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, December 8-10, 2012

It’s been a busy weekend and Monday out there on the blogosphere. Plenty of terrific stuff in all the areas we’re interested in.

CRAFT

KM Weiland (@KMWeiland) begins a 12-part series on scenes today with Structuring Your Story’s Scenes, Pt. 1: Mastering the Two Different Types of Scene. Twelve part??? Boy, there must be more to this scene thing than I’d realized. 😉 Actually, if you’ve read Jack Bickham’s book Scene and Structure, which I highly recommend, that won’t be such a surprise. For this first post, Katie defines the two types of scene—scene and sequel—just as the post title says she would. This should be a valuable series.

Cathy Yardley (@cathyyardley) offers what she calls A Simple Approach to Revisions on Writer Unboxed. Now, “simple” might be a relative term, particularly when you see the level of detail she goes through in her first of three passes through a text, even more so if you’re a pantser. On the other hand, that material reminds me very much of Scene and Structure, so it makes a lot of sense. Best bet? Check out the post and decide for yourself.

Scrivener, the software package designed specifically for writers, is becoming more and more popular, and with good reason. Unfortunately, if it has a weakness, it’s the tutorials that come with the program. Well-intentioned but, at least for my learning style, not as effective as I would have liked. Despite its title, Scrivener: An Introduction to Novel Writing is the last (so far, anyway) of Nick Thacker’s series on Scrivener on Livehacked. While the post looks really long, that’s deceiving because it’s full of screenshots. Even better, this is one of the best practical summaries of (just some of!) Scrivener’s capabilities I’ve seen. If you’re still on the fence about using this program, or have it and are feeling overwhelmed, take a look at this post. (Thanks to Joel Friedlander for pointing it out.)

BUSINESS

Having just been through a freelance edit of my WIP and query letter, I can tell you that Chuck Sambuchino’s (@ChuckSambuchino) Freelance Editing: How to Hire an Editor for Your Book or Query Letter is right on target. I didn’t run into any of the red flag issues he highlights but it’s good to be aware of, and beware of, them.

My first reaction to Robert Lee Brewer’s (@robertleebrewer) What Writers, Editors, and Publishers Should Worry About was that it applied primarily to non-fiction since he ends his first paragraph with, “Deliver what your audience wants and needs.” To some extent, that impression is correct, but at the same time it’s too limited. It does apply to fiction writers, memoirists, and poets, too, because he’s not talking just about content, although that’s first and foremost, but also about discoverability (can your potential readers find you and your work?) and connection (do your potential readers see you as human?). The key to a successful writing and publishing career isn’t any of these three things but all of them together.

Joe Konrath (@jakonrath) has an Interview with Guy Kawasaki (@GuyKawasaki) on his blog today, conducted by Barry Eisler. If you haven’t heard of Guy, he’s the former Chief Evangelist (I’m not making that up!) at Apple. Now he’s an entrepreneur, lecturer, and most important here, author of “numerous books on marketing, start-ups, and entrepreneurism,” according to the intro, including one launching today called Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How to Publish a Book (abbreviated APE!). It takes a while to get to the interview, so to speed up your reading, I suggest you scroll down to questions 6-8 at the end; that’s where the really interesting stuff is, on the future of publishing and the self-published author’s responsibilities.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Nina Badzin’s (@NinaBadzin) 7 Ways Twitter is a Writer’s Endless Holiday Party on Writer Unboxed offers some great tips on how to make better use of Twitter. I can see several are hints—I mean, tips—I need to take!

Chris Robley’s (@chrisrobley) How to Promote Your Book on Twitter: An Intermediate’s Guide to Tweeting on The BookBaby Blog takes those tips to the next level with introductions on how to use TweetDeck, HootSuite, Google Analytics and more. Thanks again to Joel Friedlander for pointing this post out.

THE WRITER’S LIFE

James Scott Bell’s (@jamesscottbell) 10 Ways to Sabotage Your Writing on The Kill Zone could fit either in this category or “business,” since it applies to both. If you’ve been studying this craft/business for a while, or better, been actively practicing it, these 10 ways will be familiar, but for someone new to the craft, this post contains warnings well worth heeding—even if that’s not always easy to do!

An important (and unavoidable) part of the writing life is getting feedback, and dealing with it isn’t always easy. In Sticks and Stones: The Highly Sensitive Writer Toughens Up, Kimberly Vargas (@_KimberlyVargas) offers some examples of the really rough criticism some well-known authors have received and suggests ways we can deal with the sting, even if we can’t eliminate or avoid it completely.

So that’s it for today. What do you think? Which posts did you like most? Which least? How can I serve you better? Let me know via social media or in the Comments below.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, November 23-26, 2012

Well, the Thanksgiving tryptophan hangover is certainly over! After a quiet weekend, bloggers are back in force today. LOTS to get to, so here we go.

