Sunday, March 31


Sometimes when a story isn't working the only thing you can do is start over from scratch.

Just typing that made me cringe!

Signs that your manuscript needs a rewrite

How can we tell if our story needs a rewrite as opposed to a re-draft?

Heather Anastasiu talks about her decision to rewrite her novel Override in her wonderful article, The Art of the Rewrite.
I recognized I’d need a rewrite when all of my beta partners, my agent, and my editor seemed less than enthusiastic about the draft. Nobody came out and said it was horrible, but there was a lot of beating around the bush about how bad it was. I think I probably scared my editor with that first draft. I imagined her in the office reading it and being like ‘why on earth did I ever buy this trilogy?’
It's difficult to judge what is wrong with my own stories so I am grateful to have critique partners and beta-readers who can be objective about my work when I can't.

What to keep in mind when doing a rewrite

The nuclear approach

One way of doing a rewrite is to open up a brand new file in your word processor and begin again from scratch.

Heather decided to go a nicer, kinder, less traumatic route.

a. Outline the book as it stands

b. Re-read sections and target the problems.

c. Brainstorm about how to fix the problem.

For instance, Heather recognized that she was having difficulty relating emotionally with her protagonist and so--naturally--her readers were as well.

d. Look at the pacing. Are our character's goals clearly spelled out?

e. At each step, ask what your protagonist wants. What motivates her. What are her worst fears?

We need to figure out what our characters want and then trow obstacles in their path to prevent them from getting it.

f. Know your weaknesses and strengths as a writer.

Heather writes:
So these are the big things to keep in mind when you do a re-write:

Take some time away from the draft. Get feedback and then try to look at it with fresh eyes. And be brutal with yourself—not the self-defeating kind of brutal, aka, ‘I suck and will never be successful at this writing thing!’ Instead, you need the productive kind of brutal, acknowledging that this is a work in progress, that all writers (both published and unpublished) are facing these same problems, and gearing yourself up to dig in to do the work that needs to be done.

What does my character want and what do they fear? Am I crafting the plot to really push these desires and fears to the forefront so I can get a full emotional arc for my characters? Your characters are what stay with a reader, not clever plots. Your character’s emotional arc is what will make readers laugh and cry.

Do I lose tension during any section of the book? Do I keep the stakes high? Usually this ties back into the first point—does the reader genuinely feel like the main character has something important to lose, that their wants and desires are challenged in some way in each chapter? Don’t be afraid to hurt your main character or take them scary places. Being a writer means being willing to gut your main characters and then kick them while they’re down. Conflict is what stories are all about.
Excellent advice!
Question: Have you ever done a complete re-write of a manuscript, starting again from scratch? Please share your wisdom!

Other articles you might like:

- Are Libraries 'Sitting Close To Satan'?
- How To Write A Great Opening For Your Story
- Creating Flawed Characters

Photo credit: "Autoportrait" by *** Fanch The System !!! *** under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, March 30

Are Libraries 'Sitting Close To Satan'?

Are Libraries 'Sitting Close To Satan'?

Do Publishers View Libraries As Their Adversary?

Did you know that some publishers refuse to sell ebooks to libraries? Or that some publishers have made ebooks impossibly expensive for all but the best funded libraries to purchase?
In publishers’ eyes librarians are “sitting close to Satan”, declared Phil Bradley, president of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. He was addressing indignant librarians who recently gathered in London to swap tales of e-lending woe. Some publishers have refused to sell their e-books to public libraries, made them prohibitively costly or put severe restrictions on their use. Although 71% of British public libraries lend out e-books, 85% of e-book titles are not available in public libraries, according to Mr Bradley. In America the average public library makes available only 4,350 e-books (Amazon, an online retail giant, stocks more than 1.7m).
 That's incredible! Especially this line:
Although 71% of British public libraries lend out e-books, 85% of e-book titles are not available in public libraries ... 
(All quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from: Folding shelves.)

Owning vs Licensing

If I go to the bookstore and buy a book, a physical book, something I can hold in my hands, under copyright law I'm allowed to lend that book out. We've all done this, we loan books out to friends as well as borrow them. But ebooks are different. When I buy an ebook from Amazon all I have bought is a license to use the book. Unless the author/publisher allows it I can't lend that book out.

Under copyright law, anyone who buys a printed book can lend or rent it, but the same does not apply to digital works. Libraries do not own these outright. Instead they must negotiate licensing deals for each book they want to lend. They put the e-collections on servers run by computer firms such as OverDrive and 3M, which typically charge around $20,000 annually, plus a fee for each book.
Also, publishers often limit the number of times a book can be lent out by a library before the licence has to be re-purchased (see: Publisher's fear of e-books is hurting libraries).

I generally like to put a positive twist on my articles--I love happy endings!--but this particlar cloud seems to come without a silver lining.

But we can make one.

In a recent post Joy Konrath said he would make any of his books available to any library who wanted it for a flat fee of $3.99 per ebook. The library would then own the rights to use that book forever. Here are his complete list of terms:
1. Ebooks are $3.99

2. No DRM.

3. The library only needs to buy one ebook of a title, and then they can make as many copies as they need for all of their patrons and all of their branches.

4. The library owns the rights to use that ebook forever.

5. The library can use it an any format they need; mobi, epub, pdf, lit, etc. And when new formats arise, they're free to convert it to the new format.
That quotation is from: Ebooks For Libraries, a post which Joe Konrath made on August 29th of last year. Here's another post Joe made about the same topic: E-books in Libraries: They Still Don't Get It.
Question: Would you offer any of your books to a library under Joe Konrath's terms?
Thanks to The Passive Voice Blog for the link to the article in The Economist.

Other articles you might like:

- How To Write A Great Opening For Your Story
- Creating Flawed Characters
- Amazon Is Acquiring Goodreads

Photo credit: "Blend - Mistery of the forest - wallpaper - version 2" by balt-arts under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0.

Friday, March 29

How To Write A Great Opening For Your Story

How To Write A Great Opening For Your Story
Few would disagree that the first line of a story is the most important for hooking a reader's interest but how does one do this?


J.M. Ney-Grimm writes:
There is a structure that consistently hooks most readers’ attention. This “hook opening” won’t be right for every story, but it serves many of them well.

A character with a problem in a setting. (The First Lines)
We want the first line to provoke a question. For instance, here is one of the best first lines I've ever read:
It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. (Paul Auster, City of Glass)
This opening line raises a number of questions: Who was the caller? Who did they intend to call? Why were they calling? Why let the telephone ring exactly three times? As long as the reader is interested in answering these questions they'll keep reading.

Use The Senses: Use all five senses every 500 words.

J.M. Ney-Grimm writes:
Ground your reader in what your character is seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting. Make your opening rich with sensory detail. Your reader will feel like she or he is there, chilled by the breeze, smelling cinnamon, tasting vanilla, hearing chapel bells, and watching the cavalry thunder over the hill crest.

Touch on all five senses in the first three paragraphs and continue to mention them every 500 words. (The First Lines)
Having hooked your reader, keep them immersed with your richness of sensory detail.

