Sunday, September 30, 2012

Writing Rules! Advice from The New York Times

Writing Rules! Advice from The New York Times

So far my vacation has been delightful! It's my first time in Portland and I'm sure it won't be the last. The food has been villainously great, Powell's Books was completely and utterly amazing. If you're any kind of bookworm, it's heaven. The place is enormous, I actually got lost! (They gave me a sticker, 'I got lost in Powell's'! It was great to know I wasn't the only one.)

After I get back I'll post some pictures of Powell's and other notable destinations. Today I'm visiting Voodoo Donuts. I went by yesterday but the line up would have reached from one end of a stadium to the other. A couple of public events had just let out, so I hope the line will be shorter today. They're open 24 hours (imagine, 24 hours!) so I'm confident I'll have consumed their dark delights before coming home.

In the meantime, here's a link to an utterly fantastic article from The New York Times by Amanda Christy Brown and Katherine Schulten: Writing Rules! Advice From The Times on Writing Well.

I hope you all are having an amazing weekend!

Other articles you might like:
- Learning Story Structure: Deconstructing a Novel
- The Key To Success: 3000 Words A Day
- Want Help With Editing? Try Free Editing Programs

Photo credit: Uniquely Portland Oregon.
(This site has a great description of Powell's Books and many more pictures.)





Saturday, September 29, 2012

Save The Cat! The Importance Of Sympathetic Heroes

Save The Cat! The Importance Of Sympathetic Heroes

I love Blake Snyder's book Save The Cat so I was delighted to read Elizabeth Craig's blog article on the subject. When I first came across the book I wondered about the title. It seemed like an odd choice for a book on screenwriting. Here's how Wikipedia describes it:
The title Save the Cat! is a term coined by Snyder and describes the scene where the audience meets the hero of a movie for the first time. The hero does something nice—e.g. saving a cat—that makes the audience like the hero and root for him. According to Snyder, it is a simple scene that helps the audience invest themselves in the character and the story, but is often lacking in many of today's movies. (Wikipedia, Blake Snyder)
Elizabeth Craig writes:
Snyder said that it was incredibly important for your audience (he, naturally, means filmgoers, but it works for readers) to like or at least pull for your protagonist. He casually mentions the importance of making your protagonist do something likeable in one of the first scenes of your film/novel.

This sounds incredibly simple (and is incredibly simple), but I’d never thought of it in such a concrete or deliberate way before.
.  .  .  .
But you want readers to at least pull for your character. You don’t want them to give up on your book. So, Snyder’s advice is to throw in a scene that displays the protagonist in a good light….early.

So, when readers are trying to decide if they want to invest their hard-earned free time with your character for the next few days or week, we’re giving them a reason to stick with them.

Before reading this book, I’d definitely thrown in a scene or two with a softer Myrtle at some point in the mystery. But usually it wasn’t near the start of the story.
Excellent advice! Red the rest of Elizabeth Craig's article here: Save the Cat

Other articles you might like:
- John Locke Paid For Book Reviews
- Tips For First Time Writers
- 19 Ways To Grow Your Twitter Following

Photo credit: Unknown

Friday, September 28, 2012

Away On Vacation!

Writing And The iPhone 5

I am off on vacation! A short vacation. I'll still blog--I've been squirreling posts away so I don't have to sit in my hotel room typing while my friends are off exploring the city. One thing I am going to do--or at least that I'm going to try to do--is treat this time away from my desk as an opportunity to see how easy it is to blog from the iPhone 5. (Not mine, a friend's. I haven't taken the plunge yet!)

I'm a bit of a foodie who loves street meat so I'll be prowling the city sampling the wares of food trucks and, generally, looking for good eats.

Before I go, let me leave you with a link to a terrific article by Joanna Penn: Lessons Learned From 1 Year As A Fulltime Author Entrepreneur:
I am seriously happy in my new life, but there have been some real challenges and lessons I’ve learned along the way that I wanted to share, as well as some action points if you’re considering making a similar move.

As ever, I just try to share honestly with you guys so I hope this helps you on your journey. I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment at the end of the post with your thoughts and ideas.
Cheers! Hope you all have a fantastic weekend. :)

Other articles you might be interested in:
- The Key To Success: 3000 Words A Day
- Learning Story Structure: Deconstructing a Novel
- Branding: Not As Painful As It Sounds

Photo credit: kaoruokumura

Thursday, September 27, 2012

7 Common Self-Publishing Fears And How To Banish Them

7 Common Self-Publishing Fears And How To Banish Them

From Copyblogger.com:
You keep telling yourself that you will write an ebook someday … just not yet. And it’s almost certainly the case that one of the seven common fears in this article is holding you back.

Staying stuck isn’t any fun, so let’s get right to it …

Fear #1: I’m not ready
This is the biggest worry I hear from bloggers: I’m not ready.

All too often, the bloggers saying this are more than ready.

They’ve been blogging for six months, or a year, or longer.

Or they’re subject matter experts.

Or they’ve been writing for years or even decades.

Even if the longest thing you’ve written so far is a blog post, you probably are ready (or at least a lot closer to ready than you think).

Tip: Pick a date when you will begin your ebook, however unready you feel. Put it in your calendar.

Fear #2: I don’t know what to write about
This fear comes in two forms:

I have no ideas at all
I have so many ideas, I don’t know which to pick

The best way forward is to ask your audience.

Give them a list of your potential ideas and ask them to vote on their favorites. Even better, ask them what they’re struggling with, using open-ended questions.

Tip: Though open-ended questions are always best, you can use SurveyMonkey to run a multiple choice survey — it’s free at the basic level, and quick and simple for your audience to use.
Great advice! Here are the rest of the fears:

Fear #3: Nobody will buy it

Fear #4: It won’t be good enough

Fear #5: I don’t understand the technology

Fear #6: I don’t have a big list

Fear #7: I hate the idea of marketing

To have your fears dispelled, read Ali Luke's entire article: How to Beat 7 Common Self-Publishing Fears.

