Friday, December 7

The Albee Agency: Writers Beware

The Albee Agency: Writers Beware

The Albee Agency: Writers Beware

I first read about The Albee Agency as I was going through my RSS feed this morning. Writer Beware had written about it. I tagged the post for later and continued through my list. (To read the Writer Beware post, click here: The Albee Agency: Book Publicity Faked.)

What do you know? Chuck Wendig had written about The Albee Agency as well! (To read Chuck's post, click here: The Albee Agency Deception.)

The Albee Agency Fakes An Endorsement By Chuck Wendig

In their "Testimonial" section, The Albee Agency had this endorsement apparently from Chuck Wendig of terribleminds:
I loved the personal service of The Albee Agency. Knowing I could call my publicist whenever I needed anything was a huge relief. They are all consummate professionals - from their online media roadmap to the television and radio interviews they arranged - I am very impressed and will be back.
Pretty great endorsement, right? Wrong!

Chuck Wendig never wrote it. Any of it. The endorsement is completely fake.

Here's what Chuck Wendig did say about The Albee Agency:
It sounds like a really horrible Dan Brown knockoff.

It ain’t.

It’s some kind of book publicity site — er, scam.

Because I didn’t give that testimonial.

Nor did, as I understand it, any of the authors there.

My testimonial would’ve included more profanity. And a video of me seductively stroking my beard.

So, just a head’s up.

Scam. Avoid. Awooga, awooga. (Chuck Wendig, The Albee Agency Deception)

Other Fake Testimonials: Myke Cole & Maureen Johnson

It doesn't stop with Chuck Wendig, The Albee Agency also put up fake endorsements from authors Myke Cole and Maureen Johnson.

It seems that most of the testimonials we know to be fake have been taken down from The Albee Agency's website, but not before Victoria Strauss over at Writer Beware Blogs took screenshots of them. I've given the link to her article, above, but here it is again: The Albee Agency: Book Publicity Faked. Head on over there if you'd like to take a look at them.

I'll keep watch on this issue and pass along anything else I find out.

As always, writer beware!

Other articles you might like:

- Connie Willis And 11 Ways To Write Great Dialogue
- Writing Horror: What Makes A Story Scary?
- Short Story Structures: Several Ways Of Structuring Short Fiction

Photo credit: "lion-o" by istolethetv under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, December 6

Connie Willis And 11 Ways To Write Great Dialogue

Connie Willis On How To Write Great Dialogue

Connie Willis knows her stuff. She's won 11 Hugo Awards, 7 Nebula Awards and been inducted into the Science Fiction Museum and Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

When I read the article Connie Willis on Dialogue it was no surprise that Ms. Willis gave great advise. Here are the highlights:

1. Dialogue & Conversation

Real dialogue would be very difficult to read. I ride the buss a lot and half the time I have no idea what people are talking about. It's a game I play to try and find out.

A: "Did you remember?"
B: "What? Oh. Right. Yea. Before I left."
A: "How did she take it?"
B: (Shrug) "Okay I guess. Oh, don't forget dinner."
A: "Mary?"
B: (Nods)

For all I know, Mary's the main course! (Or perhaps I'm thinking that because I just wrote about what makes a story scary.) The author writes:
[W]ritten dialogue tries to sound like speech, but it’s more coherent.  It’s a suggestion of how speech sounds rather than the real, often incomprehensible, things we say to each other.

2. Better than real life

Good dialogue is idealized speech. Our characters say the things we wish we would have said in real life. They get to be witty and effervescent.

3. Skip The Boring Bits

Don't bother having your characters say hello. Skip to the important bits.
Writers often start dialogue with meaningless greetings or idle, warm-up chit chat.  Part of “distilling” dialogue is starting with the important, plot-relevant speech.

4. Dialogue First, Description Second

Let's say two of your characters are having a conversation. Write it out. Everything. Don't pause to describe the setting, what the characters are thinking, any actions that are occurring, and so on.

That's the first step. The next step is to cut half of it out. Snip, snip. You want to distill the conversation down to its essentials.

5. No Long Speeches

Period. They are dry, and dull and boring.

6. Dialogue With Action

Don't just have your characters standing around talking, have them doing something. Think of the last movie you watched. Actors rarely just stand still, look at each other and talk. They're walking, fighting, making love, whatever, but--generally--they don't just stand around and talk.

7. Using Dialogue To Forshadow

I read somewhere that you want to implant a question in your readers mind with the first sentence of your story. Changes, by Jim Butcher, is a great example:
I answered the phone, and Susan Rodriguez said, "They've taken our daughter".
The question: What daughter? That was how Harry--as well as the reader--learnt he had a child. Excellent hook. (Also, who took the daughter and why did they take her and where is she. That was a magnificent opening line.)

Good dialogue doesn’t ... just give information.  It can hint of information the reader will want to know, particularly at the beginning of the story ....  The characters are talking about something that is clearly meaningful for them, but they aren’t aware of the unseen eavesdropper, the reader, so the conversation can raise a question ....  They’ll keep reading to find out what the characters in the story were talking about.

