Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, January 12-14, 2013

We’ve got everything from variations on a scene to guest posting to number crunching (or not) to scams to friends to plot holes. Quite a smorgasbord of Great Stuff!

CRAFT

KM Weiland (@KMWeiland) continues her series on scenes with Pt. 6: Variations on the Scene. Said variations can apply to:

  • The scene goal: discovered after the scene begins; is implied instead of stated
  • The scene conflict: opens with conflict, not goal; is understated
  • The scene disaster: ends before the disaster, or
  • The scene as a whole: is skipped, implied, or summarized; is interrupted by a new scene; or switches POV.

Lots of great information here, especially for the intermediate writer.

Despite the title, Boyd Morrison’s (@boydmorrison) Have Gun? Won’t Travel on The Kill Zone isn’t about guns, per se, and it’s certainly not about the “debate” over “gun control” going on in the country now. It’s about plot holes, those practical, logistical, or logical impossibilities that movie-makers often get away with that writers can’t (or at least shouldn’t) and what you might do to keep yourself from leaving them in your own work. A long post, but worth a look.

BUSINESS

At first, Michael Swanwick’s Free Me! post was pretty much what I expected: an announcement of a free e-book from Tor.com that includes one of his stories. But then Michael went on to join the Kris Rusch bandwagon and remind authors to start recording their bibliography as soon as their first story is published. Why? Not just to have the record for your eventual estate, but to motivate you to get another story written and published so the first one won’t look so lonely. And then the first two won’t be lonely. And then….

Dean Wesley Smith (@DeanWesleySmith) continues his New World of Publishing with a not-as-long-as-it-looks post titled Counting Numbers. This piece is going to be a bracing reality check on what realistic expectations for sales numbers and income look like, especially for many new, stars-in-their-eyes writers, but that’s okay. Perhaps his most important point is to think like a publisher: over a 10 year span, not month-to-month.

James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) wades once again into the quantity-now-versus-quality-soon debate that’s been bubbling around the blogosphere lately, with participants like DW Smith, Jane Friedman, and Porter Anderson with his Kill Zone post Publishing and Marketing Your Crap. It takes him a while to get to this point but it’s sure where my thinking is: “If readers don’t like the first book of yours they try, they’re most unlikely to buy any of the other 37.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA) begins a series on Why Writers Should Write Guest Posts. This fairly long article covers five strategies for why someone would want to do this: to promote a blog or web site, to reach a new audience, to promote a new book, to help a new blogger build a readership, and to stretch your “writing muscle.” Future posts will cover the who, what, and how of guest postings. Should be a good series.

The second post, in fact, is pretty good, too. Gabriela discusses Navigating the Guest Post Process, including deciding specifically what to write about and for whom, how to pitch the idea (including a format for a pitch e-mail—very good idea!), things NOT to do in the pitch, and what to do when the post is published. All terrific stuff. She also provides a downloadable PDF form that you could use to track your submissions. Unfortunately, you can’t fill it in electronically but Gabriela’s accepted my offer to make it fillable. Check back tomorrow for news.

THE WRITING LIFE

Scams, alas, are a part of e-life, and Victoria Strauss (@VictoriaStrauss) relays a report of one that’s been making the rounds in the UK in Alert: UK Speaker Scam Targets Writers (and Others) on Writer Beware® Blogs. In essence, the scam comes as an e-mail that says the recipient’s been selected to be a guest speaker at a university-sponsored conference but (there’s always a but) there are government fees that need to be paid up-front. You can figure out the rest. This scam isn’t unique to the UK; it’s a variation on a theme whose purpose is always to separate the naïve or unthinking from their money. Writer: beware!

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) points us over to the Glimmer Train Bulletin for an article by Kate Gale, the Managing Editor of Red Hen Press in which she advises, Find Someone Who Is a Stakeholder in Your Writing Life. She suggests three sources—family, spouse/lover, and other (published) writers—and a total of five people, or so, who will believe in you and support you. Contrary to the opinion of some writers, this is where a writers’ group can—not necessarily will, but can—provide that kind of support. Food for thought.