Other links you might enjoy:
- Want Help With Editing? Try Free Editing Programs
- The Key To Success: 3000 Words A Day
- John Gardner: You Aren't Fooling Yourself, You Really Can Do It

Photo credit: Yuliya Libkina

The Key To Success: 3000 Words A Day


There are writers and then there are writers. In a recent post Kris Rusch reveals that she wrote 1,000,000 words last year. One million! That means she wrote nearly 3,000 words a day, each and every day.

My mind boggles! I think I might be able to do 3,000 words a day, but I'm not sure what else I'd have time for--but perhaps that's the point. One has to prioritize and non-writing related pursuits fall by the wayside. Specifically, fretting over and tweaking ones sales strategies.
 
Kris Rusch admonishes writers to concentrate on their writing as opposed to their sales since writers make money from the creation and sale of new work.  She writes:
Stop trying to tweak your numbers on one platform in one or maybe two countries on a daily basis, and write more books. Publish more books. Use all of the opportunities available to you.

Stop watching the sales numbers and start watching your personal production numbers.

I wrote one million words last year, despite a pretty serious illness, some major personal setbacks, and problems of others that my husband and friends are still dealing with.

The million words are under my control. The number of sales, once a book is released, is not under my control. Not when you look at the worldwide market, at all of the distribution channels. I can get the work out there, then I have to trust it to sell.

Write more. Fret less. Stop watching your sales numbers. Beat my million words this year.
Wow! One million words. I can't get over it. I doubt many writers have been able to match her output. But that ties in with her other advice:
Your writing career isn’t about this month or next month or last month or even five years from now. If you do this right, your career should last for your entire working life. We’re all different. I’m 52, and I hope to have as many more working years as Jack Williamson had. He was still writing up to his death at the age of 98. That means I get another 46 years of a writing career. On top of the thirty I’ve already had.

I’m planning for that.
Why do I have the image of Kris Rusch in a Superman outfit? I marvel that she has any time left to read!

Kris' post (The Business Rusch: Watching The Numbers) has both inspired me and made me feel like a complete slacker! Okay, gotta stop chatting with you folks and write. :-)

Other articles you might like:
- Tips For First Time Writers
- Query Tracker: Keep Track Of Your Stories
- Penelope Trunk Discusses Time Management

Photo credit: WordRidden

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

John Gardner: You Aren't Fooling Yourself, You Really Can Do It

Quotation, John Gardner: You Aren't Fooling Yourself, You Really Can Do It

I subscribe to AdviceToWriters.com, a site that shares quotations from well-known writers, and had to share this one with you because it really hit home for me:
In my own experience, nothing is harder for the developing writer than overcoming his anxiety that he is fooling himself and cheating or embarrassing his family and friends. To most people, even those who don’t read much, there is something special and vaguely magical about writing, and it is not easy for them to believe that someone they know—someone quite ordinary in many respects—can really do it. (John Gardner)
It can feel presumptuous in the extreme, the thought, the belief, that others would care to read our words, the stories we dream up and scribble down. The idea, if taken out and examined for too long or too often, can seem ludicrous. And that thought can, more than any other, dry up our inspiration, dissolve our will to write.

Others do want to read what you write because no one else has your particular view of the world, your particular set of experiences. The unpublished writer is an unmapped, uncharted, country awaiting exploration.

Or at least that's what I think. :)

Other articles you might like:
- Learning Story Structure: Deconstructing a Novel
- 8 Tips For Blogging Success
- Writing Resources

Photo credit: mikebaird

Learning Story Structure: Deconstructing a Novel

Learning Story Structure: Deconstucting a Novel

Lately, the writing world has been a twitter with the Department of Justice lawsuit and we have read more than we ever thought likely of sock puppets, or at least sock puppet accounts. And that's fine. Those were, and are, important issues, but let's talk about the act, and art, of writing.

Which brings me Kathy Steffen's terrific article, 10 Steps to Deconstructing a Novel (or How to Learn From Great Authors). Folks, this is a terrific post! Kathy advises us to:
Read first as a reader to enjoy the book, then go beyond the “magic” and take a look behind the curtain to discover how the writer enthralled you. Get that other part of your brain working—not the imagination part, but the analytical part. Read as a writer. Deconstruct your favorite novels.
So let's do it! Look at your bookshelf and pick a book, or books, you've read and enjoyed.

1) The Blurb/Jacket Copy
Look at the blurb, otherwise known as the jacket copy. If you chose an ebook, the blurb isn't always included, but you can look it up on Google Books, or at your favorite on-line bookstore. For instance, this is the blurb for A Discovery of Witches:
Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.
As soon as I read that blurb I knew I wanted to read the book, although I didn't get around to it for some months. Kathy Steffen writes:
When you go beyond your emotional reaction to the copy and look at it with your analytical brain, notice what jumps out at you and what excited you about the story and the characters.
For me, it was the mention of witches, a library and a bewitched alchemical manuscript. But what really got me was the last line: "Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell"

2) Prising apart the universal and the unique
What are the familiar/universal elements? What is unique? What is the hook? Kathy writes:
The familiar element gives your story mass audience appeal and connection. Ask yourself, how is this story universal or something people will connect with and understand?

The unique angle is just that—unique, fresh, or something familiar with a twist—and unique appeals to people. These two opposite aspects pull readers into the book.

Finally, add the hook. The hook is exactly what it sounds like, the reason someone gets intrigued. Think of the hook as the catalyst that pulls the reader into the book. The “closer” for the “familiar/unique” deal.
Here's an example:
Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay (yep, was made into a television show, Dexter.)

Familiar: Dr. Dexter Morgan, a highly respected police lab technician is a nice guy. But this isn’t just another CSI or serial killer fiction because…

Unique: Dexter (the protagonist) is a sociopathic serial killer (an example of been there, read that—serial killer—with a twist).

Hook: He’s the hero! It’s actually fun to see him figure out how to mimic emotional behavior so no one will guess he’s a sociopath. As you read, you find yourself rooting for a serial killer. (Writing a Page-Turning Novel: What’s the Big Idea?)
3) Goal, Motivation, Conflict
A book is generally about the goal of the protagonist, whatever that is. Can't quite bring that into focus? Try Kathy's fill-in-the-blank sentence:
Protagonist wants _____________ (goal)
because _____________  (motivation—why he wants it)
but _____________  (conflict—why he can’t have it).
For instance, in A Discovery of Witches, all her life Diana has wanted nothing to do with magic because magic killed her parents but she can't stop using it because magic is a part of her. (Or something like that.)