8. Make Your Characters Angry

Put your characters in a jar and shake it. Make them angry, make them fight and say things, deep cutting things, things they mean--or not. Often we get a peek into what a person is really like when they're angry, what they're prepared to do.

 9. Be Subtle/Show Don't Tell

How many times has a guy walked up to the girl he loves and said, "I love you"? Probably not often. He's scared that she won't feel the same way about him and, besides, most of the guys I know would rather go through dental surgery without anesthetic than talk about their feelings.

A lot of times we tell each other things without saying them. Thinks like: "I love you. I miss you." We communicate it in our tone of voice, in the things we do, or don't do. In pauses and blushes, in stammering and in smiles.

Robert Sawyer gave an excellent workshop on this subject. My notes are here: Robert J. Sawyer: Showing Not Telling.

10. Dialogue: Character Reaction

In life we often gauge the seriousness, or importance, of something that was said by the reactions of people around us. It's the same in dialogue. Have your supporting characters show the importance of what's being said.
Important dialogue is hardly ever important to just the person who is saying it.  We understand the importance of what people are saying by how other characters respond to it.

11. Banter Is The Highest Form of Dialogue

This is how the dictionary defines banter: The playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks. Whenever I think of banter I think of the opening scenes of Pulp Fiction.

Banter is two characters on the top of their games, both saying exactly the right, clever, witty, penetrating comment at exactly the right time.  Banter is like a long rally in an epic tennis match.  The characters are smarter, snappier and funnier than real dialogue.
I'd encourage you all to read the article Connie Willis on Dialogue for yourself, there was a lot I didn't cover. Happy dialoguing! :)

Other articles you might like:
- Writing Horror: What Makes A Story Scary?
- Self Publishing on Amazon: Kindle Direct Publishing
- 19 Ways To Grow Your Twitter Following

Photo credit: "Heated Argument /口角" by Ding Yuin Shan 丁雲山 under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Writing Horror: What Makes A Story Scary?

Writing Horror: What Makes A Story Scary?

If, like me, you're looking for tips on how to write a horror story that will scare the bejesus out of your readers, then I recommend reading Talia Vance's aptly named article, Writing Scary.

Talia's article deserves to be read and re-read, but if you're a skimmer (like me) here are the highlights:

The Goal of a Horror Story

The goal of a horror story is to elicit fear in your reader.

Okay, no surprises there! The trick is: How?

Here are a few tips:

1. Atmosphere

Let's say you want to create an atmosphere that cultivates fear. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

- Night vs day
Night is scarier.
- Weather
Stormy, Angry clouds. Wind lashing the trees.
- Location
Dungeon, abandoned house, haunted mansion, cemetery
- Sounds
The scrapping, chittering, sounds of rodents,  the dry slithering of insects.
- Smells
The smell of decay, of slow rot, of decomposing flesh.

But perhaps you don't want to cultivate an atmosphere of fear. Perhaps you want the reader to feel safe. When I was a kid sometimes I'd hide around a corner and try to scare my mom (yes, she put up with a lot!) In that case you want everything to seem as safe and normal as possible. Talia writes:
A murder in a dark alley in the middle of the night might not be as scary as one that happens during a six year old’s birthday party on a sunny Saturday.  
(Cringe) Good point! To me, though, that's scary but also very, very, creepy.

2. Set the Stakes: Get Your Readers To Identify With Your Main Character

Make your reader emotionally invested in your protagonist and they will be afraid for them when they accept a bet to spend the night, alone, in a haunted house. Talia writes:
Make your characters relatable, likeable and give them a personal stake in the outcome.  No one is afraid for the red shirt guy who dies on Star Trek, but they care about what happens to Spock. 
Very true. Also, on the subject of getting your readers to relate to your character, Michael Hauge teaches that there are 5 ways to do this:

a. Make your character sympathetic.
b. Make your character funny.
c. Make your character likable.
d. Put your character in jeopardy.
e. Make your character powerful.

Michael writes that your character doesn't need all 5 of those things, but they need at least two. For more on this subject see: How To Get Your Readers To Identify With Your Main Character.

3. Foreshadowing

Drop hits that something bad is going to happen soon. Very soon.

Example: The movie Alien. I held my breath as I watched Sigourney Weaver work her way through the bowels of the ship toward the safety of the shuttle. At each turn I expected an alien with extreme dental issues to spring out and capture her.

4. Primal Fears

These are fears common to everyone.

Our death but also the death of family and friends.

Disaster (fear of death)
- Nature vs human: Natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, fires, etc.
- Human vs human: Spree killers, serial killers, hitmen, etc.

Loss & Rejection & Embarrassment
Fear of speaking in public (--> fear of loss/rejection), fear of flying (--> fear of death), fear of heights (--> fear of death), and so on.

Talia writes:
You can give your characters’ quirks and unique fears based on their own experiences, but find a wait to relate them to universal, primal fears to incite fear in the reader.
One thing that made the movie Alien scary was that the insect-like critters didn't just kill humans, they incapacitated them and implanted their body with a larva that devoured them them from the inside out. Now that's primal and off-the-scale creepy.