J.M. Ney-Grimm's article, The First Lines, is well worth the read. Thanks to The Passive Voice Blog for the link.

Other articles you might like:

- Creating Flawed Characters
- The New Yorker Rejects Its Own Story: What Slush Pile Rejections Really Mean
- How To Design A Great Looking Book Cover

Photo credit: "Aisha" by rolands.lakis under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Creating Flawed Characters

Creating Flawed Characters
It's difficult to create flawed characters.

I feel protective of my creations, I want them to grow up to be tall and strong and to remember to floss and look both ways before they cross the street.

Instead I have to make them drink too much, or have a temper, or lack compassion. But that's not enough, I must also throw misfortunes at them. My darling characters lose their jobs, their health, their family, their place in society.

Creating Flawed But Likable Characters

If, like me, you find it a constant challenge to make life hard for your characters, then A.L. Sowards article, Creating Flawed (But Likeable) Characters, is a must-read.

But, you might ask, why must we make our characters flawed?

The fact is, flaws make characters interesting. (Also, they leave room for improvement. If the protagonist is perfect at the beginning of a story it doesn't leave her any room to grow, to change.)

Sowards writes:
Chances are, your reader can relate to your character’s Diet Coke addiction because your reader just opened another Diet Pepsi or opened another bag of M&Ms. Does your character have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning? Who can’t relate to that? Does your character spend too much time on Facebook? Maybe your reader does too, or if not them, their roommate or sister or someone else they know and still love. Does your character get nervous talking to people of the opposite sex? If your reader survived junior high, they can relate.

Balance Flaws With Strengths

If a character is nothing more than a bundle of flaws then it's going to be as difficult for readers to relate to her as it would be if she were perfect.

For instance, if a character does something despicable, give them a great motivation.

If, like Shrek, one of your characters is "rude and crude" but he's funny chances are we'll end up liking him.

Character Is Plot

Sowards gives the following examples:
Perhaps your heroine is obsessed with having perfect nails, and while she’s touching up her two-day old manicure, she misses a call from her romantic interest, or lets down her best friend who really needed her right that second. And maybe as part of the climax she has to do something she knows will result in a broken nail, but the trade-off will be worth her sacrifice.
Or does the villain in the novel know your character has a lead foot, or a weakness for raspberry sherbet, or really bad aim with his left arm? Can the villain use your hero’s weakness against them, or somehow force your character to overcome their flaw just in time to save the day?
Excellent points to keep in mind!

I've barely touched on all the riches contained in A.L. Sowards article, I encourage you to read it in full: MBM: Creating Flawed (But Likable) Characters, By A.L. Sowards.

Other articles you might like:

- Amazon Is Acquiring Goodreads
- Janice Hardy Teaches Writers How To Be Their Own Book Doctor
- How To Write Description

Photo credit: "ASTEROID PLANET - digital-art" by balt-arts under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0.

Thursday, March 28

Amazon Is Acquiring Goodreads

Amazon Is Acquiring Goodreads
Amazon is acquiring Goodreads.

This news shocked me. I hope the wonderful book culture that has developed over at Goodreads doesn't change.

Why Goodreads Wants To Join Amazon

Otis Chandler, Co-founder of Goodreads, says he is excited about the development. He writes:
1. With the reach and resources of Amazon, Goodreads can introduce more readers to our vibrant community of book lovers and create an even better experience for our members.

2. Our members have been asking us to bring the Goodreads experience to an e-reader for a long time. Now we're looking forward to bringing Goodreads to the most popular e-reader in the world, Kindle, and further reinventing what reading can be.

3. Amazon supports us continuing to grow our vision as an independent entity, under the Goodreads brand and with our unique culture. (Exciting News About Goodreads: We're Joining the Amazon Family!)
The folks over at The Verge point out that ...
Amazon already owns Shelfari, a social and information network described as a "community-powered encyclopedia for book lovers." Together with Goodreads (as well as its own lightweight / somewhat anemic social notes network) Amazon will soon own the major online recommendation and commentary engines for new and old books. (Amazon to acquire Goodreads, a social network for book recommendations)
I guess, also, Goodreads represents a wealth of data on readers preferences and reading habits.

This story is still developing so stay tuned for further news.

(Thanks to +Andy Goldman for mentioning Amazon's acquisition of Goodreads.)
Question: What do you think about this merger? Will it be good or bad for readers and writers?

Other articles you might like:

- Janice Hardy Teaches Writers How To Be Their Own Book Doctor
- How To Write Description
- Mark Coker, Founder Of Smashwords: Six Ways To Increase Book Sales

Photo credit: "The dawn of freedom - digital-art" by balt-arts under Creative Commons Attribution NoDerivs 2.0.

Janice Hardy Teaches Writers How To Be Their Own Book Doctor

Janice Hardy Teaches Writers How To Be Their Own Book Doctor
Book doctors are wonderful!

I can tell you from personal experience that writers often--in fact, nearly always--lack the ability to see flaws, even major structural flaws, in their own stories. Myself included.

That's where a good book doctor can be worth his or her weight in gold. Janice Hardy writes:
One of the reasons a good book doctor is so successful, is that they look at a story without all the emotional baggage us authors bring to our own work, and can analyze the critical elements of good storytelling. (Be Your Own Book Doctor)
The key is that a knowledgeable stranger has the objectivity we almost always lack when it comes to our own work.

But what if a writer can't afford that kind of a second opinion?

Janice Hardy comes to the rescue, allowing us all to be--or at least try to be--our own book doctor.

Be Your Own Book Doctor

My advice is, if you can, put your newly completed manuscript away in a drawer and forget about it for as long as you can stand, six weeks or so if you can do it, then bring it out and give it a quick read-through. Now, answer the following questions (these questions are all from Janice Hardy's article):

1. Is the tone consistent?
2. Is the theme clear?
3. Is your plot structure solid?
4. Are your stakes high enough?
5. Is there enough conflict?
6. Is there a strong narrative drive?
7. Is there tension?
8. Are there character arcs?
9. Are the characters fully formed?
10. Does the dialog sound natural?
11. Is the setting developed?
12. Is the pacing working?

Janice breaks her analysis down even further, asking several questions for each point. It's a great article! (Here's the link again: Be Your Own Book Doctor.)

I especially liked Janice's comments on story structure, and would like to leave you with a link to one of her other articles on the subject: I Love it When a Plan Comes Together, Plotting a Novel: Part One.

Honestly, I can't believe how generous authors are on the web! In that article (I Love it When ...) Janice shares the fruit of her knowledge gleaned from years of writing. It is incredibly informative. I can't recommend Janice's blog, The Other Side of the Story, highly enough.

Question: Do you have any tips and tricks for editing a novel?

Other articles you might like:

- The Rules Of Romantic Comedy
- Different Kinds Of Story Openings: Shock And Seduction
- Chuck Wendig On Story Structure
- Story Structure

Photo credit: "Heavy Black & White" by Ben Fredericson (xjrlokix) under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, March 27

How To Write Description

How To Write Description
Have you ever read a wonderfully descriptive passage and wondered, "How'd the writer do that?"