4) The hero's goal versus the hero's need
I'm sure I'm making a mess of this, but--again using A Discovery of Witches--I would say that while Diana's goal is to stop using magic entirely, her need (arguably) is to incorporate magic into her life and, in so doing, accept herself for who she is. It works nicely when the hero's need and the hero's goal conflict since that helps create conflict and conflict is interesting.

5) The story dilemma
Here is where you have to be mean to your characters. The characters you have lovingly created and are emotionally invested in. I feel toward my characters a bit like how I imagine a mother hen feels toward her chicks. I want to protect them from harm, not thrust them out into the cruel world and subject them to brutal story dilemmas! But, alas, we must if we want to create a great story.

In The Hunger Games if Katniss achieved her goal then bad things would happen to people she cared about. Specifically, she'd have to kill them. That's bad. That creates conflict. Tension. What is bad for your (beloved) characters is great for your story.

Or look at The Firm. Mitch McDeere wants to become a rich through practicing the law but it turns out that would mean being a lawyer for the mob, something that would put himself and his beloved wife, Abby, in mortal danger. Not good. And then Mitch's choices get really complicated when the FBI enters the picture. Great story, but I wouldn't want to be Mitch.

6) Your character's moral compass
In The Firm, I think the most important thing to Mitch was getting as far away as possible from the poverty and squalor of his youth. Showering his wife with gifts, providing for her, for their family, these were the things that drove Mitch to accomplish his goal of becoming a lawyer.

7) Don't forget your antagonist!
So far we've only been talking about hero's but a hero is nothing without an antagonist. Antagonists have goals, motivations and conflicts, just like heroes do (#3). They have needs (#4). They have a moral code (#7).

Granted, the antagonist's moral code is usually skewed in interesting ways, but they usually have one. In The Firm Avery (who I view as Mitch's nemesis) has adopted the morals of the firm and sold his conscience. But not entirely.

Avery is conflicted between accepting the danger of turning his back on the firm and accepting the poverty, accepting the loneliness, that would come with doing the right thing. He wants to, but he can't. In the end he does and saves Abby's life. Avery is a interesting, and exquisitely human, character.

8) Turning points
There is generally at least one turning point in a story. (In The Firm there are at least three, or so I would argue.)

One usually occurs when the hero answers the call to adventure. Another occurs at about the middle of the novel, the point of no return. For Mitch this was when there was no way back to his previous life. He was told he either had to side with the FBI or the mob. Either way he could never go back to his old life. Another generally occurs just before the end at the "all is lost" moment where the hero's schemes unravel and it seems he/she will never reach the goal. (Michael Hauge has a great article on this: The Five Key Turning Points Of All Successful Scripts. Also--I have this on a bookmark I've hung above my desk--here is Michael's Six Stage Plot Structure.)

Read the rest over at How To Write: Ten Steps to Deconstructing a Novel (or How to Learn from Great Authors).

Other articles you might like:
- Writing Resources
- Pixar: 22 Ways To Tell A Great Story
- Want Help With Editing? Try Free Editing Programs

Photo credit: CillanXC

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Speaking of Grammar: "Affect" Versus "Effect"

Speaking of Grammar: "Affect" Versus "Effect"

I must be thinking of grammar more lately, either that or there are just more great grammar related articles floating about the internet. Ever wondered whether you should use "effect" or "affect"? Wonder no more! Rachel Berens-VanHeest has written a (terrific!) post about just this.
Let’s start with at “affect” vs. “effect.” Many people use these worlds interchangeably, rather than correctly.

So what do they mean? By definition, you “affect,” or act on something, and something that you do causes an “effect.” In other words, “affect” is a verb, and “effect” is a noun. Or think of it this way: “affect” is something you DO, while “effect” is something that IS.

EXAMPLE: Susan wondered if David’s compliments were starting to affect her self-confidence. (The compliments are doing something, acting on, Susan’s self-confidence.)

EXAMPLE: Bob waited to see if his joke would have the same effect that it did the last time he told it. (The verb is “has,” while “effect” is a noun.)
That's just the beginning. There are many more gloriously simple and easy to understand examples in Rachel's article: Short and Sweet: Grammar Cake Pops – Affect vs. Effect.

Other articles you might like:
- Writing Resources
- 19 Ways To Grow Your Twitter Following
- 8 Tips For Blogging Success

Photo credit: Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Branding: Not As Painful As It Sounds

Branding: Not As Painful As It Sounds

Branding is a mystery to me. Those in the know say a writer must do it, but I never knew what 'branding' meant or why anyone would commit their precious time and resources to it. It could just be me, but doesn't branding sound uncomfortable? Isn't that something done to cattle?

Today I read a post by Copy Blogger that did the impossible, it explained branding to me. Here are the parts that did it:

"Branding is just another name for creating a perception."

"A brand is a promise. It's an expectation of an experience."
 
 That I can understand. For instance, Stephen King is branded as a horror writer. It doesn't matter that he writes a heck of a lot more than horror (Stand By Me for instance), when Jane Doe hears the name "Stephen King" she thinks horror.

When Stephen King's name is on a novel we expect it to be a horror story, that's the promise, that is the experience we want.

The very essence of brands doesn’t lie within your brand colors or site design, even though those are important.

The essence of a brand lies within its meaning. And words have meaning. Words matter.
As we all know, the goal of writing is the manipulation of your readers' emotions. That makes it easier to understand branding because when we brand ourselves we take ourselves as the subject of our own story. This story creates an expectation of an experience. A Stephen King novel? We expect to be scared, terrified, creeped out.

Sometimes, like Volvo, we don't know what our brand is going to be when we start out. I'm pretty sure Stephen King didn't think about branding when he wrote Carrie.

I'm glad I read Why Content Marketing is the New Branding. The article talks about more than what I've discussed here, but the revelation for me was in thinking of a brand as a story, my story. It is the mask, the persona, I hold up to the public. I find the idea both gleefully mischievous and sinister.