5. Pacing

You want your readers' fear to build throughout your story right up until the resolution when your protagonist either faces their fear and defeats it or is defeated by it.

6. Red Herrings

As you know, if everything your readers anticipate will happen does happen your story will be predictable and therefore not all that interesting. You need to have a few red herrings, a few false alarms.

For instance, one of your characters needs to go into a scary situation where your reader will just know something is going to jump out from the blackness and eat them up but then ... a black cat jumps out from the darkness, terrified out of its wits and runs away. Your reader laughs. Then your character gets eaten. :-)

7. Payoff/Resolution

The threat, the personification of your characters' fear, must step on stage at the end of your story. There needs to be a resolution, one way or the other.

Well, that's it! Great tips from Talia Vance, not only for writing horror stories, but for any kind of story. Thanks to Elizabeth S. Craig for tweeting the link to this article.

Have you written a horror story? I'm curious, were you a little scared yourself as you wrote?

Other articles you might like:

- Short Story Structures: Several Ways Of Structuring Short Fiction
- Before You Start Writing Test Your Characters: Are They Strong Enough?
- Dean Wesley Smith's Advice To Indie Authors For 2013: How To Sell Fiction

Photo credit: "why so serious, ann arbor?" by erin leigh mcconnell under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, December 5

Short Story Structures: Several Ways Of Structuring Short Fiction

Short Story Structures: Several Ways Of Structuring Short Fiction
I have a problem. For the past two years or so, every time I set out to write a short story—something under 5,000 words—I fail miserably. It grows and grows and grows until I'm writing a 20,000 word novella!

And there's nothing wrong with that.

It used to be it was hard to sell novellas but the form is experiencing a resurgence. It appears that as long as buyers are informed about the length of a story, they don't mind variety. (See: Ian McEwan Believes The Novella Is The Perfect Form Of Prose Fiction)

But I digress. As I say, there isn't anything wrong with writing novellas, but I've grown increasingly anxious. Every time I begin a short story it morphs into a novella. It has gotten to the point that—even if only for the novelty of it!—I would like to write a short story.

The upshot is that I've researched various structures that could be used for short stories because I think my problem is that I'm trying to use the structure of a novel for a short story. Not good.

Here's what I found.

The Hero's Journey: The Structure For A Novel

So that we'll have something to contrast the various short story structures with, here's the classic monomyth structure in visual form. This comes by way of the wonderfully creative folks at TED:

Short Story Structure 1: A Character, In A Situation, With A Problem ...

1. A character,
2. in a situation,
3. with a problem,
4. who tries repeatedly to solve the problem,
5. but fails, usually making the problem worse.
6. At the climax of the story the hero makes a final attempt which may succeed or fail.
7. The result of the hero's final attempt is validated in a way that makes it clear what we saw was the final result.
I've paraphrased it, but that's from Philip Brewer's post, Story Structure in Short Stories. Originally it comes from Algis Budrys.

This structure seems better suited to the brevity of a short story, but let's keep looking.

Short Story Structure 2: Set-up, Response, Attack, Resolution

This short story structure comes to us by way of Larry Brooks's article: The Short Story on Structuring Your Short Story. He writes:
"Like life, our stories always reside somewhere along that same continuum of set-up… shift… response… shift… attack… shift… resolution."
1. Setup
2. Shift
3. Response
4. Shift (mid-point)
5. Attack
6. Shift
7. Resolution

Sarah A Hoyt: The Structure Of A Short Story

This wonderfully detailed short story structure comes from Sarah A. Hoyt's article, The Structure of A Short Story, and is, I'm afraid, a case of me saving the best till last. Well, almost last.

(All quotations are from Sarah's article.)
1. First line or two
"[I]ntroduce the most startling or grabby thing about your characters/setting/situation."

2. Rest of the first paragraph
"[L]ay out character/setting/ and most of all problem.  You might want to lead with problem as that brings out the most interesting things about your idea.  (If your idea isn’t interesting, WHY are you writing it?)"

3. Next few pages (From the first paragraph up to the 25% mark)
"Develop the present situation which your character is caught.  This situation is usually not the main problem, and you should have at least one try/fail before getting character out of the PRESENT situation.  About 1/4 of the way through the story, have the character realize what the REAL problem is."

4. From the 25% point to the mid-point
"Initiate try/fails to solve the main problem."

5. Mid-point
"Around middle of the story have character realize he was going about obtaining goal the wrong way or that his/her assumptions were oh, soooo wrong."

6. 62% (between the mid-point and the 3/4 mark)
"Activate cunning plan.  (This normally doesn’t involve a turnip, on account of not being a Black Adder story.)"

7. 75% mark
"Try fail sequences set up about 3/4 through the story."

8. 88% mark
"Black moment about 1/8th from the end."

9. 95% to 100%
"[R]esolution and usually not much of what my husband calls a cigarette moment, because it’s a short."
I especially love Sarah's attention to detail in the first paragraph, breaking it into two. Let's face it, folks are probably going to decide whether they'll read your story based on the first few lines.