Today, Kim Aippersbach, in per post How to write description, tells us how. First, though, here's the description Kim uses:
And then they were crossing out of the tube into another foyer, and escorted by Christos through a pair of sleek doors clad in fine wood marquetry to a hushed hallway graced with mirrors and fresh flowers. And then into a broad living room backed by wide glass walls taking in a sweeping panorama of the capital, with the sun going down and the dusk rising to turn the city lights to jewels on velvet for as far as the eye could see, under a cloud-banded sky. (Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, by Lois McMaster Bujold)

1. Be active

The first thing I noticed: there isn't a single instance of the verb "to be."For a passage of description, there is a remarkable amount of action here. The characters are moving through the setting: "crossing into" and "escorted through" "and then into," so the reader is carried with them. But even the inanimate objects don't just sit there. They are "clad," "graced," "backed." The sun goes down, the dusk rises and turns, the eye sees.

2. Focus on important, key, details.

When describing something less is more.
The next thing I noticed is how much Bujold doesn't tell us. Do we know whether the room is carpeted? Do we know what color the furniture is? Is there a couch in the living room? Does it matter? She gives us only the most telling details, enough to convey luxury, taste, beauty. The rest we can fill in for ourselves.

3. Filter the description through your point-of-view character.

Kim writes:
Description reveals character, can even reveal emotion, by showing what the character sees. 
Here's how Kim sums it up:

Three Rules for Writing Description

1. Use strong verbs that contribute to the atmosphere you want to create.
2. Only describe the telling details.
3. Be aware of who is narrating the scene, and describe it through their eyes.
My article has just been a quick summary and doesn't do justice to Kim's analysis. She provides a detailed discussion. It is a wonderful, and wonderfully informative, article!

Other articles you might like:

- Mark Coker, Founder Of Smashwords: Six Ways To Increase Book Sales
- Different Kinds Of Story Openings: Shock And Seduction
- The New Yorker Rejects Its Own Story: What Slush Pile Rejections Really Mean

Photo credit: "FOREST KING" by balt-arts under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Mark Coker, Founder Of Smashwords: Six Ways To Increase Book Sales

Mark Coker, Founder Of Smashwords: Six Ways To Increase Book Sales
Mark Coker, founder of, in his recent article, Six Tips to Bring Your Book Back from the Doldrums, shared 6 ways to increase book sales.

If you feel your book is under-preforming, Mark's article is a must read. What follows is a summary.

1. Does your book evoke passion in your readers?

One way you can tell if your book evokes passion is through its reviews.

For instance, are the reviews mediocre? If the book receives mostly 5 star reviews that's fabulous! People love your book and they're passionate about it. Also, if you get mostly one star reviews, at least your work has evoked passion in readers--perhaps not the kind you'd like, but still!

Three star reviews can be the worst. Readers didn't feel strongly either way.

That said, beware of clumping the reviews together and focusing on the average score. Look at the distribution. If your reviews are split between 5's and 1's then chances are you've written a great, controversial, book. There's a lot of passion there, don't change a thing!

Mark writes:
You need to WOW your reader.  It doesn’t matter if you write romance, mystery or non-fiction, if your book doesn’t move the reader to an emotional extreme, your job isn’t done.  
Bottom line: If folks aren't passionate about your book think about doing a major rewrite. Or, perhaps, take what you've learned, and write a new book.

No reviews

If your book has no reviews Mark suggests offering the book for free. Perhaps not permanently, just to get folks reading what you've written and hopefully get some reviews.

Why are reviews important? There's no way around it: reviews help sell books. Mark writes:
For the first two years (2008-2009), Boob Tube sold maybe 20 copies.  It had only one or two reviews.  My wife and I decided to set the price to free for six months.  We got 40,000 downloads, a lot of reviews, and even our first fan mail (yay!).  Then we set the price to $2.99 and it started selling.  Without reviews at the retailers, Goodreads, LibraryThing and elsewhere, few readers will take a chance on you.  FREE helps readers take that chance.

2. Does your cover image give the correct impression of your book?

If your reviews are 4 stars or over, congratulations, people feel passionate about your book and they like it. If it isn't selling well think about redoing the cover.

Here's Mark Coker's test for whether you need a new cover image:

1. Take all text off the title so it's just the artwork.
2. Ask yourself:

Does this image/artwork tell the reader: This is the book you're looking for to experience X?

If your book is a romance book then X="the feeling of first love."
If your book is horror then X="horror."
If your book is a thriller then X="edge of your seat suspense."
If your book is non-fiction or how-to then X="knowledge."
If your book is a memoir then X="an inspiring story of personal journey."

I think that's a great test!

Here's another one:

A test to see if your book cover is professional enough

Compare your book cover to "the top-10 sellers in your category or genre."

Does your cover look as good as these? You want your cover to look just as good, preferably better.

3. Is your book priced too high?

The more you charge the less likely it is that a reader is going to take a chance on it, especially if you're an unknown author. Mark writes:
For readers who could afford it, the high price can make the book less desirable when there are alternative books of equal quality at less cost.  Last year, when we conducted a comprehensive study of the impact of price on unit downloads and gross sales .... We found books priced at $2.99 earned slightly more than books priced over $10.00, yet enjoyed six times as many unit sales.
Another advantage of pricing your book a bit lower is that "if the reader feels they received a great read for the price, they may be more likely to give you a positive review, and positive reviews will lead to more readers."

4. Look at how many sample downloads led to sales.

The Smashwords store has a little-known feature I think is entirely unique in the ebook retailing world:  We tell you how many partial samples were downloaded.  If you click to your Dashboard, you’ll see a column for book sales and a column for downloads.  The download count is a crude metric, but if you understand how it works, you’ll be able to use it as a relatively good tool.  This data is only for sales and downloads in the Smashwords store.

The download data includes both sample downloads and full book downloads for purchased books.  If a customer or sampler downloads in multiple formats (such as epub and mobi), or downloads multiple times, each time will tick the download count higher.  To make the data cleaner, subtract your paid sales from the download count.  Divide your sales at by the number of downloads.  This will tell you, roughly, what percentage of downloaders actually purchase your book.

When I do the numbers on my priced book, The 10-Minute PR Checklist, I find that approximately 13% of sample downloads lead to sale.  That’s pretty good.
 The higher the percentage the better.  50% would be fabulous.

5. Are you targeting the right audience?

No one can make everyone happy. Don't even try. If you give your paranormal romance to a person who only reads sci-fi then chances are they'll hate it, no matter how great of a paranormal romance it is.

When you know who your target audience is make sure your "title, book cover, book description, categorization and marketing are all aligned to target that audience with fine-tuned precision.  If you send the wrong messages, you’ll fail to attract the right readers.  Instead, you’ll attract the wrong reader, and the wrong reader will give you poor reviews."

In short, "Avoid the temptation to target a broader-than-necessary market."

6. Grow a thick skin and never give up!

As Mark Coker writes, it takes bravery to publish. Chances are your book will get brutalized at least once and the reader who did it may not stop at your book, they may start in on you!