Other articles you might like:
- Want Help With Editing? Try Free Editing Programs
- Stephen King's Joyland (June 4, 2013): Cover Art Just Released
- Amazon's KDP Select Program: The Power Of Free

Photo credit: Daniel Schwen

Monday, September 24, 2012

Want Help With Editing? Try Free Editing Programs


Are you sick of hearing about sock puppets? Do you want to shut the world out, march into your writing cave and scribble like a madperson? I do! But when you emerge, pale and blinded by the light, you will have to decide: How are you going to edit all the glorious content you've created?

If you're anything like me, you understand you must edit your manuscript before you publish but you'll look for ways to reduce the cost. Some editors change less if your manuscript is mostly error free, so eliminating as many errors as you can before you send it off makes financial sense.

Apart from the cost, it's always nice to get your manuscript into the best possible shape before you send it out to readers. Which brings to mind something acutely embarrassing that happened to me last week: I emailed a short story to my critique group and only later--much later--noticed I'd sent them a first draft as opposed to the nearly final draft I'd intended to send! Although they were gracious, I still feel like I'd walked to the grocery story naked. Yes, that's a little off-topic, but I guess part of the reason for this post is I've resolved to make everything I send out as good as I can make it.

What's the solution? Editing programs! Preferably free editing programs.

What follows comes from a blog post of Virginia Ripple: Paid and Free Editing Software For Manuscripts. Here are the three programs Virginia uses: EditMinion, Pro Writing Aid, ClicheCleaner. She writes:
I use EditMinion first because it highlights adverbs, weak words, said replacements, sentences ending prepositions and passive voice in different colors. It wasn’t until I ran my first couple scenes through this free editing software that I realized I was in love with adverbs and had a real problem with passive voice.

Next I use Pro Writing Aid. This free editing software catches things like sticky sentences (sentences with too many glue words), vague and abstract words, overused words, repeated words and phrases, complex words and pacing. Like passive voice, I have a real fondness for sticky sentences, and this program finds those with ease.

Last of all, I use ClicheCleaner. It’s great for finding cliches and redundancies. You can download a free demo version that lets you scan up to 20 documents before needing to pay $12.95 to do any more. I downloaded ClicheCleaner because I always thought I had issues with using too many cliches. After using this free editing software, I was surprised to find I don’t have a big problem after all. Of course, even one can be too many.
I put the first three paragraphs of this post through EditMinion and Pro Writing Aid [1] and feel it did help. But, for me, that's not the real test of an editing program. I want to see what the program has to say about the prose of a writer I admire. I want to see what the program says about those paragraphs I read and I think, "I wish I could write like that!" THOSE are the kind of paragraphs I use to test editing programs.

Stephen King, On Writing
From the time I read his first book I've loved Stephen King's writing, so it's natural--or at least predicable--that I came to regard On Writing as something of a bible. How better than to test the editing program with Stephen King's prose? As you can see, I've also included Jim Butcher's work. I did this because if any editing program tells me that man can't tell a good story, then the program has spaghetti for circuits and is getting the old heave ho.

This is from page 153 of Stephen King's, On Writing:
Once I start work on a project, I don’t stop and I don’t slow down unless I absolutely have to. If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind—they begin to seem like characters instead of real people. The tale’s narrative cutting edge starts to rust and I begin to lose my hold on the story’s plot and pace. Worst of all, the excitement of spinning something new begins to fade. The work starts to feel like work, and for most writers that is the smooch of death. Writing is at its best—always, always, always—when it is a kind of inspired play for the writer. I can write in cold blood if I have to, but I like it best when it’s fresh and almost too hot to handle.

I used to tell interviewers that I wrote every day except for Christmas, the Fourth of July, and my birthday. That was a lie. I told them that because if you agree to an interview you have to say something, and it plays better if it’s something at least half-clever. Also, I didn’t want to sound like a workaholic dweeb (just a workaholic, I guess). The truth is that when I’m writing, I write every day, workaholic dweeb or not. That includes Christmas, the Fourth, and my birthday (at my age you try to ignore your goddam birthday anyway). And when I’m not working, I’m not working at all, although during those periods of full stop I usually feel at loose ends with myself and have trouble sleeping. For me, not working is the real work. When I’m writing, it’s all the playground, and the worst three hours I ever spent there were still pretty damned good.
I'm only going to focus on two reports: The Overused Words Report and the Adverbs/Passive Report. For the following I use Pro Writing Aid. (I'm only using one editing program because, for me, the question isn't whether one program is better than another, it is whether any editing program is very good, and I think Pro Writing Aid is one of the better ones.)

Overused Words, Stephen King, On Writing:
Overused WordsFoundSuggestion
could0Awesome
feel/feeling/felt2Remove about 1 occurence
generic descriptions0Well done
had0Nice work
have4Remove about 2 occurences
hear/heard0Perfect
initial -ing1Very good
it/there7Remove about 3 occurences
just/then1Just right
knew/know0Excellent
initial conjunction0Way To go
look0Great work
-ly adverb2Nice job
maybe0Awesome
see/saw0Well done
smell/taste0Nice work
that6Remove about 4 occurences
was/were2Perfect
watch/notice/observe0Very good

 Adverbs/Passive Report, Stephen King, On Writing:
 I can't copy and paste the text, but no passive constructions were found and two adverbs were listed:
- Absolutely
- Usually

Jim Butcher, Small Favor
Pick any of Jim Butcher's Dresden books and, if you like urban fantasy with witty characters, then you'll end up becoming a fan of the series. Really. Try it. (If you want to read the series, start with the first book, Storm Front.)

The following are the first few paragraphs from Small Favor:
Winter came early that year; it should have been a tip-off.

A snowball soared through the evening air and smacked into my apprentice’s mouth. Since she was muttering a mantra-style chant when it hit her, she wound up with a mouthful of frozen cheer—which may or may not have been more startling for her than for most people, given how many metallic piercings were suddenly in direct contact with the snow.

Molly Carpenter sputtered, spitting snow, and a round of hooting laughter went up from the children gathered around her. Tall, blond, and athletic, dressed in jeans and a heavy winter coat, she looked natural in the snowy setting, her cheeks and nose turning red with the cold.