For Kicks And Giggles: A Possible Short Story Structure

I've tried to condense the hero's journey into something manageable for a short story and (as you'll be able to tell) I've borrowed liberally.

1. Set-up/Status quo/Ordinary World

The hero has a well-defined need but there is something specific keeping her from meeting this need. (Another way of saying this is, "The hero has a well-defined goal, but there is something specific keeping her from acquiring what she seeks.)

2. Call to adventure/Inciting incident

Something (perhaps something shocking) happens to break the status quo.

3. Hero's Response

The hero might vacillate for a short time while she weighs what accepting the call to adventure will mean for her (good opportunity for a sequel), but she ultimately accepts the call and enters a new, strange, intensely unfamiliar situation/world.

4. Trial and Error

The hero tries to attain her goal, to meet the need that we read about at the beginning of the story. She fails. Perhaps she fails spectacularly and humorously. Even though she failed, she succeeds at something. Perhaps she gains an ally because, even though she fails, she just won't give up.

Hero looks back. Thinks about going back to the status quo, what that would mean.

5. Mid-point/Point of no return (50%)

Hero tries to defeat the thing that is preventing her from getting what she needs.

Hero Succeeds: If hero succeeds then there has to be a twist. The person/thing they thought was the Big Bad really isn't. The real Big Bad is revealed.

Hero Fails: Stakes are raised. Perhaps she loses her allies, perhaps she's injured. She fought impressively but, because she still has a weakness, her enemy either got away or beat her.

Either way, the mid-point is a point-of-no return. Because of what happens in this scene the hero no longer has the option of going back to the ordinary world. Also, often, the hero makes the problem (overcoming the obstacles to achieving her goal) worse in an unexpected way.

Note: I mention the hero's weakness, above. Her weakness could be anything, but it's nice if it can be related to whatever it is INTERNALLY that keeps her from achieving her goal.

6. Setback

Our hero has failed (see (5)). She tries to go back to the status quo but realizes that's not possible. Time for reflection and perhaps a pep-talk. Or perhaps she hits bottom and starts fighting everything in sight and the experience revives her. (It could happen! ;)

7. Acceptance

Hero accepts her fate and trains, or otherwise works on removing what is keeping her from reaching her goal. Her weakness (usually an internal thing; e.g., a bad attitude) is diminishing. She is getting control over it.

Make sure your readers know 'the plan', how the hero is going to defeat what is preventing her from reaching her goal. If there is one crucial element of the plan it helps. For instance, the presence of her mentor.

8. All is lost (75%)

The one thing that absolutely can't fail for the plan to work does fail. All hope is lost. The hero will never be able to ....  You get the idea. I think the movie The Firm, with Tom Cruise, did this brilliantly.

But, wait, all hope is not lost. It's an incredible long-shot. It's insane, really, to even consider it, especially given that the hero failed at the midpoint. But maybe, just maybe, if the hero does [insert deed], there's a chance the plan can still work.

9. Final Attack 

It is essential that the hero act immediately. It is now much harder for the hero to succeed than it was at the mid-point and the stakes are much higher.

Something spectacularly improbable yet plausible, happens and the hero executes the plan. At the end of this scene she will triumph over whatever was keeping her from attaining her goal. She has worked through the weakness that caused her to fail at the mid-point.

10. Wrap-up

Have the hero say goodbye to her allies and go back to the ordinary world. Show how her ordinary world has been transformed because of her journey (because your hero is, in some ways, a different person).

In my outline I have it that the hero was successful, but they might not be. Also, the hero might not  willingly go back to the ordinary world, perhaps she returns for the sake of someone she left behind, or perhaps she's chased back.

Final Thoughts

Looking over the story structure I just detailed I wonder if a person could use it to write a short story, say one of 1,000 words. Perhaps it would be more suited to a story of 5,000 words (or so). But, who knows? Perhaps I'll try it tonight as a challenge.

I hope you've gotten something from this article, even if it has only highlighted the problem, how difficult it is to squeeze all that story goodness into the tiny vessel of a short story.

If any of you would like to share your short story structures I would LOVE to see them.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I want to recommend "Story Structure: The Key to Successful Fiction" by William Bernhardt. From the blurb: "Story structure is one of the most important concepts for a writer to understand—and ironically, one of the least frequently taught. In this book, New York Times-bestselling author William Bernhardt explains the elements that make stories work, using examples spanning from Gilgamesh to The Hunger Games."

Other articles you might like:

- Before You Start Writing Test Your Characters: Are They Strong Enough?
- Dean Wesley Smith's Advice To Indie Authors For 2013: How To Sell Fiction
- Robert Sawyer Says: Don't Worry About What's Popular, Write What You Love

Photo credit: "Angels in fury" by Jsome1 under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, December 4

Before You Start Writing Test Your Characters: Are They Strong Enough?

Before You Start Writing Test Your Characters: Are The Strong Enough?

Martina, over at Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing, has written a fantastic post on characterization, one of the best I've read: Characters We Love to Write (And Read!).

One of the things that immediately vaulted it into the 'must read' category is her Character Brainstorming Worksheet. It's amazing! No, I'm not overstating it, go and take a look.

