Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, February 26 & 27, 2013

Well, here it is: the last Great Stuff post on the Cochise Writers blog. OK, not quite. I’ll put up a reminder so everyone knows these posts and my Critique Technique posts have moved. As of Friday, March 1st, everything will be over at my new web site, www.rossblampert.com. Great Stuff for Writers and Critique Technique will have their own menu items and pages. You’ll have to resubscribe, I’m afraid, but the RSS feed links and subscribe-by-email boxes are up at the top of the sidebar so they’re easy to get to. Every site is a work in progress, so I’ll be adding new features as I can and as they become relevant. I hope you like the look and feel of the new site. I’m pretty excited about it and I hope you will be too.

Meanwhile, there’s lots of Great Stuff here as well.

CRAFT

Mignon Fogarty, a.k.a. @GrammarGirl, clears up once and for all (you believe THAT, don’t you?) when and whether to use the Oxford/Harvard/serial comma with an graphic from OnlineSchools.com in The Oxford Comma, in Pictures. You may want to ensure you’re reading the post and graphic at a relatively large screen expansion because the color contrasts in the image aren’t the strongest, but the information itself is clear, concise(,) and easy to absorb.

Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) has a post today on words that writers consistently confuse with others that are similar: Never Confuse These Words Again. Her list of doubles and triples is short—only 10 sets out of many—but still a good review. The one of her commenters pointed out a blog called Homophones Weakly (notice the “mis”spelling) that covers this topic in a fun way.

KM Weiland (@KMWeiland) deals with a problem we all run into once in a while: Episodic Storytelling. When writing is called “episodic,” that’s generally not a compliment. It happens, Katie tells us, because the scenes that make up these episodes don’t seem to matter to each other—one doesn’t build into the next. The solution is straight-forward (to describe if not necessarily to do): make sure each scene contributes to the overall story.

BUSINESS

Every so often the issue of “traditional” copyright bubbles up (I’m putting traditional in quotes to distinguish it from the Creative Commons copyright) and it has again on Writer Beware ® Blogs, in Victoria Strauss’s (@victoriastrauss) Why Not to Register Copyright for Unpublished Work. This piece has two parts: one clearly related to the title (short form: it’s not necessary and does nothing for you) and the other about why it can actually place you at risk. Say what? It turns out, Strauss reports, that there are various unscrupulous companies (she names one) that troll copyright and Library of Congress registration lists looking for naïve unpublished authors to scam with offers of “services” (exorbitant fees not mentioned, of course).

Here’s an important one for you: Thomas Ford’s Common Creativity: Understanding the Rules and Rights Around “Free” Images on the Web on ProBlogger. As Ford discusses, “free” isn’t necessarily an absolute term when it comes to images—or documents, for that matter—and if you’re going to use a “free” image, you’d better know exactly what you’re allowed to do under what circumstances. Just because something is available at no charge doesn’t mean there are no restrictions on what you can or can’t do with it. This is a long and detailed piece, particularly when it comes to the Creative Commons kinds of copyrights, and may be more than you can absorb in one reading, so bookmark it or flag it as a favorite and check out the resources the Creative Commons folks have put together for your use.

TECHNOLOGY

Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) has a terrific post on 7 Ways to Look Good on Your Webcam. As I noted in my comment, I’m not an ENT doctor—I really don’t care to be looking up your nose—so her #1 suggestion to put your webcam at eye level or a little higher is a biggie. Her other points and those of her commenters are all good. With Google Hangouts, other video chats, vlogs, and podcasts all becoming more common, these pointers are all necessary for looking at least decent on camera.

THE WRITING LIFE

Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA) continues her writing community series with the start of a sub-series on how to Build Your Online Writing Community, the key word being “Online.” While she discusses the blogosphere and Twitter in a bit of detail here, she promises more posts on other parts of the online world in the future. As she notes, there are so many options that it’s hard for someone who’s just getting into social media to know what to do first. Let’s hope this series will help people like that (like you?) make that choice.

See you next time at our new site!