“Concentration, Molly!” I called. I carefully kept any laughter I might have wanted to indulge in from my voice. “You’ve got to concentrate! Again!”

The children, her younger brothers and sisters, immediately began packing fresh ammunition to hurl at her. The backyard of the Carpenter house was already thoroughly chewed up from an evening of winter warfare, and two low “fortress” walls faced each other across ten yards of open lawn. Molly stood between them, shivering, and gave me an impatient look.

“This can’t possibly be real training,” she said, her voice quavering with cold. “You’re just doing this for your own sick amusement, Harry.”

I beamed at her and accepted a freshly made snowball from little Hope, who had apparently appointed herself my squire. I thanked the small girl gravely, and bounced the snowball on my palm a few times. “Nonsense,” I said. “This is wonderful practice. Did you think you were going to start off bouncing bullets?”

Molly gave me an exasperated look. Then she took a deep breath, bowed her head again, and lifted her left hand, her fingers spread wide. She began muttering again, and I felt the subtle shift of energies moving as she began drawing magic up around her in an almost solid barrier, a shield that rose between her and the incipient missile storm.

“Ready!” I called out. “Aim!”
Overused Words, Jim Butcher, Small Favor:
Overused WordsFoundSuggestion
could0Awesome
feel/feeling/felt1Well done
generic descriptions0Nice work
had1Perfect
have3Remove about 1 occurence
hear/heard0Very good
initial -ing0Just right
it/there2Excellent
just/then1Way To go
knew/know0Great work
initial conjunction0Nice job
look2Remove about 1 occurence
-ly adverb9Remove about 3 occurences
maybe0Awesome
see/saw0Well done
smell/taste0Nice work
that2Perfect
was/were3Very good
watch/notice/observe0Just right

Adverbs/Passive Report, Jim Butcher, Small Favor:
I can't copy and paste this, but there are 9 adverbs:
- early
- suddenly
- carefully
- immediately
- thoroughly
- possibly
- freshly
- apparently
- gravely

The program also mistakenly flagged the name "Molly" as an adverb.

Stephenie Meyer, Twilight
I was going to stop there. Both Stephen King and Jim Butcher are marvelous writers and if any editing program says otherwise, it's not an editing program I want to use. So far I like what I've seen.

But I couldn't leave it at that. I wanted to see how Pro Writing Aid did with a piece of writing that Stephen King thinks is horrible. Now, Mr. King isn't the kind of guy to read a piece of prose to the world and mock it, dissect it, criticize it, and I don't want to be that kind of person either. That's just being a jerk.

So, before I continue, I want to say that I read Meyer's Twilight series and liked it. Whatever flaws anyone sees in it, it works beautifully and is another brilliant caution against taking what anyone says about good or bad writing, grammar and all the rest of it, too seriously.

The following is from the beginning of Twilight:
Eventually we made it to Charlie's. He still lived in the small, two-bedroom house that he'd bought with my mother in the early days of their marriage. Those were the only kind of days their marriage had — the early ones. There, parked on the street in front of the house that never changed, was my new — well, new to me — truck. It was a faded red color, with big, rounded fenders and a bulbous cab. To my intense surprise, I loved it. I didn't know if it would run, but I could see myself in it. Plus, it was one of those solid iron affairs that never gets damaged — the kind you see at the scene of an accident, paint unscratched, surrounded by the pieces of the foreign car it had destroyed.

"Wow, Dad, I love it! Thanks!" Now my horrific day tomorrow would be just that much less dreadful. I wouldn't be faced with the choice of either walking two miles in the rain to school or accepting a ride in the Chief's cruiser.

"I'm glad you like it," Charlie said gruffly, embarrassed again.

It took only one trip to get all my stuff upstairs. I got the west bedroom that faced out over the front yard. The room was familiar; it had been belonged to me since I was born. The wooden floor, the light blue walls, the peaked ceiling, the yellowed lace curtains around the window — these were all a part of my childhood. The only changes Charlie had ever made were switching the crib for a bed and adding a desk as I grew. The desk now held a secondhand computer, with the phone line for the modem stapled along the floor to the nearest phone jack. This was a stipulation from my mother, so that we could stay in touch easily. The rocking chair from my baby days was still in the corner. There was only one small bathroom at the top of the stairs, which I would have to share with Charlie. I was trying not to dwell too much on that fact.

One of the best things about Charlie is he doesn't hover. He left me alone to unpack and get settled, a feat that would have been altogether impossible for my mother. It was nice to be alone, not to have to smile and look pleased; a relief to stare dejectedly out the window at the sheeting rain and let just a few tears escape. I wasn't in the mood to go on a real crying jag. I would save that for bedtime, when I would have to think about the coming morning.

Forks High School had a frightening total of only three hundred and fifty-seven — now fifty-eight — students; there were more than seven hundred people in my junior class alone back home. All of the kids here had grown up together — their grandparents had been toddlers together.

I would be the new girl from the big city, a curiosity, a freak.
Overused Words, Stephenie Meyer, Twilight
Overused WordsFoundSuggestion
could2Awesome
feel/feeling/felt0Well done
generic descriptions0Nice work
had7Perfect
have4Very good
hear/heard0Just right
initial -ing0Excellent
it/there15Remove about 8 occurences
just/then2Way To go
knew/know1Great work
initial conjunction0Nice job
look1Awesome
-ly adverb11Remove about 2 occurences
maybe0Well done
see/saw2Nice work
smell/taste0Perfect
that9Remove about 5 occurences
was/were15Remove about 7 occurences
watch/notice/observe0Very good

Adverbs/Passive Report, Stephenie Meyer, Twilight:
- Eventually
- Gruffly
- Only
- Easily
- Only
- Dejectedly
- Only 

Passive word phrases
- "was born"

Conclusion
I found it helpful comparing Meyer's work with King's and Butcher's. If I had more time, I would also analyze a passage from her newer book, The Host. My guess is that, like all people who write regularly, Meyer's prose has improved.