I encourage you to read Martina's article, but if you'd like a sample, here are some highlights:

Test Your Characters Before You Write Them

A lot of things--television, the internet, family, friends, email, the list goes on--compete with you for your reader's time so you'll need strong characters, well-designed characters, to keep their interest.

How do you know if your main characters have what it takes? Martina advises testing them.  Like Anubis with his scales, weigh them to see if they're wanting before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). You'll save yourself a LOT of time.

This idea makes so much sense I can't believe I've never thought of it in those terms before. We test students to see whether, for instance, they're ready to graduate, why not test characters to see if they're book ready?

1. Active versus Passive

- Does your character do things in service of an overall goal or
- Does your character do things because she's trying to avoid something bad?

When I was a kid most of my stories--now safely boxed under my bed--had my protagonist running form bad things, not out there making stuff happen because she had her own goals.

2. Neither too strong nor too weak

Too weak: If your protagonist always needs rescuing and breaks down sobbing at any hit of trouble ... well, that's not interesting. Readers want to read about protagonists who grit their teeth and spit (or at least snark) in the face of trouble, even though they do fail occasionally.

Too strong: The opposite isn't good either--in fact it might be worse! If your protagonist is TOO good then there's no real conflict, no tension. We know they're going to win.

I'm going to stop there. Martina has a lot more to say about characterization and I highly recommend her article. Also, don't forget to check out the many links in her "More Information" section at the end of her post.

Thanks to Elizabeth S. Craig for tweeting a link to Martina's post!

Other links you might like:
- Dean Wesley Smith's Advice To Indie Authors For 2013: How To Sell Fiction
- Does Amazon KDP Select Drive Away True Fans?
- Henry Miller's 11 Writing Commandments

Photo credit: "Olympus E-PL1 + Canon 50mm F1.4 FD" by 55Laney69 under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Dean Wesley Smith's Advice To Indie Authors For 2013: How To Sell Fiction

Dean Wesley Smith's Advice To Indie Authors For 2013: How To Sell Fiction

Dean Wesley Smith and Joe Konrath were the two writers who, more than anyone else, convinced me that independent publishing offered opportunities traditional publishing couldn't. And, yes, it works the other way too.

Today Dean published a post that will help a lot of folks understand what indie publishing can and can't do. I've already bookmarked the URL in Evernote. This is a post I'm going to re-read often in the months to come: The New World of Publishing: How To Get Started Selling Fiction in 2013.

Dean's Advice To New Writers For 2013

Dean writes:
1) Spend 80% of your focus and time on producing new fiction. Not rewriting, not researching, but producing new words on the page. Period. (Follow Heinlein’s Rules to the letter.)

2) Spend 15% of your time on learning craft and business. Both a little at a time. In any way you can.

3) Spend the remaining 5% of your time mailing finished work to editors or getting your work up indie published or both. (The #5 path above I believe in 2013 is the best if you have the courage.)

4) Think five and ten years out and set production goals. (Not selling goals, you are not in charge of those, but you are in charge of your own production and how much you learn.)

That’s it.

Dean mentions Heinlein's Rules in (1), above. If you're a bit fuzzy on what those are, here's a post you might like: Heinlein's Rules, by Robert Sawyer.

Dean's Six Major Paths Writers Can Take

You'll notice that, in point three, above, Dean talks about "path #5". Although Dean gives his recommendations, he also details "the six major paths that a fiction writer can take in 2013 when starting out". Here they are:

1. Follow the myths

"[W]rite one novel, rewrite it to death, then spend all your time tracking down an agent."

Pro: None.
Con: "This path seldom leads to a decent sale or decent writing, but most beginning writers still follow this path ...."

2. Follow tradition

"Write a novel and mail a submission package for your book directly to editors. Then while that book is in the mail, write more novels and mail them as well while working on becoming a better storyteller."

Pro: "This is the way it’s been done forever in publishing and is still valid."
Con: "Contracts are much more difficult these days."
Note: "Only difference now from ten years ago is that now you need an IP attorney to work on your contract instead of an agent."

3. Pay to follow the myths

"Write a novel, rewrite it to death, pay a gad-zillion bucks to have someone put it up electronically for you and then take a percentage of your work, then you promote it to your 200 friends on Facebook until they start fleeing ...."

Pro: None
Con: "This path seldom works ...."

4. Go indie: write and publish novels 

"Write a novel, learn how to do your own covers and formatting, put the novel up yourself electronically and in POD and then write the next novel and work on learning and becoming a better storyteller. Repeat. Do not promote other than telling your friends once each book is out."

Pro: "This is more of a standard, traditional path that will work, but takes time as you learn how to tell better stories that people want to read."
Con: None

5. Go indie & follow tradition 

"Follow #4 and #2 at the same exact time, telling the editors in the submission package that the book is self-published electronically and sending them a cover in the package."

Pro: See Dean's comments on #2 and #4.
Con: None.
Note: "Very few beginning writers are trying this method yet because they are afraid traditional editors will come to their houses and break their fingers ...."