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Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, February 7 & 8, 2013

Today’s post has to be one of the most value-packed I’ve had in quite a while, and that’s saying something. And for those of you in parts of the US who are bracing for some really rough weather this weekend, maybe this stuff will be what you need to carry you through—so long as you have electricity and the internet, anyway. Enjoy!

CRAFT

Jordan Dane (@JordanDane) is about to bring out the first book in a YA fantasy trilogy that is driven by, among other things, a love triangle. Because the story focuses on relationships, her 5 Key Steps to Adding Depth to Your Fictional Relationships post on The Kill Zone is worth a look, even if you have to get through the biographies of the characters first. The steps can be summarized this way: give the characters both internal-internal conflicts and internal-external conflicts to deal with.

Now this is ironic (and a little creepy): a post on The Kill Zone (above) about a love triangle and relationships, and a guest post by retired homicide detective Garry Rodgers (@GarryRodgers1) on The Creative Penn on How To Get Away With Murder—or fail to get away! All in the service of writing stories, of course, but still…. So if you’re interested—for art’s sake!—take a look. If you dare.

Denise Jaden (@denisejaden) covers a subject that I’ve rarely seen discussed: Writing Effective Grief in Fiction. It’s so easy for writers, especially new ones, to take a character’s grief and turn it into melodrama, and in so doing, drive the reader away. Jaden’s five practical tips for how to make that character’s emotions real, compelling, and yet not overwhelming (for the reader) will be valuable for anyone who’s writing about characters in fiction or memoir who are dealing with loss.

Let’s finish up this section with a terrific post by C. S. Lakin (@cslakin) on KM Weiland’s WORDplay blog: The Secret to Show, Don’t Tell. Everyone wants to know that, right? Okay, so I’ll spill the beans right now: every scene needs a “high moment,” the instant where the point of the scene (which every scene must have) is made. It can be big or subtle, but everything else in the scene builds toward that point and that moment and the movie camera of your writing is what follows the characters and the action to them. Take the reader on that journey to that moment and you can’t help but “show.”

BUSINESS

When Kristine Kathryn Rusch (@kriswrites) titles a piece What Writers Need to Know, you can bet that, well, it’s time to get another cuppa before you start to read it. Let me see if I can catch the basics here.

  • Whether you’re traditionally published or indie, you need to know a lot about writing, publishing, managing a business, design… and a lot more.
  • You’ll never know everything there is to know and you may not ever know much of it really well.
  • If you’re not continually learning more, you’re falling farther and farther behind. That said, don’t try to learn something all at once. Work on each topic in bite-size chunks.
  • Writing well is still your first and foremost obligation but your chances of having a sustained successful writing career are minimal at best if that’s all you learn and know.

This long as usual post rambles a bit—you can safely skip down to the first list and skim after it—but if you want a career, this is advice worth reviewing.

Along these same lines, Joe Konrath (@jakonrath) calls his latest post How To Sell Ebooks. Can’t get much clearer than that. The thing is—and this should be no surprise—there’s no silver bullet or secret password but instead ten different areas we each need to address in order to have a shot at success. Why should we listen to Konrath? Because he’s now sold over a million copies of his books.

It’s certainly not every day that I point you to a piece from Science News magazine, but today’s online post by Rachel Ehrenberg (@REhrenberg) is appropriate. Even though In Hollywood, buzz beats star power when it comes to predicting box office take is about movies and popular music, it tells how scientists have demonstrated that the most successful ones earn their success not from who the performers are but how much the work is being talked about after, but especially before, it is released, and how widespread the buzz is. This is what the marketing experts I occasionally cite here say about books, too: build your platform before you publish.

Rachelle Gardner’s (@RachelleGardner) answer to the question Are Self-Pub Books the New Slush Pile? is a qualified no. Her five reasons have mostly to do with marketing considerations; in fact she doesn’t say a word about the slushy quality of many self-pubbed books. That’s refreshing. It’s refreshing, too, that she’s open to the possibility that self-pub books could become more important over time. (Well, they already are.)