I haven't compared my own work to King's or Butcher's yet, but I will, and when I do I'm sure I'll cringe and blush. I do hope, though, that what I write today is better than what I wrote a couple of years ago. I think it is, and I believe reading Stephen King's book, On Writing, and taking it to heart, accounts for much of that improvement.

Other articles you might be interested in:
- Jim Butcher, Harry Dresden and the Dresden Files
- Stephen King's Joyland (June 4, 2013): Cover Art Just Released
- Writing Resources

Notes:
1. ClicheCleaner required me to download software, and cliches were covered by the first two programs, so I didn't use it.

Photo credit: Georges Méliès

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Seven Year Itch And Publishing

The Seasons Of Publishing

Have you ever watched the movie The Seven Year Itch? That's the movie in which, among other things, Marilyn Monroe stands stands over a subway grate so she can get some relief from the summer heat. The heat which, at least in the 1950s, drove people out of New York during August.

Apparently New Yorkers aren't the only folks to take August off. The publishing world did as well. Which is no surprise given that New York used to BE the publishing world. But that wasn't the only reason. Dean Wesley Smith tells us that book sales traditionally slump during the summer, from mid-May to mid-September.

Which brings us to the subject of Dean's post: The Seasons of Publishing. Specifically: fall, winter and spring. When I read that list I suspected a typo. Where's summer? But in publishing there was no summer. There were three seasons and each lasted for 4 months. Dean writes:
[A] major reason for no summer catalog and sales season for the publishers was that it was known that the lowest time for buying books by customers was May through the middle of September. That has not changed.
The lesson for indie publishers:

Don't watch your numbers like an obsessive-compulsive hawk!

If, currently, your book sales are down, at least one of the reasons is that it's summer and book sales go down in the summer. Simple as that. But that's just one reason that your sales could be down. The important point here is that, many times, when your sales go down it has nothing to do with your book. The dip is often completely beyond your control.

So if indie authors worry about our sales dropping and try to prop them back up by commissioning another cover, by rewriting the blurb, and so on, we really are just wasting time that could have spent writing more books.

Given the natural ebb and flow of book sales, what should indie authors do? Here are Dean's suggestions:
1) Focus only on learning and writing the next book.

2) Check your numbers when the money gets deposited every month and no more.

3) Expect your overall sales to go down from May 15 to September 15 unless you push in new titles or do something else to change your list.

The summer is a great time to push in new titles because they will be solidly in the system, throughout the world, as we go into the fall book-buying season. So if you do anything in the summer, get new titles up.

If you do change a price, for heaven’s sake, give the new price at least six months to nine months to return numbers to you. Changing a price from week to week or month to month is just flat silly in this business.

Think long term. Checking your sales numbers twelve times per year is enough. And for heaven’s sake, stop reacting to low sales in a traditional low-sales period in the business.
Nothing wrong with your books. Low sales in the summer are just normal.

I especially like Dean's recommendation to give a new price at least 6 months to preform before changing it again. Well, that and the advice to publish during the summer to give your book some traction before Christmas. Actually, I like it all! (grin)

You can read Dean Wesley Smith's entire article here: The New World of Publishing: The Seasons of Publishing.

Other articles you might like:
- Writing Resources
- The Role Of The Unconscious In Writing
- Lyla Sinclair's 8 Secrets Of Successful Romance Writing
- How Do Writers Get Their Ideas? Neil Gaiman, Seth Godin & Stephen King

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Great Authors Who Wrote Only One Novel

Great Authors Who Wrote Only One Novel

From Office Space For Rent:
Stephen King, Sue Grafton, and Dean Koontz have each written dozens of novels. They are successful, prolific authors whose works span decades. Other authors have been less productive but no less successful. 
 For instance:
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray: Wilde was a poet and playwright and like Salinger and Mitchell, published a number of collections, but only wrote a single novel. The Picture of Dorian Gray was criticized as immoral and was heavily censored. Wilde revised the book, and it eventually became a gothic classic. Wilde went back to poetry and plays and never undertook another novel.

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird: Published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was an immediate bestseller. The critically acclaimed classic won Lee a Pulitzer and a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and its 1962 film adaptation won three Academy Awards. Lee never expected the novel to be successful and shied away from the attention she received. She started other novels, but, dissatisfied with them or unwilling to face more publicity, abandoned them.
Oscar Wilde and Harper Lee are just two of many who, while writing short stories, plays, etc., wrote only one novel. To read about the rest, click here: 8 Amazing Authors Who Only Wrote One Book.

An interesting read! Thanks to Eric for the link.

Other articles you might like:
- Norway Pays Authors $19,000 Per Year
- Amazon's India Store Now Offers 70% Royalty Option
- Writing Resources

Photo credit: Infrogmation

Friday, September 21, 2012

Stephen King's Joyland (June 4, 2013): Cover Art Just Released


From EW.com:
Not only is King going retro with the setting of his upcoming novel, he’s also sticking to a tried-and-true format. “I love crime, I love mysteries, and I love ghosts,” he said in the press release. “I also loved the paperbacks I grew up with as a kid, and for that reason, we’re going to hold off on e-publishing this one for the time being. Joyland will be coming out in paperback, and folks who want to read it will have to buy the actual book.”

Charles Ardai, editor of Hard Case Crime, promises a layered, genre-crossing story. “Joyland is a breathtaking, beautiful, heartbreaking book,” he said. “It’s a whodunit, it’s a carny novel, it’s a story about growing up and growing old, and about those who don’t get to do either because death comes for them before their time. Even the most hard-boiled readers will find themselves moved. When I finished it, I sent a note saying, ‘Goddamn it, Steve, you made me cry.’” (See the cover of 'Joyland' by Stephen King)
- Read Stephen King's press release on StephenKing.com
- View the cover art for Joyland
- Join Stephen King's mailing list.