6. Short stories

"Forget novels completely and only write short stories, selling to traditional magazines as well as publishing indie."

Pro: "This method has a lot quicker feedback loops and is a good way to learn how to tell great stories ..."
Con: "... it takes a mind set most beginning writers do not have. And you must learn how to do all the indie publishing work yourself."
Note: "This method was never a path to making a living writing fiction, but now it is possible if you really, really, really love short fiction. Otherwise, just write a few stories here and there to help your novels."

You'll notice that I re-formatted some of Dean's points, above. (You should have seen my notebooks in school!) I did it so that I could take in more information at a glance. Oh, and all quotations are from Dean's article, "The New World of Publishing: How To Get Started Selling Fiction in 2013".

Dean's Advice For The New Year

Dean writes:
In my opinion, all writers these days should be writing, selling, and publishing some short fiction along with writing novels. The short fiction market is booming and short fiction should just be a part of any business plan for a fiction writer.
In other words, try a combination of paths 5 and 6, above.

Dean also holds that:
[T]he best way to sell books is write a lot, work on learning how to be a better storyteller constantly, get your work in front of editors or readers or both, and plan for the long haul. 

How To Defeat The Siren Call Of Social Media

I think this is brilliant! Dean writes:
[S]et up a writing computer that is only for creation of new words. Have no games, no email, no internet connection on that computer. Make it only a writing computer. That way the creative side of things has a line between it and the information overload and opinions flooding at you from everywhere. It honestly will help and be worth the few hundred bucks for a new computer.
Thanks to cloud storage you can save your work using utilities like Dropbox or Google Drive and then access your work on your main computer when you need to edit and format it.

Beware of Over-Marketing

I think this might be one of Dean's most controversial pieces of advice. As far as I can tell, Dean isn't against all marketing--after all, he recommends telling your online community about your book or short story when it's first published--but he is against over-marketing. Dean writes:
I watch new writers, who have managed to complete their first novel, promoting the life out of their “book” because they believe they should, and then complaining when there are very few sales.

From a place of perspective, this is like watching a brand new violin player stride onto the stage at Carnage Hall with their very first recital piece and wondering why no one showed up to listen even though they advertised their concert to everyone they knew. 
Point well taken.

The Importance Of Practicing Your Craft

Dean writes:
All fiction writers, at some point, given enough time, start to understand that to become a good storyteller it takes time. John D. McDonald said every fiction writer has a million words of crap in them before they reach their first published word. I agree and could go on about why this is so, but don’t have the time in this article.
I hope Dean writes that article soon! A million words is about 10 books at 100,000 words a book. Even if the finished word count isn't 100,000 chances are you'll have written at least that number when you count up all the drafts.

Those novels that you've stuffed under your bed--we all have them!--did you a favor. They helped you work through your 1,000,000 practice words.

The Writings and Opinions of Dean Wesley Smith

If you haven't subscribed to Dean's blog and you're interested in indie publishing, I highly recommend it. You don't have to agree with everything he says, but his advice is worth thinking about even if you don't take it.

Thanks to Andy Goldman for bringing Dean's latest post to my attention. :-)

Other articles you might like:
- Robert Sawyer Says: Don't Worry About What's Popular, Write What You Love
- Writing A Story? Make Sure You Have A Concept Not Just An Idea
- Amazon's KDP Select Program Has A Lot To Offer New Writers, But What About Established Ones?

Photo credit: "Late for Work / Tarde pa'l trabajo" by Eneas under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, December 3

Robert Sawyer Says: Don't Worry About What's Popular, Write What You Love

SiWC & A Joke

What's the difference between a large pepperoni pizza and a professional writer? The pizza can feed a family of four.
That was the joke Robert Sawyer told at the the opening of his keynote address for the Surrey International Writers' Conference (SiWC) this last October.

His point wasn't that we should stop trying, it was that we shouldn't try to figure out what's 'hot'. You know, vampires, angels, zombies in love, and so on.

What Do You Love?

In the beginning, when we first discovered we wanted to write, we had something to say. We had things that inspired us. Robert Sawyer's message was: Don't lose that! Hang onto that spark.

All the sacrifices you make for your writing--for instance, staying home to write when your friends go out to watch a movie, taking a less than ideal day-job because it gives you time to write--are because of one thing: so you can speak to the world about what YOU care about.

What Is Your Mission Statement?

What is your mission statement? What is important to you? If you make yourself happy, if you write the kind of stories that excite you, that make you want to sit down at your keyboard and get lost in a land of imagination, if you write the stories that make you happy, you'll make your readers happy.

If you write the stories you're passionate about, that passion will spill onto the page, will infuse your words, your ideas. It will transform your characters into living, breathing people. It will make your fictional words come alive.

What Is Important To You?

This is the most important question of all: What is important to you?

Find out and write about it. Write the stories you love to read.

Fine your niche. Be the favorite author of a very narrow segment of the population.

The key to success: Don't write anything except what you want to write.

Other articles you might like:

- Writing A Story? Make Sure You Have A Concept Not Just An Idea
- 19 Ways To Grow Your Twitter Following
- Does Amazon KDP Select Drive Away True Fans?