FUN

Yeah, after all that heavy information, a little fun is what we need to close off the day and head for the weekend, and you’ll find it here, in Carol Barnier’s (@Carol_Barnier) Pet Peeves and Grace on WordServe Water Cooler. You can guess what the “pet peeves” part is all about, but will you be byoosgusted by it? Actually, I think you will. 🙂

What was your favorite article today? Or the one that helped you most?

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, February 5 & 6, 2013

After a couple of big posts, today’s is much lighter. I imagine you might appreciate that. Some of today’s posts are practical—character and setting development, for example—others are thought-provoking. Feel free to disagree with them.

CRAFT

This writing technique definitely won’t be for everyone. It’s certainly “different.” But if it works for you, terrific! What I’m talking about is Cinthia Ritchie’s (@cinthiaritchie1) piece on the Guide to Literary Agents blog called Marathon Training to Finish Your Book. Cinthia models writing a novel on Hal Higdon’s plan for training for a marathon. It’s a very different way of approaching the “write every day” mantra because it varies how much time you’re to spend writing, with “long writing days” comparable to the long training runs marathoners do as they prepare for the big day. Check it out. Maybe it’ll fit with your life and schedule. Maybe it won’t. If it doesn’t, forget it.

Two pieces today on characters and characteristics. Donald Maass’s (@donmaass) The Man (or Woman) in the Mirror on Writer Unboxed and freelance editor Jodie Renner’s (@JodieRennerEd) Essential Characteristics of a Thriller Hero on The Kill Zone. You can tell from the title that Renner’s piece is more focused on certain kinds of characters while Maass’s offers questions to ask yourself about yourself with the intent of then making those answers—good or bad—part of your characters, especially your protagonist. This is classic Maass and for my money a far better set of tools than creating the simplistic list of traits (what does your character eat for breakfast?) that other authors (NOT Renner!) often suggest.

Try this quote on for size: “…readers really don’t mind setting description so long as it entertains them.” Say what? So saith KM Weiland (@KMWeiland) in How to Create a Surefire Awesome Setting (emphasis hers, by the way). While I think I’d use “engage” rather than “entertain,” the point of the short video is that setting description can add to, even enrich, a story when its presentation is one in proper balance with other parts of the story.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Here are two pieces of news I found both interesting and potentially important. According to Brian Clark (@copyblogger) in his post Get Over Yourself and Get On Google+:

  • Google+ has become the second largest social media platform, passing Twitter, and
  • Google+ isn’t a social network, it’s a topical network (emphasis his), meaning it is more “organized around content” rather than people per se.

Clark also suggests that this difference is important to authors and their platforms (he quotes former Google CEO Eric Schmidt for support) and that the difference is one thing that distinguishes Google+ from its major competitors. Disclaimer: I do not have a Google+ account. (Okay, okay, so maybe I should. All I need is a 25th hour in my 24-hour day.)

THE WRITING LIFE

Hmmm, I wonder if Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) was aiming Be the Gatekeeper of Your Mind at me—and you, dear reader. Why? She writes that she’s found she’s more creative if she reads fewer blogs, not more, and when she reads longer, more “immersive” work, like full-length books. Could it be she’s got a case of information overload? She seems to think so. What about you? Have you decided to pare back on your information input?

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, January 26-28, 2013

Good Monday, everyone! The story of scene and sequel continues today, along with more ideas on how to support your author-friends, writing for money and searching for success, and more. Don’t wait a second longer! Dive right in.

CRAFT

KM Weiland’s (@KMWeiland) part 8 of her series on scene and sequel dives into the Options for Reactions in a Sequel. As she points out, the purpose of the sequel is to present the character’s reaction to the scene-ending disaster they’ve just experienced and set them up for the next scene. Sequels can be chapters long or as short as a single sentence, but they will always contain an emotional reaction, an intellectual dilemma, and a decision leading to action. This excellent series is especially valuable for new writers.

BUSINESS

To be, or not to be (a participant in Amazon’s KDP Select program, that is). It’s a question lots of self-published authors ask. Thanks to Joel Friedlander’s (@JFBookman) monthly Carnival of the Indies post, M. Louisa Locke (@mlouisalocke) lists 7 Things joining KDP Select Can and Can’t do for you [capitalization hers]—4 can’ts, 3 cans. Good information here but I was a bit surprised by the idea of putting a book into KDP Select after it had already been on sale with Amazon (and other sales platforms) for a while. Seems like putting all of one’s eggs in one basket. A BIG basket, sure, but hardly the only one.