We can't improve as writers if we don't know our weaknesses. Learn from the reaction your story gets and do whatever it takes to make it better. As Mark Coker writes:
If you want to be a successful writer, you have to be willing to listen to the judgment of readers.  Your readers, through their word of mouth, will determine how many other readers you reach.
Mark Coker's article Six Tips to Bring Your Book Back from the Doldrums is filled with practical, easy to follow, advice. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to increase the sales of a book.

Other articles you might like:

- Embrace Rejection: Write More, Write Better, Share Often
- 8 Ways To Channel The Power Of Your Unconscious Into Your Writing
- 4 Ways To Enchant Others

Photo credit: "The art of silence..." by VinothChandar under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, March 26

Embrace Rejection: Write More, Write Better, Share Often

Embrace Rejection: Write More, Write Better, Share Often
Since I wrote about Johanna Penn's article on her fear of being judged because of what she writes (she is moving into writing horror) I've been deeply affected by the sentiments she expressed.

I guess, then, it should come as no surprise that Joe Bunting's post over at The Write Practice--Why You Should Be Excited About Failure And Rejection--struck a cord with me. Joe advises us: Don't try to be unrejectable.

Embrace Rejection

Joe Bunting writes:
We are all scared. However, what separates successful writers from wannabe writers is what they do in the midst of their fear. They lean in. They don’t run. They don’t fight. They do the right thing, the thing they said they were going to do in the first place.

Seth Godin says, “Write more, write better, share often. It’s entirely possible you’re not good. But the key word that’s missing is, ‘yet.’”

Your job isn’t to be unrejectable. Your job is to share your story.
Thanks Joe, I needed that reminder. I highly recommend reading Joe's article, it's short but packed with writerly goodness.

Other articles you might like:

- 8 Ways To Channel The Power Of Your Unconscious Into Your Writing
- Different Kinds Of Story Openings: Shock And Seduction
- The New Yorker Rejects Its Own Story: What Slush Pile Rejections Really Mean

Photo credit: "154/365 They're Coming To Get You." by martinak15 under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

8 Ways To Channel The Power Of Your Unconscious Into Your Writing

Tim Ferriss Asks Fred Waitzkin, Author Of 'Searching For Bobby Fisher,' About The Processes And Tricks He Uses In His Writing

This morning I read a terrific article by Tim Ferriss about an interview he did with Fred Waitzkin, author of Searching for Bobby Fisher, a book about his son's journey to win the national chess championship.

8 Ways To Channel The Power Of Your Unconscious To Help You Write

Specifically, Tim Ferriss was interested in the tricks and processes Fred Waitzkin has used to help him write fiction. Ferris writes:
[I disagree with labeling Fred Waitzkin's son, Josh, a prodigy] because Josh has a process for mastery, and he’s applied it to many fields, not just chess. As it turns out, he’s not the only one in his family with this skill. His father, Fred Waitzkin, has processes and tricks he uses for writing both non-fiction ... and fiction…
Although there is no cut-and-dried method for summoning the muse, here are various processes the elder Waitzkin has found useful. They all involve ways to access your unconscious.

1. Write down your dreams.

Working on The Dream Merchant with numerous characters and dramatic scenes to bring to life I had to learn how to access my unconscious. This is an important part of my creative process. Let’s start simply. We all dream but some of us cannot recall our dreams in the morning. You can train yourself to remember your dreams. Put a pad on the shelf beside your bed and begin writing the second you open your eyes. Even before you open your eyes reach for the pad. Don’t turn on the light. Start scribbling in the dark. You will remember your dreams if you do this. The way I think of it, and I’m not a psychologist, you’ve created a bridge between your conscious and unconscious.

2. At the end of your writing day leave a small portion of your writing unfinished.

As a novelist I want to travel on this bridge, regularly–in fact, every day I want to cross over. Here is a deep trick that I learned from an interview with Ernest Hemingway: At the end of each writing day I leave unwritten a small portion of what I still had in my mind to compose that day.

[Tim note: Hemingway would routinely leave a sentence half finished, as discussed in A Moveable Feast.]

Then riding home on my bike from my office, at some level my mind is working on the unwritten paragraphs that I might have written but didn’t. I’m working on these paragraphs while I’m chatting with my wife or watching the ball game—but I am making connections that I never imagined. 

3. Always carry something with you to write in.

This can be either a pad of paper or an app on your cell phone. 
Sometimes my thinking is just a vague sense of impressions but other times an idea comes rushing to the surface. I always carry a small pad in my pocket to write it down. I’ve learned that if I don’t write it down, the insight is likely to disappear like many unwritten dreams. Then when I begin writing again the following day, I’ve discovered that the unwritten scene already contains hints and urges about where the narrative might next go–very often there are elements here that I hadn’t consciously thought about before.

4. Treat your unconscious as a collaborator, give it assignments.

When I was writing The Dream Merchant this dalliance with the unconscious felt very natural and I was able to give this hidden part of myself assignments. I would say to myself what does Jim worry about at night in bed? Or how does he tell his wife that he is going to leave her for another woman? Then I would be riding on my bike or watching the game, and the answer would rise to me–this would happen surprisingly often. Although each time it was a little thrilling, this bolt from the blue connection with a shadowy hard working world that we don’t know so much about.

5. Don't give up.

One last point about my unusual dialogue with myself: It takes practice like running or swimming fast miles. When I haven’t written for a month or two I cannot access this part of being and I have to begin training in my fashion. But it gives me confidence to know that I have been there before and will probably be able to get back again.

6. Get energized.

For me, inspiration is primarily energy.
.  .  .  .
I look for energy all over the place. Often just riding my bike along the river for three miles from my house to the office heightens my mood. Then I make a cup of green tea and look at my work from the previous evening. I always read back several pages before I try to write anything new. Moving back through interesting material seems to give me momentum to push ahead…

But what if there is no energy? I read the paper. I switch on sports talk radio. I look at my watch. I pace. I am eyeing the lunch hour. It’s getting closer to lunch. One hour before I meet my friend Jeff for turkey burgers. Forty-five minutes. Now I’m getting nervous. Thirty-five minutes before I have to leave my office! Suddenly I feel an urgency. I CAN’T leave for lunch without writing one good paragraph. I’m sweating, feeling the time pressure… and the words pour out. Sometimes a writer can do more in a fervent half hour than in a dreary eight-hour day. I’ve often played this game with myself.

There are many energy tricks. Sometimes in the afternoon when I’m groggy I wander over to Starbuck’s for a coffee. But it’s not just caffeine. I know all the women who work there. They know me. We chat. I love these talks–okay, innocent flirtations. Sometimes I even get a free latte. When I get back to my office I usually feel fired up.

7. Get friends to help you break through if you're deadlocked.

I have a couple of friends that I rely upon. They are very perceptive about the human heart. I’ll talk quite specifically about what isn’t working in a section of my book. I listen closely to what they think. I’ve done this many times. My wife Bonnie has helped me many times like this.

Here is the curious thing. Often her advice or the idea of a friend isn’t what I end up doing. But listening to the ideas engenders a new idea. The whole point is that you have to get moving. Movement begets movement. You need to get unstuck.