CRAFT

KM Weiland’s (@KMWeiland) latest post in her series on lessons learned while writing her latest book has to do with 6 Types of Courageous Characters. This is something I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere. (The Bookshelf Muse’s Character Trait Thesaurus has an entry for courage but takes a different approach.) Katie qualifies courage, or “bravery,” as heroic, steadfast, quiet, personal, devil-may-care, or frightened, and describes and gives literary examples of each. This post and the thesaurus entry complement each other. Both are well worth the look.

I’d heard of “beat sheets” before but never really seen a summary of how they work. Lydia Sharp (@lydia_sharp) provides that in her guest post, Adapting Story Structure for Any Project, on The Bookshelf Muse. In this long post, Lydia lays out her beat sheet for her most recent YA book, so you can see how it works, then makes an important point: “It [the story] should flow naturally from point to point, never feel forced.” In other words, don’t feel you absolutely MUST hit certain events at exactly certain points (especially by chapter or word count).

Chuck Sambuchino (@ChuckSambuchino) offers some suggestions on how to start a novel based on What The Movie TRUE LIES Taught Me. OK, spoiler alert: what it taught him was to start fast. But to find out why and how it taught that lesson, check out the post.

Finally for this section, we haven’t had much information here on memoir but Gillian Marchenko (@GillianMarchenk) provides 5 Starter Tips on Writing A Memoir on WordServe Water Cooler. They’re all “don’ts” and some seem contradictory (don’t rush/don’t wait) but the piece is easy, useful, and fun. Don’t skip it!

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) revisits a topic she’s written about before, “interval training for writers,” in Success in 90-Minute Increments. The basic idea, which she picked up from a Tony Schwartz post on, of all places, the Huffington Post, is that we work best if we work in concentrated 90-minute chunks (3 maximum per day), each followed by a bit of down time to refresh and recharge. Haven’t tried this myself, don’t know if it works, but give it a look. Let us know what your experience was in the comments below, if you’d like.

BUSINESS

I’ve been doing a fairly intensive study of platform-building lately, and blogging is an important part of that, says every source I’ve come across. So Joel Friedlander’s (@jfbookman) Top 10 Tasks to Get Your Blog Ready for Prime Time is timely, even though this blog has been around for a bit over half a year now, particularly because I’m planning some changes (you heard it here first!). Whether you’re just thinking about starting a blog or have one running already, this post provides a good checklist to make sure you’re covering key bases.

Most of you don’t live in southeast Arizona, so you can’t take advantage of Harvey Stanbrough’s (@h_stanbrough) in-person seminars, so his Everything About Epublishing (or Where to Find it) provides a good starting point for what you need to know if you’re considering e-publishing your work (with, of course, the obligatory plug for his own publishing effort, StoneThread Publishing).

On The Kill Zone, James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) discusses a new but not really surprising development in e-publishing from Apple’s iBooks Author program, the “immersive” book. Bell’s take on this in Will Immersive Reading Save Publishing and Kill the Traditional Novel? frankly reminds me of other conversations inside and outside of publishing (Will e-books kill the printed book? Will recorded music kill the live performance?) for many years—over a century in the case of music. His concerns about the cost to produce such books are legitimate to a degree now but history shows these costs will come down over time as the tools get cheaper (many eventually free) and better. Anyway, the discussion in response is lively. Take a look. What do you think?

And last but not least, Joanna Penn (@thecreativepenn) posts key points from an interview podcast (plus a link to the YouTube video of the 40 minute interview) on Ebook Publishing on Kobo with Mark Lefebvre. Mark is the Director of Self-Publishing & Author Relations for Kobo and also a published author, so he should know whereof he speaks. Kobo is actively looking to compete with Amazon and has a better international reach, so they shouldn’t be off your list if you’re looking to e-publish.

WHEW! I wasn’t kidding about LOTS of stuff, was I? Happy reading!

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, August 28 and 29, 2012

Welcome to post #201 on the Cochise Writers blog! Today we have everything from scenes to themes in our craft entries and several posts on what might be called the down sides of desperation for fame and fortune. Unfortunately, there’s nothing funny today to offset that bad news. Anyway, let’s get to work.

  • Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) brings us an excerpt from Martha Alderson’s (@plotwhisperer) The Plot Whisperer Workbook containing what she considers the 7 Essential Elements of Scene & Scene Structure. These include time and setting, conflict and tension, and theme, and much more in between.
  • Kim Weiland (@KMWeiland) offers one tip on How to Find Your Character’s Voice on her WORDplay video post. Her technique–write random scenes in which the character is prominent, without worrying about where they will eventually fit into the story–will work. I added two of my own in the comments: interview the characters or have them write something autobiographical. Then the author HAS to get out of the way.
  • Canadian author Suzannah Windsor Freeman (@Writeitsideways) draws 3 Fiction Tips from Stephanie Vaughn’s “Dog Heaven” on Writer Unboxed. These tips are broader in scope than the first two posts today, and include how to break rules with intention and create a memorable ending.
  • And in the last post on craft, Dr. John Yeoman (@Yeomanis) discusses The Power of THEME on The Bookshelf Muse. This might sound scary and super-literary, but it’s not. Every story has a theme–its meaning–and Dr. Yeoman addresses what to do when either you’ve written the story but aren’t sure what the theme is or have an idea for a theme but no story to go with it.

On the business side…

  • Porter Anderson’s (@Porter_Anderson) long Extra Ether piece on Jane Friedman’s blog on Buying Book Reviews is the first of several that have shown up in my blog reading in the last few days (one is definitely enough) about authors, including best-seller John Locke, buying positive but completely bogus Amazon.com reviews from a company (GettingBookReviews.com–now shut down) whose only business was to provide them. It’s yet another sad example authors being desperate for fame and sales and the people who are willing to take advantage of them for their own profit. Honest work? Who needs that? Integrity? C’mon, man, this is the 21st century. (In case you’re wondering, I’m being sarcastic. And very sad.)
  • Along similar but more positive lines, Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) warns Not So Fast: Ideas to Rethink, when it comes to beliefs like quality in writing doesn’t matter any more or that electronic publishing is easy. There are a couple more, including one that might be seen as self-serving–her riposte to the idea that agents are becoming irrelevant. Judge for yourself.
  • Finally, to end on the most positive note I can, Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA) lists 5 Lessons About Community that Writers MUST Learn (emphasis hers) on DIY MFA. The essence of her piece is that while writing is primarily a solo occupation, maybe even because it is, it’s important to be a part of a community of writers (not necessarily a critique group) that gives and receives help and support to and from its members. (Which, she notes, is a way to generate legitimate Amazon reviews, among many other benefits).

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, July 31, 2012

Back to busy days, again. Today we’re covering the range from craft to publication.

  • We’ll start with the very most basic of skills: grammar, spelling,and  punctuation. This first article actually wasn’t a blog post but an article in the Harvard Business Review, which I found thanks to Brian Klems (@BrianKlems) and the Writer’s Digest e-newsletter. Kyle Wiens (@kwiens) writes I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why. Now, Mr. Wiens runs a couple of businesses that are writing-focused, but then, so do we. If we claim to be writers, but can’t tell the difference between their, there, and they’re, is our claim legitimate? Don’t think so.
  • Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA) continues her series of posts on what she learned at ThrillerFest with a post on Plot and Story Structure, in which she introduces us to Daniel Palmer’s 4-step approach: The Rhino, The “What if?”, The McGuffin, The Characters. Which would you think is most important? Answer at the end of the post.
  • Jeanne Kisacky introduces us on Writer Unboxed to Writing in the Discomfort Zone, the idea that getting out of what makes us comfortable is what gets us into our best writing.
  • Transitioning us out of “craft” and into what I might call “post-production” topics, Michael Hyatt (@MichaelHyatt) recommends 15 Resources for Pro Bloggers (or those who want to be). While most of these tools are specific to blogs and blogging, and two (Byword and Mars Edit) are Mac-specific with no Windows counterpart mentioned, a few, like Evernote and SnagIt should be useful even to those who don’t (yet) blog.
  • Speaking of blogging and “platform” in general, Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) posts a provocative discussion on “Shadowy Platforms” on Jane Friedman’s (@JaneFriedman) blog. The platforms he’s referring to aren’t locations for thrillers or mystery novels, but all the ways the whole platform-building enterprise can be a time-suck for writers.
  • Moving beyond “platform” to querying, Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) reprises a 2010 post on The Top Ten Querying Mistakes authors can make (plus a bonus one). The info’s good but be sure to check out the street sign in the photo, too. 🙂
  • And last but not least, we go back to controversy with Kathleen Pickering’s (@KatPickering) Kill Zone post, Kirkus Indie: When a Review Is Good for You. The thing that gets Kathleen’s commenters so riled up is that authors pay for the reviews on Kirkus Indie, the independent-publishing side of Kirkus Reviews magazine. For those of you who have never heard of them, Kirkus provides reviews to librarians, bookstores, publishers, agents, and other movers and shakers in the entertainment industry. A positive review is A Very Good Thing. And hard to come by. BUT! There’s no guarantee that buying a Kirkus Indie review will get an author a good review (morally, that’s as it should be), but that also means the author might pay as much as $575 for something he or she can’t use (morally, that’s questionable: is Kirkus exploiting authors’ need for approval to improve their bottom line?). So as you might imagine, the commentary to Kathleen’s post is, shall we say, animated.