Photo credit: "Poetic" by seyed mostafa zamani under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Writing A Story? Make Sure You Have A Concept Not Just An Idea

Writing A Story? Make Sure You Have A Concent Not Just An Idea

NaNoWriMo is over but as I begin to edit my manuscript (I gave it a week to rest. More time would have been better, but I'm impatient) I'm looking ahead to my next story and what this one will be about.

When I came across The Secret To a Successful Concept by Larry Brooks, I knew I'd found the perfect article.

Larry says--and I agree--that each story begins with an idea. The trick is to turn that idea into a concept. But not just any concept. You want to develop the idea so it grabs your reader's attention and keeps them turning the page.

How does one do this?

Larry writes:
The secret of a successful concept is to move from the situational to the actionable.
From a state-of-being to a call-to-action.
From a snapshot toward a moving and evolving set of images and possibilities.
From an explanation to a proposition.
From a character to a journey.
From a story about something to a story about something dramatic.
In other words, don't just tell a story, create DRAMA.

What is drama? Here's David Mamet's definition:
The quest of the hero to overcome those things which prevent him from achieving a specific, acute, goal. (David Mamet On How To Write A Great Story)
Larry Brooks holds that drama results when you turn a story idea into a story concept.

Here's an example of a story IDEA:

- My father when he was a child growing up on a farm.

This idea is just a snapshot. How do we transform a story idea into a story concept, something deep enough, juicy enough, to support an entire novel? This is how: We create a sequence of dramatic events. But before we get into that ...

Not About Pantsers And Plotters

Larry stresses that the difference between working with a story idea and a story concept doesn't have anything to do with HOW a story gets written. The key is understanding the difference between a concept and an idea. Being able to intuitively tell when your idea needs more work before you wade into your first draft.

Story Concepts: Examples

Idea: A story about growing up on a farm.

It's a perfectly good idea, but it has no drama. Who is our hero (I call gals heroes too) and what is his or her quest? What does he or she need to overcome to accomplish his or her specific goal?

A story about growing up on a farm… as a black slave in love with his white master’s daughter in 1861 South Carolina? (Larry Brooks)
That has it all. Our hero is in love with the farmer's daughter, someone completely off-limits to him. Here we have obstacles and conflict galore! Not only would the farmer kill the hero if he found out how he felt about this daughter, our hero has a whole segment of society set against him.

Also--and I love this!--the hero's goal is specific (he wants to be with the girl he loves) and universal at the same time. His goal is easily pictured, it's something we can all relate to, AND it is intensely personal for our hero.

Turning Story Ideas Into Story Concepts

Larry Brook's approach is twofold:

1. Ask a compelling question, one the reder wants answered.

2. Make sure your compelling question form (1) leads to other compelling questions.

Here's Larry's example:
- What if a boy grows up as a slave in 1961 South Carolina and falls in love with his master’s daughter?
- What if that daughter is half-white, from his relationship with another slave years before?
- What if that slave has hidden the fact she is, in fact, his mother?
- What if she is killed by the master before the truth is revealed?
- What if she left her son a hidden note, to be delivered if anything ever happened to her?
What a great way to transform a story idea into a story concept! Larry Brooks' blog,, is chalk full of great information.

Other articles you might like:
- Amazon's KDP Select Program Has A Lot To Offer New Writers, But What About Established Ones?
- NaNoWriMo Ends. Editing Begins!
- Amazon Sweetens the KDP Select Pot For The Holiday Shopping Season

Photo credit:"Sleeping 猫" by 55Laney69 under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Sunday, December 2

Amazon's KDP Select Program Has A Lot To Offer New Writers, But What About Established Ones?

Amazon's KDP Select Program Has A Lot To Offer New Writers, But What About Established Ones?

Amazon's KDP Select program is best for writers who haven't yet cultivated a large readership, but even if you have it can give a boost to a book that's underpreforming as well as broaden your readership. At least, that's what Jeff Bennington says.

Yesterday, thanks to Elizabeth Craig and her marvelous tweets, I discovered Jeff's great post on KDP Select. Jeff has used the program for some time and his article is a must-read for anyone considering enrolling: How to Win in Amazon's KDP Select Program.

Jeff wrote his article on October 25th of this year, before Amazon put an additional $1.5 million into the pot for Select authors, but that just strengthens his argument. (See: Amazon Sweetens the KDP Select Pot For The Holiday Shopping Season)

Amazon's KDP Select: A Great Program For New Writers

Amazon KDP Select is best for writers who haven't yet cultivated a large readership and want to.

Since Amazon's Select program allows you to offer your book, free, for up to 5 days per enrollment period this virtually guarantees thousands of people will download your book (if they don't, take a second look at your cover, your blurb, and so on). (See: What To Do If Your Book Sales Are Low)

At least, if they're anything like Jeff. Jeff writes:
I average about 8,000 (small books) - 15,000 (novels) downloads with every freebie run.
In September of this year he gave away nearly 20,000 books and sold well over 5,000. Not bad!