On Friday I mentioned Rachelle Gardner’s piece on how you can help support an author. Now along comes Chuck Sambuchino (@ChuckSambuchino) with 11 more ideas on Writer Unboxed on How to Support an Author’s New Book. At first it looked like the ideas were going to be only for traditionally published books but that’s not true: at least some of these ideas apply to every kind of book, e-, POD, or trad. What I especially like about this post is that Chuck suggests things you can say to your friends, and that they can say to their friends, that will give them even more reason to be interested in helping.

Focus on the word “returned” in the title of Joanna Penn’s latest post and 9-minute video, Self Publishing In Print: Why I Have Returned To Printing My Books. She made the new-author mistake of paying lots of money to have her early works printed, and then was stuck with copies that weren’t selling. In the video, she talks about that decision and why now, with three books selling well in eBook format, she thinks she’s ready to get back into (print-on-demand) print. Very practical discussion, if you don’t mind the repeated flashing of the newly-printed book.

THE WRITING LIFE

Dean Wesley Smith (@deanwesleysmith) points us at a recent post by John Scalzi (@Scalzi) called A Moment of Financial Clarification, in which Scalzi admits (gasp!) that he not only writes for money, he has done so with the (achieved) objective of getting rich. There will be some who find this objectionable: writing is art after all, isn’t it? Yeah, some of it is, but there are lots of artists in other fields (painting, music, and so on) that have gotten pretty darn rich an no one seems to mind that. If I have a beef with this piece is that Scalzi doesn’t mention how long it can take to become that overnight success. Otherwise, this moment of brutal honesty is refreshing.

If you’ve been reading blogs on writing for any time at all, you’ve run across the message, “to learn how to write, keep writing! To be an ‘overnight’ success, write lots.” Boyd Morrison’s (@boydmorrison) But I Want Success Now! on The Kill Zone repeats that message, but with plenty of examples of how many novels now-big-name authors wrote before the one that made them big-name authors. The numbers might be scary but the truth is what it is.

What do you think? Are you willing to work and wait for success or do you want it yesterday or not at all?

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, January 19-21, 2013

Happy Monday, everyone! It’s a grumpy Monday around here and I’m not sure why. Maybe it was that hard-sell video lying in wait in my inbox this morning. Grrrr. But enough of that: there’s Great Stuff ahead!

CRAFT

Porter Anderson’s (@Porter_Anderson) Writing on the Ether posts have always been frustrating for me. On the one hand, they often have useful or at least interesting information in them. On the other hand, they’re so freakin’ long. I mean, 5,078 words this time? Seriously? Which is a shame, because buried in all those words are two useful sections. One is on a study by Teresa Frohock (@TeresaFrohock) on whether readers can tell the difference between male and female authors when they don’t know who wrote a particular piece. The short answer is no. You can find the full report here. If you want to read the full Ether discussion, including a diversion into whether boys or girls are reading more, and two tangential tweet copies, click here.

So it’s ironic that the next piece here is Joe Bunting’s (@write_practice) 3 Ways to Compress Your Story Like Les Misérables on Writer Unboxed. Compress like les Mis, eh? Turns out, Bunting’s referring to the compression of the original novel into the play and the recent movie musical, which he says requires these steps: choose the right moments; combine characters; and write a good story, then cut. Good advice, all, though tough to do. Be sure to check out the supporting quotes.

Let’s stay with the practical tips and visit Harvey Stanbrough’s (@h_stanbrough) Top Five Mistakes Writers Make. Clear, simple, practical advice that I’m much more conscious of since he pinged me on most of them when he edited my WIP. D’oh!

KM Weiland (@KMWeiland) has pretty much finished teaching us how to structure our scenes, so now it’s time for the sequel, which would be… sequels. And in Pt. 7: The Three Building Blocks Of The Sequel, she does just that. To give you a preview, those blocks are Reaction, Dilemma, and Decision, which every sequel, no matter how brief, should include.