8. Make your characters "true".

When you are trying to create a character he or she must be “true.” Fiction is not making up stuff out of whole cloth. It is always linked to a writer’s experience. Fiction is a wonderful tango between the writer’s experience and his imagination.
To read Tim Ferriss's excellent article, click here: The Alchemy of Writing--More Tips from a Pro.

Other articles you might like:

- 4 Ways To Enchant Others
- The New Yorker Rejects Its Own Story: What Slush Pile Rejections Really Mean
- Writing And The Fear Of Judgement

Photo credit: "The lonely walk" by VinothChandar under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, March 25

4 Ways To Enchant Others

4 Ways To Enchant Others
Wouldn't it be great to be enchanting?

Enchanting people find it easier to attract others, to schmooze.

And, of course, if you'd like folks to notice you, to read your book, your short story, your anthology, being enchanting helps.

(Perhaps that sounds predatory, but I don't mean it to be. Being enchanting would be lovely in and of itself.)

Sadly, I'm part of the less-than-enchanting crowd. So are most writers I've met. Perhaps it comes with the territory. Anyone who writes several hours a day about worlds conjured from their imagination can be forgiven if they emerge from their writer's cave with all the charm of a starving bear.

At least, that's what I tell myself.

Except I know it's not true. I found Robert J. Sawyer enchanting. Mesmerizing even. Not only is he one of the better known science fiction writers alive today, not only has he been engaged in many side projects, not only does he regularly take time out of what has to be an insanely busy schedule to teach other writers, he comes across as a genuinely nice, funny, absurdly intelligent, person.

Is there any hope for the rest of us less socially gifted writers?

Fortunately there seems to be. I just read a great blog post by Penelope Trunk: How To Be Enchanting. She says that people who are enchanting do 4 things:

1. Say yes.

Opportunities to enchant happen all the time.

- a retail transaction
- a high-level corporate negotiation
- a Facebook update

Perhaps even ... a blog post? (grin)

But that doesn't answer the question: Why say "yes"? After all, saying yes involves us in more work, more time spent, and we have precious little of that.

Here's Penelope Trunk's answer:
“A yes buys time, enables you to see more options and builds rapport,” is what Guy writes. “By contrast, a no response stops everything. There’s no place to go, nothing to build on and no further options are available. You will never know what may have come out of a relationship if you don’t let it begin.”
Though if you say yes it's a good idea to follow through.

2. Be passionate.

Penelope Trunk writes:
I was coaching this guy, Jonathan Mann, and the first thing I learned about him is that he has written a song a day for 1500 days in a row and they’re all on YouTube. That is immediately enchanting because determination and commitment are enchanting.

People want to be close to passion because passion is contagious. Also, when you are passionate about something you can find an immediate connection to other passionate people, because commitment to a cause and the drive to get there are scary to own, so people who are doing it feel an immediate bond.
I agree! Passionate people do find it easier to connect with each other because of a shared way-of-being. Even if we aren't familiar with what the other person is passionate about we connect with their drive, their commitment, their fire.

For me, one such person is the singer/songwriter for The Land of Deborah.  The Land of Deborah is more than a band, it's a way-of-being, an approach to life. Just being around Deb makes me feel re-energized creatively.

Penelope's blog post doesn't stop there, she goes on to discuss two more traits of the enchanting and they're well worth reading. Penelope's post is wonderful, and as always I love her quirky links.

Penelope left her readers with a song she loved, so I thought I'd do the same. Here are four songs by The Land of Deborah; they're free! My favorite is Should've Stayed In Bed. Enjoy!

Other articles you might like:

- The New Yorker Rejects Its Own Story: What Slush Pile Rejections Really Mean
- Writing And The Fear Of Judgement
- The Rules Of Romantic Comedy

Photo credit: "* * *" by aussiegall under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Sunday, March 24

The New Yorker Rejects Its Own Story: What Slush Pile Rejections Really Mean

 The New Yorker Rejects Its Own Story: What Slush Pile Rejections Really Mean

The Experiment

It's easy to forget that one can have the best prose in the world, but that's not enough to get your story accepted.

So David Cameron decided to remind us.

As an experiment, Cameron copied a short story that had been published in The New Yorker--one of the top professional markets in North America (The New Yorker was said to pay $7,750 per story in 2003) and submitted it to "a slew of literary journals, all of whom regularly grace the TOC of Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize, O’Henry, etcetera and etcetera".

The cover letter simply said that Cameron was "an unpublished writer deeply appreciative of their consideration".

Cameron also submitted the story back to The New Yorker.

Then he waited. Would one of the publications catch his duplicity and cry foul? Would any of the magazines accept the plagiarized story and, if so, how many?

Well, you've probably guess the outcome: none of the magazines accepted the story, not even The New Yorker!

David Cameron writes:
Dear reader, every single one of these journals rejected my poor New Yorker story with the same boilerplate “good luck placing your work elsewhere” auto-text that has put the lid on my own sorry submissions. Not a single personal pleasantry. What’s more, the timeframes tracked perfectly. For example, if the Beavercreek Fucknut Bulletin (not a real journal, but representative) generally takes thirty days to relegate my stuff to the recycle bin, then our New Yorker story ... fared no better.
Cameron thought his results might be a fluke so he tried again, this time with a story "by a rather celebrated youngish New Yorker author" but he had the same results; no one accepted the story.

What Was The Point?

What did David Cameron's experiment demonstrate? First and foremost it's a much needed reminder that the slush pile "is often just a cleanup chore relegated to overwhelmed readers, and ... rejections might mean nothing".

We've all been told that, but it's nice to have a demonstration of it every once in a while.

Still, I'm surprised no one caught onto the hoax. Cameron writes:
A part of me really wanted to be outed, to have some vigilant editor write back and say, “Nice try. Consider yourself blacklisted.” Or even to put me in the horribly awkward position of an acceptance!* That would mean there’s hope, that open submissions weren’t just, in so many cases, empty gestures.
To read more about David Cameron's audacious experiment, click here: The New Yorker Rejects Itself: A Quasi-Scientific Analysis of Slush Piles.

The Steps Experiment

In the comments to Cameron's article someone mentioned The Steps Experiment that Chuck Ross conducted in 1975.
[Chuck Ross] typed up twenty-one pages of a highly acclaimed book and sent it unsolicited to four publishers (Random House, Houghton Mifflin, Doubleday, and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich), claiming it was his own work. The work he chose for this experiment was Steps, by Jerzy Kosinski. It had won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1969 and by 1975 had sold over 400,000 copies. All four publishers rejected the work, including Random House, who was its original publisher.
I encourage you to read the entire article: The Steps Experiment, 1975. Chuck Ross--who later went onto a successful career in journalism--later did another experiment and submitted the script of Casablanca to over 200 movie agents.

Unaddressed Questions

Cameron didn't give us the names of the authors of the stories he sent out, and of course he didn't give us the names of the magazines which rejected them, but it would have been nice to have been told:

- How many magazines he sent the stories out to.
- How long he gave the magazines to respond before he wrote his article.
- How many replies he got back.
- The approximate pay rate of the magazines he sent the stories to (so readers could get a feel for the kind of markets they were rejected from).

Also, it would have been interesting to see the cover letter Cameron sent out with the stories. Though I'm sure it was well written, it would help rule out the objection that it was the cover letter that killed the editors' interest.