I find Stephen King's stories usually either make me scared of the dark, closets, washrooms (especially toilets) and dogs, or they turn me into a puddle of tears. This one seems to be the puddle of tears kind, although I do have the feeling I might not want to go to any carnivals after dark, at least for a while .... None of that matters, though. I've marked my calendar and am counting the days until Joyland hits the shelves. :-)

Other articles you might like:
- Stephen King: 15 tips on how to become a better writer
- Stephen King on Ray Bradbury: The sound I hear today is the thunder of a giant's footsteps fading away
- Henry Miller's 11 Writing Commandments

Photo credit: StephenKing.com

A Discovery of Witches: An Oxford Walking Tour

A Discovery of Witches: An Oxford Walking Tour

From time to time Amazon sends me book recommendations. When they started doing this, years ago, I used to read their recommendations to friends so we could share a laugh, that's how inaccurate they were. Lately, though, they've been getting better. Much better. For instance, recently I picked up a copy of Deborah Harkness' book, A Discovery of Witches. I haven't finished it yet, but am thoroughly enjoying it.

Just this morning Amazon sent me 10 book recommendations. The second from the top was A Discovery of Witches. Right under that was the sequel, Shadow of Night. I had no idea there was a sequel, so that made me happy, but it felt like cold fingers were trailing up my spine. Gah! Am I really that predictable?

Although I haven't yet finished A Discovery of Witches I am thoroughly enjoying it, so when I came across a link to this this YouTube video (A walking tour of Oxford for A Discovery of Witches) on Deborah Harkness' website I thought I'd share it.



Apparently there is going to be a third book in the series as well as a movie based on A Discovery of Witches.
Warner Brothers Pictures has secured the film rights to the All Souls Trilogy. Work is currently underway to adapt the first book, A Discovery of Witches, for the screen. Denise DiNovi and Alison Greenspan are producing the film. Playwright David Auburn, who has received both a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award, has been hired to write the screenplay.
For the latest information about the movie, click here: All Souls Trilogy Movie.

Has anyone else read A Discovery of Witches? What did you think of the book?

Other articles you might like:
- Norway Pays Authors $19,000 Per Year
- Amazon's KDP Select Program: Is Exclusivity Worth The Perks?
- Amazon's India Store Now Offers 70% Royalty Option

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Norway Pays Authors $19,000 Per Year

Norway Pays Authors $19,000 Per Year

This is from MediaBistro.com:
Norway buys 1000 copies of every book a Norwegian author publishes. It provides a $19,000 annual subsidy to every author who is a member of the Authors’ Union. The Association of Bookstores is allowed to have a monopoly on the sale of books—but is prohibited by law from engaging in price competition. It requires, by law, that bookstores keep books in stock for two years regardless of sales. And it exempts books from its very steep sales tax. Not surprisingly, Griswold finds, “Norwegians everywhere read, and they read a lot; Norway has one of the world’s highest reading rates.”
I tried to confirm those figures at the Authors' Union website but, unsurprisingly, the text is in Norwegian. The quotation comes from Regionalism and the Reading Class, a book on sociology by Wendy Griswold.

Wouldn't that be nice? $19,000 a year may not be enough to live on, but it would certainly help! It only applies to those living in Norway, but, still, I can't help but wonder what the entrance requirements are for joining the Authors' Union!

Other articles you might like:
- Tips For First Time Writers
- Kristen Lamb: Don't Let Trolls Make You Crazy
- Pixar: 22 Ways To Tell A Great Story

Photo credit: Photo by Mahlum, altered by Karen Woodward

Amazon's KDP Select Program: Is Exclusivity Worth The Perks?


A few days ago I mentioned that the Amazon store in India is now offering a 70% royalty option (Amazon's India Store Now Offers 70% Royalty Option) but apparently I didn't read the small print. Kris Rusch writes:
This week came the news that Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program will offer its content providers a 70% royalty on all sales made in India—provided the content providers go with Kindle Select only. For those of you who don’t know, Kindle Select requires exclusivity from anyone who joins it. You can’t market your work on the iBookstore, for example, or on Kobo if you’re part of Kindle Select. Only on Amazon.
Let me play devils advocate. Many writers I've spoken with say they make upwards of 95% of their sales on Amazon, so selling only through Amazon is not costing them a great deal of money. Further, since Amazon gives them perks like free days and inclusion in the lending library many authors end up selling far more through Amazon than they would have through all the stores combined.

Personally, I thought the above line of reasoning was compelling, but Kris raises an excellent point. She writes:
[M]y own beliefs about maintaining different platforms for my work got reinforced this week after WMG hired someone to input the sales figures for the last six months. We looked at those numbers yesterday. I sell a lot of books on Kindle, but my biggest selling title, a short story called “The Moorhead House,” sold a grand total of one copy on Kindle from January to June.

Every single one of “The Moorhead House”’s rather surprising (to me) sales came on the Nook. For some reason, Nook readers either like or have found or continue to find that one short story. And they buy it more than they buy anything else of mine offered through Barnes & Noble.

If I had joined Kindle Select with that story, I doubt I would have made comparable sales.
I don't think I've read a business post of Kris Rusch's that wasn't well written and well thought out. This one is no exception. If you'd like to read the whole thing here's the the link: The Business Rusch: Content is King.

I'd like to share one more thing with you before I leave. Kris writes:
If you can control the content, then you can control the money.

But here’s the problem with content: it’s not easy to create. If a bunch of monkeys at typewriters could write novels, don’t you think the publishing industry would have conscripted the little buggers decades ago?
I thought that was hilarious! So true.

Other articles you might like:
- How To Format A Word Document For Amazon's KDP Publishing Program
- Lyla Sinclair's 8 Secrets Of Successful Romance Writing
- Indie Books: What Price Is Right?

Photo credit: Karen Woodward

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Stephen King's Sequel To The Shining, Doctor Sleep, Coming Sept 24, 2013

Stephen King's Sequel To The Shining, Doctor Sleep, Coming Sept 24, 2013
Stephen King's Signature

From theguardian.co.uk:

Readers who have been waiting for more than 30 years to find out what happened next to Danny Torrance, the young boy who survived the horrific events of The Shining, can breathe a sigh of relief: Stephen King has finally announced a publication date for his long-awaited sequel.

Doctor Sleep will be published on 24 September 2013, King has announced – 36 years after The Shining was first published in 1977.

