, from privacy concerns to how such information could benefit authors;
  2. Both of the posts I’m about to mention focus on certain considerations while not paying attention to or entirely missing others; and
  3. These posts are sure to be the first of many on this subject. Joe Konrath (@JAKonrath), for one, has yet to weigh in.
  • All right, then, on to the posts:
    • Rachelle Gardner’s (@RachelleGardner) take is largely positive, despite its title: Your E-Reader is a Spy.
    • Clare Langley-Hawthorne’s view on The Kill Zone, What Your E-Reader Knows…, is more balanced.
    • In my own comment to Clare’s post, I wrote: Very interesting but not surprising, given what internet companies have been collecting for years. One of the great ironies here is that Google’s mantra supposedly is “don’t be evil” (a jab at Microsoft).

      This is definitely a good news/bad news kind of story as other commenters have noted. What’s worst, to me, is that the data-gathering was being done without e-reader-users’ knowledge. That’s been a problem elsewhere and has only partially been addressed through opt-in/opt-out options. [It turns out, I discovered after posting this comment, that Amazon lets its users know it’s going to collect that data in the user agreement. But how many of those users actually read that agreement?] Then comes the question of how the data is being used and who’s profiting from it. If I as a writer CAN profit from this information, I want to have the opportunity, just like the e-reader companies do. Finally, it also raises (again) the questions of the distinction between privacy and anonymity and whether we’re confusing or conflating the two.

  • Nathan Bransford’s (@NathanBransford) post, Are We Stripping Modern Books Bare? fits in with this conversation, although it doesn’t appear he was aware of the e-reader article when he wrote it. In part he argues that e-books, because they don’t have (at least, not yet) the profit-driven pressures that legacy-published books do, they can be more experimental and less constrained by the demands of commerce. It’ll be interesting to see how, or if, that changes as e-book publishers get a better handle on their readers’ choices, behaviors, and tastes–or if they’re allowed to.
  • Staying with the topic of engaging with your readers, guest poster Judy Lee Dunn (@CatsEyeWriter) offers 5 Steps to Telling Engaging Stories on Your Blog on Write to Done. Her steps are fiction techniques you should all be familiar with, applied to non-fiction posts.
  • And finally, on a much lighter note, Robert Bruce (@robertbruce76) asks on 101 Books, Do Audio Books Count? when it comes to “reading” books. I’m largely agnostic on this subject, except when it comes to listening to an audio book while driving in city traffic. Then I have to ask, “Are you really listening to the book, are you really driving, or neither?”

That’s all for today. Have a great Monday. (Yes, it is possible!)