I did some research as I wrote this article and came across interesting articles I want to share.

Dan Baum's story of his short career as a staff writer at The New Yorker

A few days ago a friend asked how much I thought a staff reporter at Wired makes a year but I had no idea. Dan Baum's article answered my question (in 2006 about 90k) and gave a tantalizing peek into that life.

Dan Baum originally told his story as a series of tweets (2009) and then gathered them together on his website. Here's a link: New Yorker Tweets.

By the way, if you would like to submit to The New Yorker, send a PDF to The New Yorker's online submission form. Deborah Treisman is the fiction editor.

Submissions may also be sent snail mail to the fiction department at The New Yorker, 4 Times Square, New York, NY 10036. (No simultaneous submissions)

How much can one get for a short story?

It depends, of course, on a number of factors: the market, the length of the story, and so on, but here are the numbers for a few markets: How much does a short story earn in a magazine? 

(Duotrope used to be one of the only places a writer could get market information but now there is the The Grinder.)

The following numbers are approximate:

New Yorker: $7,750 for 5,000 words (as of about 2003)
New England Review: $230
Asimov's Science Fiction: $427
Rolling Stone: $3.40 a word (as of about 2002)
Question: Have you ever been tempted to do a similar 'sting' on traditional publishers?

Other articles you might like:

- Writing And The Fear Of Judgement
- The Rules Of Romantic Comedy
- 5 Tips For Creating Memorable Character Names

Photo credit: "More from Vivid" by aussiegall under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, March 23

Writing And The Fear Of Judgement

Writing And The Fear Of Judgement Johanna Penn's post, On Writing And The Fear Of Judgment, felt as though she was writing right to me. I like to think I'm getting more brave, but I used to be paralyzed by fear of what folks would think of my stories, whether they would look at me differently.

Johanna writes:
. . . I’ve written dark things before but this is the first time I haven’t censored myself as I write. I’ve given the dark side of my mind permission to indulge but as I am about to start the rewrites, I find myself on the edge of crossing things out, not because they need editing, but because I don’t want people to read them and judge me for my thoughts.
How can writers assuage this fear? Johanna has five suggestions:

1. Use A Pseudonym

A pseudonym is a perfectly respectable way to go (see: Should You Use A Pen Name?). As Johanna mentions, many erotica authors use pseudonyms, but pseudonyms, or pen names, are also used by many authors--Dean Wesley Smith for instance--as a way to brand his books.

2. Get A Support Group

We need to surround ourselves with people who understand and accept us as we are. Sometimes this will be a spouse, sometimes it will be a group of writers, sometimes it will be our friends or family.

It is wonderful to be brave and put yourself out there, but each of us needs a safe space; somewhere we can be nurtured when we need it.

3. Accept That We All Have A Dark Side

And that's a good thing! Johanna writes:
In Jungian psychology the shadow is a critical part of our whole self. Life is not all sweetness and light and there is but a thin veneer of civilization over our ancient animal genetics. Death and fear, violence and sex will always be part of our culture so as writers it’s important to embrace that and reflect it in our writing. I am acknowledging the shadow more in my own work, and also feel that when the things we fear are on the page, they have less power over us.
Very true.

4. Realize That When People Judge Your Book They Aren't Judging You

After all, they don't know you. Naturally, whatever you write, no matter how well you write it, some folks aren't going to like it.

It's both feel-good and instructive to look at one star reviews some great works of literature have received.

The appeal of a book, even a great one, isn't universal. For example, someone who despises fantasy in any form will naturally hate your paranormal romance if they, in a fit of masochism, read it.

That's life.

5. You Are NOT What You Write

Yes, maybe you are what you eat, but you aren't what you write.

Stephen King writes bone-chilling acts of horror but he is a laid back community-minded family man.

Also, I'm guessing that the screenwriters of Saw (James Wan & Leigh Whannell), one of the most violent horror movies ever, are no more strange than the average writer. Notice I didn't say the average person. (grin)

As Dean Wesley Smith wrote not too long ago, the only way you can kill your career is if you stop writing. That's it. That's the only way. Write, write what your heart is calling you to write, and publish it. Wash and repeat.

Now it's time for me to toddle off and practice what I preach!
Do you ever fear being judged because of what you write? How do you deal with it?

Other articles you might like:

- The Rules Of Romantic Comedy
- 5 Tips For Creating Memorable Character Names
- Joe Konrath says KDP Select Made Him $100,000 In 6 Weeks

Photo credit: "On The Road" by Philipp Klinger Photography under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, March 22

The Rules Of Romantic Comedy

The Rules Of Romantic Comedy

Michael Hauge's Analysis Of Romantic Comedies

1. Hero's goal is to win the love of another character

This is the hero's main goal. He can have other goals, but this one needs to be introduced first and this conflict has to be the last one resolved. When it is, that's the end of the story.

2. The hero must have another goal, one besides winning the affections of his/her romantic attentions.

For instance, in Groundhog Day Bill Murray relentlessly pursues a relationship with Andie MacDowell but he also very much wants the day (it repeats Sisyphus-style) to end.

Two goals are better than one because they keep the pace lively. I thought some of the best scenes in Groundhog Day were those where Bill Murray was trying to escape the town. (BTW, rumor has it that Mr. Murray was bitten by the groundhog and had to have rabies shots!)

Another benefit of the hero having two goals is that the writer can make sure, at some point, they become mutually exclusive.

For instance, in The American President the president wants his crime bill passed but it turns out the only way that's going to happen is if he sells out his romantic interest.

3. When the people on the screen are laughing the audience isn't

Michael Hauge writes,
The driving motivations in romantic comedies actually grow out of immense pain and loss. The plots of the most successful romantic comedies of all time involve unemployment, disease, prostitution, physical abuse, physical deformity, humiliation, ridicule, the loss of one's children, attempted assassination, suicide and death.

The humor then arises from the way the heroes OVERREACT to their situations. They devise fantastic plots, pose as women, adopt false identities, juggle two lovers simultaneously, tell enormous lies, fly across the country to meet a voice on a radio, or do everything imaginable to sabotage their best friend's wedding. (Writing Romantic Comedies)

4. Romantic comedies are sexy

At some point your characters are going to have to confront their sexual desires for each other. The important thing is that if they end up going to bed, "we must see the events that lead to that decision, at least until the moment the two lovers embrace and the camera dissolves away".

5. There must be a happy ending

This doesn't mean that the hero always has to win over the heart of his object of desire and walk off with her/him into the sunset. It does mean that the audience must be left feeling satisfied with the resolution. You want them to feel that the ending was the best and most appropriate one.

6. Romantic comedies always involved deception

Most romantic comedies involve deception. One of the two people involved in the relationship, usually the hero, is lying to, or withholding information from, someone--usually the person the hero is falling for.

This lie will, of course, be found out but this usually happens after the midpoint. Michael Hauge writes:
When the secret is finally revealed or the lie exposed, it will split the lovers apart. In You’ve Got Mail Joe Fox doesn’t tell Kathleen Kelly that his corporation is the one threatening her independent bookstore. In The American President, Sydney Ellen Wade doesn’t know that President Shepherd is using her to get his gun control bill passed. (The 6 Categories Of Romantic Comedy)

5 Things That Must Be True Of All Romance Characters

I'll just list the major points, I encourage you to read Michael's article.