Don’t forget, you can always share Great Stuff with your friends. At no cost! 😉

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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, 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, August 23 & 24, 2012

A 60/40 mix of craft and marketing posts today, with a final just-for-fun piece. As usual, we’ll start with craft.

  • Kim Weiland (@KMWeiland) offers suggestions for how to Strengthen Your Writing by Listening to Pet Peeves on her WORDplay blog. Every writer, reader, agent, or editor has things they just hate in writing. While you might not agree with all of them, you can improve your writing, Kim says, if you listen to those gripes, consider them with care, and adjust your writing wherever you see the value behind the complaint. James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) asks Kill Zone readers to list their faves (or maybe these are their anti-favorites) on Reader Friday: Stop It!
  • Martha Alderson (a.k.a. The Plot Whisperer; @plotwhisperer) means to describe what she considers to be the Benefits of Plotting in Scenes on The Bookshelf Muse. Frankly, I’m a little torn about including this post today because, while she succeeds to an extent, I felt this post and this concept could have been much more fully developed. Still, there is value here.
  • Finally for this section, John Vorhaus (@TrueFactBarFact) reminds us that The Practice of Writing requires just that–practice–and offers 9 ways to ensure you can and will do it.

These next two posts have to do with getting your work in front of readers’ eyes.

  • Dan Blank (@danblank) asks on Writer Unboxed, Do You Know Who  Your Audience Is? No, Really: Do You? It’s a many-times-asked question, which means lots of would-be published authors haven’t got this one figured out yet. While this longer than necessary article could have benefited from some editing, it does eventually get around to the steps to take to identify who your target audience/market is.
  • With your target market identified, Michael Hyatt (@MichaelHyatt) offers his steps for How to Launch a Bestselling Book. This post is focused more on non-fiction than fiction, and Hyatt notes that what worked for him won’t necessarily work for you, but the steps are practical and specific. That’s different from saying they’ll be easy, especially for those not comfortable with the whole idea of marketing.

And finally, and just for fun, the winners (?) of this year’s Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest have been announced in Publishers Weekly. In case you’re not familiar with this contest, it’s run by the English Department of San Jose State University in California in honor (?) of Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the British novelist and playwright who began his novel Paul Clifford with, “It was a dark and stormy night;…” You can read the full list of winners (?) in all the various categories, if you can, if you dare, here. (To his credit, EGB-L is also the creator of the terms “the pen is mightier than the sword,” “the great unwashed,” and “the almighty dollar,” although given the prolix nature of Victorian prose, one shudders to think what verbiage these phrases might have been embedded in; or if you prefer, in what verbiage these phrases might have been embedded.) Thanks (?) to Nathan Bransford (@NathanBransford) for reporting this on his blog.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, July 29, 2012

Ahhh, a lazy Sunday. Just a few posts on craft for you today.

  • Let’s start with some writing mechanics stuff: Harvey Stanbrough’s (@hstanbrough) Hyphens, Em Dashes, and Ellipses–Oh, My! on Writing the World. Clear and logical advice on when, how, and why to use each of these punctuation marks, plus the intermediate-length en dash.
  • Over on The Kill Zone, James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) asks “Is ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ Overrated?” His answer is “no,” with illustrations why. In my mind, “show, don’t tell” is like every other sound-bite: a core of useful information that is incomplete because so much is left unsaid. “Show, don’t tell” isn’t a rule, or shouldn’t be considered one. It’s the beginning of a conversation about craft and technique. Anyone who only parrots the sound-bite fails to understand what lies beneath it.
  • And finally for today, Kim Weiland (@KMWeiland) discusses 5 Reasons to Write Your Scenes in Order (and 3 Not to) over on WORDplay. Kim readily admits she’s an outliner (I am too, sort of) rather than a pantser, which explains perhaps why she has more reasons for writing scenes in order than against, but as she notes, the “right” technique is the one that works best for you and for the story you’re working on at the moment.

That’s it. Have a great Sunday.