King's third novel, The Shining tells the story of the Torrance family, who move to the Overlook Hotel in the Colorado mountains where father Jack is to act as caretaker over one long winter. Jack Torrance becomes possessed by the evil spirits in the hotel, and attacks his family, but Danny – whose psychic abilities have strengthened the hotel's ghosts - and his mother Wendy eventually escape.

Many, many novels later, King's Doctor Sleep will take up the story of a middle-aged Dan Torrance, a man who has "been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father's legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence", according to the synopsis released by King's UK publisher, Hodder & Stoughton.

Dan has settled in a New Hampshire town, where his "shining" psychic power is used to provide final comfort to the dying. Known by the townsfolk as Doctor Sleep, he comes into contact with a 12-year-old girl, Abra Stone, whose shining is "the brightest ever seen", and must fight a terrifying tribe of quasi-immortal beings who live off the "steam" which children with the "shining" produce when they are slowly tortured to death. (Stephen King's Shining sequel Doctor Sleep coming next year)

Here is Stephen King reading a chapter from Doctor Sleep:



Other articles you might like:
- Stephen King: How His Novel "Carrie" Changed His Life
- Kristen Lamb: Don't Let Trolls Make You Crazy
- Henry Miller's 11 Writing Commandments

Photo credit: Connormah

Amazon's India Store Now Offers 70% Royalty Option


I found this in my inbox last night. From Amazon:
We are happy to announce that the popular 70% royalty option is now available for sales to customers in India for titles enrolled in KDP Select. This royalty option is available for books sold from the new India Kindle Store, Kindle devices, and Kindle apps.

New features for authors and publishers in India include the ability to set prices specific for India, receive royalty payments in INR, and now earn up to 70% royalties when enrolled in KDP Select. For additional details, check out our Terms and Conditions:

https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=APILE934L348N

Also, take a look at the 70% List Price Requirements:

https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A301WJ6XCJ8KW0

If you would like to review or change your royalty preferences for each title sold in India, just visit the KDP Bookshelf here:

https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/dashboard
Looks like the ebook market in India is just getting started:
If you happened to wander down the aisles of the Delhi Book Fair that concluded recently, you would think that India is soon going to be swamped by a tsunami of ebooks, heralding a digital revolution in e-reading like never before. Almost every other store had something about soon-to-come ebook offerings.

The reality is that the Indian publishing industry in its offline form is still flourishing, churning out 100,000 titles a year and growing at 12 to 15 per cent a year. Many of the biggies in the book selling business seem impervious to all the noise about the business of reading digitally. Leading online book chain, Flipkart, had earlier said it was studying the space, but refused to comment on ebooks for this story. Snapdeal, the online marketplace, says that it is treading cautiously. Snapdeal co-founder and chief executive officer, Kunal Bahl, says that he too is analysing opportunities, but first wants “to ensure that there are enough devices for people to access ebooks.”
Looks like a great market for indie authors! The rest of this article can be read here: Is an ebook revolution around the corner? Thanks to the Passive Voice Blog for the link.

Other articles you might like:
- How To Format A Word Document For Amazon's KDP Publishing Program
- Lyla Sinclair's 8 Secrets Of Successful Romance Writing
- Indie Books: What Price Is Right?

Photo credit: Unknown

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance


"The way you define yourself as a writer is that you write every time you have a free minute. If you didn't behave that way you would never do anything." 
John Irving (1942 - )

"You can't think yourself out of a writing block, you have to write yourself out of a thinking block." 
John Rogers, Kung Fu Monkey, 06-25-11

You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.
Ray Bradbury (1920 - 2012), advice to writers

If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write.
Stephen King (1947 - ), On Writing, p. 147

These quotations are from The Quotations Page.

Other articles you might like:
- Pixar: 22 Ways To Tell A Great Story
- Kristen Lamb: Don't Let Trolls Make You Crazy
- 4 iPad Apps For Writers

Photo credit: Unknown

How To Format A Word Document For Amazon's KDP Publishing Program

How To Format A Word Document For Amazon's KDP Publishing Program

As anyone who has successfully published a book will tell you, formatting your MS Word document correctly is the key to a successful, low-stress, experience.

One of the best explanations of how to format your Word document in preparation for publishing is in Zoe Winter's book Smart Self-Publishing: Becoming An Indie Author, but if you don't have it, this video by Connie Neal has some great tips: Formatting a Word 2010 Document for KDP.

I agree with Passive Guy's comment on the video:
In the demonstration, Connie applied some styles, then manually centered the text. PG would probably modify the style so it includes a centered text format. Very easy to do.

Rather than using one of Word’s style sets, PG uses a set of styles he has developed for all of Mrs. PG’s books. When he receives a new manuscript, he applies the styles he’s developed to that book. If he wants a different look for the new book, he can modify the styles or add other elements.

He usually begins by formatting the CreateSpace printed copy, always using section breaks instead of page breaks, then uses the result for conversion to ebook formats. It’s not the only way to do it, but it seems to him to be the most efficient.
Another great resource for formatting is Mark Coker's Smashwords Style Guide. I know, I know, we're talking about formatting your Word document for publishing through Amazon's KDP program, but the basics of formatting are the same regardless of where you're uploading to.

The key, I think, is to "go nuclear" and strip out all formatting from your document and then put it back in, making sure that the only formatting you use in your finished document, the one that's going to be uploaded to Amazon, are paragraph styles. I strip out the formatting by copying the entire text of the manuscript and pasting it into a text file like Notepad (on the PC), copying that text, then opening up a new Word file and pasting the text from Notepad file into it. (Clear as mud?) Sounds like a lot of work, but it's worth it to be sure you've stripped out every last pesky pit of formatting.

Stripping out all formatting will also strip out italics so I've taken to indicating italics in my manuscripts by putting "_" on the left side of a word. For instance, "She _loved chocolate" equals "She loved chocolate". Then I just do a global search and italicize all words that have an underscore as their first character. After that I remove all underscores and there you have it. (This article, Find and Replace Using Wildcards, is terrific)

I imagine there's a far more simple and elegant way of doing the same thing, and if any of you folks have discovered it, please do let me know! :-)

Other articles you might like:
- Lyla Sinclair's 8 Secrets Of Successful Romance Writing
- Indie Books: What Price Is Right?
- Writing Resources