1. The audience must identify with the hero's desire for the romance character.

2. You must convince the audience that the hero and his/her romantic object are a perfect fit, that they are destined for each other.

3. Insurmountable obstacles must separate the two lovers.

4. The romance character must be intertwined with the hero's other goal. For example, in The American President the president's love interest is a lobbyist.

5. The romance character must interfere not only with the hero's desire for them but also with the hero attaining his/her secondary goal.

For example--again using The American President--the president has two goals: to win the heart of his love interest (Sydney) and to get re-elected. Sydney, though, is a lobbyist. This creates a conflict of interest--or the appearance of one--and, in any case, their relationship is hurting him politically. By the 3/4 mark it looks as though the president has a choice: re-election or Sydney; he can't have both.

Michael Hauge also writes about character archetypes and the structure of a romantic comedy. His article is well worth a read: Writing Romantic Comedies.

I'll leave you with this 2:16 minute video of Michael Hauge talking abut romantic comedies. You can read more about Michael Hauge here: Michael Hauge's Story Mastery.

Other articles you might like:

- 5 Tips For Creating Memorable Character Names
- Different Kinds Of Story Openings: Shock And Seduction
- Story Structure

Photo credit: "adam green:castles and tassels" by visualpanic under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

5 Tips For Creating Memorable Character Names

5 Tips For Creating Memorable Character Names
One thing I've always envied about J.K. Rowling is her ability to create awesome character names.

Well, that, and her wildly successful stories, but that's a post for another time.

Naming Characters

I have trouble naming characters.

I'll either fall in love with a name that everyone else on the planet hates with a burning passion or I won't be able to think of anything.

And so it was with great interest I read How to Name Your Characters by The Magic Violinist (and with a name like that how could I not be intrigued).

Before we get into naming, though, we need to ask: What are we looking for in a name? What characteristics must it have? TMV writes:

a. The name "needs to be unique".
b. The name needs to be memorable.
c. Your readers--and you, if you narrate the audiobook--need to be able to pronounce it.

One of my all-time favorite names is "Albus Dumbledore" from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. "Rubeus Hagrid" is pretty great too.

Oh, and Dudley Dursley and, my number one favorite, "Severus Snape". That name communicates a lot about the character. "Snape" sounds like "snake" and when I say the whole thing I almost hisss.

But I'm getting carried away! I won't give you all 5 of TMV's suggestions, just two and some links. I heartily recommend you read her article over at The Write Practice.

Remember Your Friends

TMV writes,
I often base my characters off of my friends because my friends are so interesting! When I do that, sometimes my characters end up with my friends’ names. Maybe not their exact names, but pretty close. Kirsten will become Kristen, Sophia will become Selena, and Sarah will become Sara.
Another tip someone gave me was to look at the names in movie credits; while I've never borrowed one whole, it is fun to mix and match first and last names. Often while I'm doing this a great name will come to me; almost as though it chose me rather than vice versa.

Also, TV credits work well, as do names from personal ads. Also I've often looked at statistical data, especially when I'm curious about what names were common in a certain year, or when I wanted a regional name.

Baby Naming Books And Sites

Where would writers be without baby naming sites? I shudder to think.

Fortunately, there are many sites on the web offering oodles of names, and even their meanings and the frequency of the name in different populations.

And all for free!

Here is a site I've used in the past: Behind The Name.
Also, there are some great random name generators out there, in fact Behind The Name has one (and, no, I'm not an affiliate!).

Just Google "random name generator" and you'll find a lot of fun, time-sucking, links.
How do you choose a name? What is your favorite character name?

Other articles you might like:

- Joe Konrath says KDP Select Made Him $100,000 In 6 Weeks
- Book Cover Design: Free Programs For Choosing A Color Palette (Adobe Kuler & Color Scheme Designer)
- Different Kinds Of Story Openings: Shock And Seduction

Photo credit: "the smiths:these things take time" by visualpanic under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, March 21

Joe Konrath says KDP Select Made Him $100,000 In 6 Weeks

Joe Konrath says KDP Select Make Him $100,000 In 6 Weeks

Joe Konrath Made $100,000 On Amazon Over 6 Weeks Through Using Amazon KDP Select

That's right, Joe Konrath made $100,000 over at Amazon in the last 6 weeks and he says that's because he enrolled his books in Amazon's KDP Select program. Joe writes:
I just checked my 6 week KDP total, which updated yesterday, and I've made over $100,000.

More than ten grand of that is from Prime borrows (assuming $2 a borrow for March). That more than makes up for my loss of sales on other platforms.

But while the borrows are nice, it's my free ebooks that are helping me sell my backlist. My first Jack Daniels novel, Whiskey Sour, has been free for the last four days, and I've given away over 100,000 copies.

That's the most I've ever given away during a free promotion, and I'm really curious to see how high I bounce back onto the paid bestseller lists tonight. The second in the series, Bloody Mary, has earned me over $8k this month, many of those sales in the last four days because of Whiskey Sour being free.

So I gotta say I've been extremely happy about going all-in with KDPS, even though I did it with some reservations.

Why The Change Of Heart?

That's quite the about-face. Last year Joe Konrath warned indie authors not to enroll their books in programs that demanded exclusivity. In Joe's July 2, 2012 post he writes:
A lot of people ask me my opinion about KDP Select, and I made it known that I have opted all of my titles out of it. I dislike Amazon's desire for exclusivity, because it limits my readership. (Exclusivity and Free)
Why was Joe against enrolling his books in KDP Select? Joe explains his reasoning:
So how effective is exclusivity as a sales tool for Amazon? I've had people email me who bought a Kindle just to read Shaken. But how many more of my fans are annoyed because they own a different ereader that doesn't allow for a one-click purchase of Shaken? How many sales are lost?

My guess is: a lot. Shaken and Stirred have done well, but Blake and I have done better on self-pubbed projects.

For me to be exclusive with a retailer, I have to know the sales I'm going to lose will be made up for with increased sales on the exclusive platform. Long term, that's risky. After the big initial sales push, sales will even out, and years from now the lost sales will really rack up. (Exclusivity and Free)
So, what's changed?

Joe is making a heap-load of money by keeping his books enrolled in Amazon Select. He writes:
As new data comes in, I adjust my opinions. I'm currently making $2400 a day on Amazon. About 10% of that money is coming from borrows. I have years of data from the other platforms, but I've never earned $240 a day from them, even on all of them combined.

Right now, KDP Select is giving me the opportunity to make more money, and I'm taking that opportunity.
Wow! $2,400 a day. I did the math and that means he's making $876,000 a year--just shy of a million dollars!--from his Amazon sales. Any way you look at it that's a lot of money. It's hard to believe that he'd be doing better, even in the long term, if he kept his books with other retailers. What do you think?
Has Joe Konrath's experience with Amazon KDP Select changed your opinion of the program? Would you use it? Have you ever used it?