BUSINESS

Anderson also includes a section on author Cory Doctorow’s (@doctorow) take on writing, publishing, and visibility in another section of the same Ether post titled Beyond DBW: More Conferences. What that has to do with what Doctorow says isn’t clear. Here’s the key quote, though (emphasis Doctorow’s): “Here’s the thing about fame: although it’s hard to turn fame into money in the arts, it’s impossible to turn obscurity into money in the arts. It doesn’t matter how you plan on making your money — selling books or downloads, selling ads, getting sponsorship, getting crowdfunded, getting commissions, licensing to someone else who’s figured out how to make money — you won’t get the chance unless people have heard of your stuff.”

THE WRITING LIFE

Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) summarizes the key points from the Stockdale Paradox and applies them to the writing life (courtesy Jim Collins, author of Good to Great) in 3 Ways to Change Your Thinking Today. “Stockdale” refers to 8-year Vietnam Prisoner of War Jim Stockdale and the philosophy he used to survive that ordeal. In short, for writers, the 3 points are: decide that you will find success; embrace your current challenges; and face your situation realistically, being willing to work as hard as necessary to overcome your challenges. Easier to say than to do, but necessary.

I hope this sets you up for a great week.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, January 10 & 11, 2013

Happy Friday, everyone. Today’s posts really live up to the blog’s title. Great stuff! Not always the kinds of things we want to think about (estate planning, anyone?) but valuable nonetheless.

CRAFT

Jordan Dane (@JordanDane) picks out five lessons for great writing from Elmore Leonard’s TV series Justified in I Am JUSTIFIED on The Kill Zone. Want some hints? OK: “Never discount the importance of a good secondary character.” Or, “Dark humor is gold.” OK, that’s not for everyone. Check out the rest of the list to see what might be for you.

Lisa Cron’s (@lisacron) long but excellent 9 Tips for Writing a Really Good “Shitty First Draft” is about a lot more than just being an outliner versus a pantser. Her tips are much easier to write down than to do, but then, as she writes near the end, “… it’s not about the writing. It’s about zeroing in the story that you want to tell.” It’s a very timely post for me too, because today is the day I start Draft 1 of WIP #2. Deep breath… and dive in.

BUSINESS

This week’s long, as usual Business Rusch post from Kristine Kathryn Rusch (@kriswrites) is titled Fearless Inventories, so as you might expect, it deals with inventories, but the literary kind, what your estate’s executor might have to deal with regarding them, and what you can do to help them so they’ll remember you kindly—and your entire estate, including everything you’ve written, or planned to, will be properly valued and taken care of. Not a topic most folks are comfortable dealing with but if you hate your heirs (and not just your in-laws), go ahead and ignore this.

THE WRITING LIFE

Even if you don’t listen to the embedded 43-minute podcast, be sure to check out the 5 Things You Need to Get Sorted In 2013 on Joanna Penn’s (@thecreativepenn) blog. Good bet at least one of those five will be something you can/should do. Me? Four, anyway.

These next two guest posts could have gone into several categories but this one seems best because ultimately they’re both about the life of a writer. Debut novelist Matthew Turner (@turndog_million) lists the 10 Things I’ve Learned About Self-Publishing on The Book Designer, and seven-times-published Jennie Nash (@jennienash) lists her 5 Surprises About Self Publishing on Rachelle Gardner’s blog. Not surprisingly, there’s both overlap (it’s hard but worth it) and disconnects, if for no other reason than Nash traditionally published her first six books. If you have time for only one of these, I’d read Turner.

Okay, make it three multi-category posts. Robin LaFevers’s (@RLLaFevers) very personal essay, Embracing the Naked on Writer Unboxed, isn’t about that kind of naked (although that can be fun too), it’s about all the different kinds of exposure we have to deal with as writers—our own desires and fears, the slings and arrows of outraged readers, in the end, our own humanness—if we wish to be the genuine author we say we want to be.

What lessons have you learned about publishing, writing, or the writing life? Please leave a reply below.