But lets not even look at book sales. In the beginning what is of critical importance is for readers to find your work. Using Amazon's KDP Select program you can put your book in front of thousands of readers so, at the very least, it's a great way to grow a readership. And, if you include a link back to your blog, you'll get more followers.

As any established writer will tell you, there's no shortcut to success, but it can be very nice to have an initial boost.

Amazon's KDP Select: Can Help Expand Your Readership

Let's say you're an established author, one who already has a large readership, so the benefits of Amazon's KDP Select program aren't as attractive to you. Also, you worry that your readers--those who either don't have access to Amazon or who choose not to buy from it--would be alienated by your choice to publish exclusively through them.

There's still a couple of reasons why you might consider using the program.

1. Books that under-perform

This happens. You've written a book you believe in. You think it's a great book but it's not selling as well as you'd like because it hasn't found its audience. This kind of book is an excellent candidate for the KDP Select program.

What you want is to get your book in front of more people, different people. After getting downloaded thousands of times chances are you'll reach more of the folks who will love it and you'll end up broadening your readership.

2. You change your genre

Established writers sometimes want to start writing in a different genre. For instance, Jim Butcher is currently working on the first book of a new steampunk series. (See: Jim Butcher Begins Another Series, The Cinder Spires: It's Steampunk!)

Mr. Butcher, of course, has enough fans to get the word out that he doesn't need programs like Amazon's KDP Select, but other authors might choose to release the first book of their new series using Select. It might be a good idea to pull the book out of the program at the end of the three month term, but even a one term enrollment could give a new series a nice push.

Jeff Bennington's Amazon Select Success Story

Jeff writes:
[I]n my last six "freebie runs" as I call them, I've hit the Top 20, five out of six times, and the sixth time I hit #58 with Creepy, book 1 in my Creepy series.
Now that's impressive!

Jeff writes more about what he does to achieve these figures at the end of his article. If you're considering using Amazon's KDP Select and wondering if it's right for you, give his article a read.

Other articles you might like:
- Writing Prompts: Defeat Writer's Block And Generate Ideas
- NaNoWriMo Ends. Editing Begins!
- Amazon Sweetens the KDP Select Pot For The Holiday Shopping Season

Photo credit: "Chichicastenango Market, Guatemala" by szeke under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, December 1

Writing Prompts: Defeat Writer's Block And Generate Ideas

Writing Prompts: Defeat Writers Block And Generate Ideas

Writing Prompts

Writing prompts are a great way to begin a writing session; I think of it a bit like a vocal artist warming up her voice by singing scales.

And, unlike the improvisations of a vocalist, the result of our intellectual calisthenics persists, whether in a digital file or scribbled in a notebook ready to be mined later.

I just finished reading a great article about writing prompts written by Simon Kewin called Writing Prompts 101.

Simon notes that one of the wonderful things about prompts is that what you write in response to a prompt can be entirely unstructured.

You can jot down ideas in point form--or even words--and use the prompt to begin free associating.

The prompt is there to give your writing a place to start, an initial focus.

Simon writes:
You may just come up with rough, disjointed notes or you may end up with something more polished and complete, a scene or even a complete story. The point is to simply start writing without being held back by any inhibitions or doubts.
So, why use writing prompts? Simon writes (I'm paraphrasing):

1. Defeat Writer's Block

Imagine you're hard at work on a murder mystery and, for some reason, the words have stopped flowing. This happens to me sometimes when I reach the "and stuff happens here" part of my outline.

Simon writes that a way to re-prime your idea pump (as it were) is sometimes to do a short and entirely unrelated piece of writing.

Set your alarm for 5 or 10 minutes and write to a prompt. Afterward, go back to your story. Keep in mind that if, suddenly, you start getting ideas for your story you can just go with it! You just have to write for 5 or 10 minutes, it can be unrelated to the prompt. The prompt is just there to start you writing, to give you that initial idea.

2. Gives You NEW Ideas

Ever had an idea just out of reach? Sometimes taking a break and allowing ourselves to do unstructured writing lets these sort of ideas connect with our conscious mind.

3. Helps Get You Into The Habit Of Writing

Simon suggests we think of our daily writing as an excersize regime to help build our writing 'muscles'. After a couple of weeks you'll find writing easier and you'll be able to write longer.

4. Community Involvement

Various websites publish a daily writing prompt and provide space for writers to show what they wrote or just chat with other writers.

This can be a great way to meet folks interested in the same things you are. Simon suggests these sites:

Developing Your Own Writing Prompts

- Read news stories. Sometimes I think: Oh, this would have been a great story if only ...
- Visit Flickr and look at images. What just happened? What will happen?
- Cloud gazing. What do you see? (By the way, cloud gazing works with any random phenomena.)
- Listen to a song. What was the song about? What was the theme?

If you have a writing prompt you'd like to share, please do! :-)

Other articles you might like:
- NaNoWriMo Ends. Editing Begins!
- Amazon Sweetens the KDP Select Pot For The Holiday Shopping Season
- Crowdfunding: Cutting Out The Middleman

Photo credit: "Four Storms And A Twister" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.