(Except where noted, all quotations are from Joe Konrath's article Exclusivity.)

Other articles you might like:

- Book Cover Design: Free Programs For Choosing A Color Palette (Adobe Kuler & Color Scheme Designer)
- Story Structure
- Hugh Howey's 3 Rules For Writing

Photo credit: "the thrills:one horse town" by visualpanic under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Book Cover Design: Free Programs For Choosing A Color Palette (Adobe Kuler & Color Scheme Designer)

How To Choose Colors For Your Book Cover: Adobe Kuler & Color Scheme Designer

That was my response on learning about Kuler from Adobe Systems (thanks Passive Guy!).

Kuler: Choose Your Colors

What is Kuler you ask?

Kuler is a site sponsored by the wonderful folks at Adobe Systems that gives designers and non-designers alike the ability to create and save color swatches that those infinitely more knowledgeable than myself have figured out go well together.

You can even load these swatches into Photoshop and use them when designing your covers! (Adobe Kuler, Wikipedia)

Passive Guy writes: If you like a particular color swatch "just click a download button, then import it into Photoshop and you're ready to go"!

Here's a screenshot of what Kuler looks like:

Kuler from Adobe Systems
Adobe Kuler (click to enlarge)

Color Scheme Designer

Not satisfied with simply giving us one terrific program to play around with, Passive Guy also mentioned Color Scheme Designer (CSD).

Passive Guy writes that CSD, while it doesn't give you pre-defined color swatches the way Kuler does, allows you to design your own and--this is the important bit--"makes it hard to do them badly".


I have been waiting for something like this for a very long time.

In his excellent article, Choosing Colors for Your Covers, Passive Guy steps the reader through creating their own, custom, color palate complete with screenshots of the process.

If, like me, you've struggled with choosing the best colors for your covers PG's post is a must-read. (For help choosing fonts see: How To Design A Great Looking Book Cover.)

Here's a screenshot:

Color Scheme Designer
Color Scheme Designer (click to enlarge)

Do you do create your own covers? What programs do you use? Can you give us any advice on how to create a decent looking book cover?

Other articles you might like:

- Different Kinds Of Story Openings: Shock And Seduction
- Trying To Replace Duotrope? The (Submission) Grinder Is A FREE Database Of Fiction Markets
- Chuck Wendig On Story Structure, Part 2

Photo credit (top photo): "sunset at peggy's cove" by paul bica under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, March 20

Different Kinds Of Story Openings: Shock And Seduction

Different Kinds Of Story Openings: Shock And Seduction

The Most Important Sentence Is The First

The first sentence is what will entice a reader to continue.

When I browse the shelves at my local bookstore or prowl Amazon's digital shelves, I go to the first sentence of the first page.

The first sentence needs to hook the reader. How does it do this? By getting the reader to ask a question they care about getting an answer to. If your prose can do that, they'll read the next sentence. And hopefully the next, and the one after that, and so on, until the last.

Two Kinds Of Story Openings: Shock vs Seduction

Recently Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's book, Fine-Tuning Fiction, was featured on Jane Friedman's blog (Your Story Opening: Shock vs. Seduction).

Before I read Chelsea's book I hadn't thought in terms of kinds of openings. I knew the first sentence had to contain a hook--that is, raise a question the reader wanted to have answered--but that was all. I hadn't considered that there were different kinds of hooks.

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro writes:
A reader is drawn into a story in one of two ways: shocked or seduced. This is called the hook, and it must be in the first three paragraphs of the text, preferably in the first sentence.

First Kind Of Hook: Shock

Here is Chelsea's example of a shock hook:
Private Hammond staggered as the bullet ripped into his leg.

What makes this a shock hook? Here's how Chelsea breaks it down:

- The "character is caught up in action that demands his immediate attention."
- It is implied that the ramifications of the action will be of immediate significance to the character.

This has the effect of alarming the reader.

Also, in this example the author communicates a good deal of background information.

Hammond, the central character of this single sentence drama, is said to be a private, implying military rank. Given this, one tends to assume a combat setting. This lends a sense of urgency to the situation by giving the reader a sense of the stakes: his life.

The sentence alarms the reader; it affects them, it plays upon their emotions.

Also notice that the action involved (a bullet penetrating Hammond's leg) demands a prompt response by the character.

Second Kind Of Hook: Seduction

Here's Chelsea's example of a seduction hook:
Clouds were massing at the horizon, piling up into towers where lightening skidded amid coiling winds.

Seduction hooks:

- Ease a reader into the story
- The hook implies what is to come

Seduction hooks are riskier than shock hooks because they give the reader more time to (potentially) turn from the story and resume the many countless tasks that beg for their attention every second of the day.

Chelsea Yarbro writes:
Pulling off a really strong seduction hook is a major accomplishment, and one that can be overdone. But when used judiciously and appropriately, seduction hooks can be stronger than shocks. 
In the example given, you "may offer the storm as a primary problem—an inhuman antagonist—or you may offer it as punctuation to other action, a complication that will either underscore or intervene in on-going events."

Here are examples of possible second sentences:
  • Granny Lawrence pointed her arthritic finger at the sky, muttering that there would be flooding before midnight—she could feel it in her bones.
  • From his position in the traffic helicopter, Brad Mayfield warned his producer at WRDO that St. Charles County should be on twister alert.
  • The men trudging back from the fire-line watched the sky uneasily, wanting rain to put out the last of the forty-three acre blaze, but wary of more strikes that would ignite new fires.

Examples Of Opening Sentences: Shock or Seduction?

Here are a collection of opening sentences. I won't tell you which books they're from right away, but I'm sure you'll be able to guess many, if not most, of them.

These first lines are all drawn from commercially successful books, some spectacularly so. For each of them, would you say it was a shock opening or a seduction?
1) At daybreak, Billy Buck emerged from the bunkhouse and stood for a moment on the porch looking up at the sky.

2) It happened every year, was almost a ritual.

3) Miriam was five years old the first time she heard the word harami.

4) Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.

5) The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years--if it ever did end--began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.

6) "I should feel sorrier," Raymond Horgan says.

7) Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

8) Renowned curator Jacques Sauniere staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery.

9) I've never given much thought to how I would die--though I'd had reason enough in the last few months--but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.
(I've included the titles as well as the names of the authors at the very end of this blog post so no one accidentally sees the answers.)

It seems that most of the first lines--especially those which come from genre/category books--have shock openings. I would say that 5, 8 and 9 are shock openings while 1 and 4 seduced the reader into continuing. What do you think?
Are your openings mostly shock or seduction? Do they fall somewhere in-between?

Other articles you might like:

- Trying To Replace Duotrope? The (Submission) Grinder Is A FREE Database Of Fiction Markets
- Chuck Wendig On Story Structure
- To Blog Or Not To Blog, That Is Jane Friedman's Question

Reference information for the above nine sentences:

1. The Red Pony, John Steinbeck
2. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
3. A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
4. Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell
5. It, Stephen King
6. Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow
7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J.K. Rowling
8. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown
9. Twilight, Stephanie Mayer

Photo credit: "julie peel:living in a movie" by visualpanic under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.