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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Writer-Worthy Blogs and Websites

You are a writer. That is the first step. The second step is admitting to it.

The third leg of the journey to Published Author is finding help to polish your writing. I started this post by looking up Writer’s Digest, 101 Best Websites for Writers. When I followed the links of several well-known sites, I was startled. Many were on hiatus. Some had months-old posts. Several had wall-to-wall ads.

Blech.

So I went back to my favorites, the ones who have been there for me ever since my early days. Now a soapbox moment. I’ve said this before so bear with me cuz I’m gonna say it again:

Authors helping writers is one of the most awe-inspiring part of this business.

What other trade helps wannabes to this extent? I don’t know of anyone. To follow that thought, here are a bunch of established authors, agents, and good folks who give their time and expertise to others:

Grammar Girl, or Quick & Dirty Tricks to Grammar. Need to know when to use the word “which”? Hanged vs hung? Whether to capitalize dear old mom/Mom? Get the book. Or better yet, check out the website.

Janet Reid, literary agent. Yeah, she’s cranky at times, threatens to sic her shark on you, and on occasion...ahem...could use Grammar Girl’s expertise. But, what a site! She gives valuable advice, crits your queries, and smacks you upside the head when your attention wavers. *sigh*

Marcy Hatch. Yes, one of our own moderators at UnicornBell. She and Dianne Salerni team up each month to critique first pages. Want experts to give your pages a once-over? Check out their websites.

Query Tracker. An all-purpose website that lists agents and what they represent, forums for critiques, and advice for every writer. This is available for free or pay for the premium subscription.

YAtopia. If Young Adult is your passion, this is the site for you. I love the oodles of advice this collection of talented writers give.

Literary Rambles. Casey McCormick and Natalie Aguirre created a blog that highlights children’s books, authors, agents, and publishing. Ms McCormick also started the awesome Agent Spotlight to introduce agents to their potential clientele.

Shannon Lawrence aka The Warrior Muse. Need a resource for writing tips, prompts, and publishers accepting submissions? Well here you go.

I can’t think of a website with a better title: Writers Helping Writers. If you know the book, The Emotion Thesaurus, then you know these folks. Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman started with a blog, The Bookshelf Muse, about physical and character attributes. The blog grew into a monster and they decided to move to a bigger, better organized site.

For a change of pace: Horror Writers Association. Even if you don’t read or write horror, check out some of their writing tips.


It doesn’t matter what your genre is. Writing good prose is the same for everything, from MG and YA to erotica or horror. Keep on Truckin’.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Learning How to Write Good Prose


Clearly, our writing can only get better. I know mine has. But how?




Online Creative Writing Courses. A quick search of area colleges and universities gave me all I needed to know about the abundance of credit and non-credit courses. I can show up in class or take a variety of courses online in my pajamas, if I prefer. Check your state. Missouri has an easily navigable website that gives oodles of info.

Adult Ed Classes. In my county, we have a semi-annual offering of self-help courses at the local tech school. The classes run from learning to knit or paint and credited colleges courses to CPR and computers. Within the last couple of years, they began offering creative writing and how to be published also.

Self-Help books. My list of these books is huge. Starting
with one of my first purchases, The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need by Susan Thurman. I bought it to learn the basics. From commas to passive verbs, this was my bible. From there I went onto how to compose hook sentences, editing, etc.

  • Hooked – Les Edgerton
  • The First Five Pages – Noah Lukeman
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – Renni Browne & Dave King
  • Writing Tools – Roy Peter Clark (highly recommend this one!)
  • The Breakout Novelist – Donald Maass. This book has worksheets that help a writer get in touch with their characters.
  • Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing – Mignon Fogarty
  • On Writing – Stephen King
  • Plot & Structure – James Scott Bell
  • Conflict, Action, & Suspense – William Noble
  • Showing & Telling – Laurie Alberts
  • And the one book that I couldn’t live without:
  • The Emotion Thesaurus – Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi

All of these help to instruct and inform the budding writer. I find over time that I don’t need some of them like I did at first. But I still use them. It helps to go back and study On Writing, for instance, and Self-Editing. It’s always good to thumb through and refresh my memory.

Reading. All the above suggestions on how to improve your writing is good. Very good. But consider also reading established authors.

When I read a passage from a beloved book, I note how it affects me. I end up dissecting that scene—the words, the phrases—to discover why it leaves me breathless. Most times, sentence structure, not the storyline, is what makes me gasp.

Simple lines in The Two Towers, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, in the chapter The Choices of Samwise, speak without excess. In the scene, Sam thought Frodo was dead, stung by Shelob, a huge spider. He had no desire to continue the journey, to take the ring to Mount Doom. His world began and ended at his master’s side. One of his choices? “He looked at the bright point of the sword.”

A better definition of show vs tell I cannot think of.

College courses and How-To books are great. I love Stephen King’s On Writing for example. But reading his novels seems a surer path to learning. I note things like how he places a scene, when I first bonded with the character, where he inserts the nouns and verbs. I look at his sentence structure, how he intersperses long sentences with short ones.

Creative writing courses are wonderful. I highly recommend them. But don’t forget to read and dissect established authors’ novels. And watching the people in the mall.

They are your real teachers.

Got any books not listed here? I'd love to hear about them.



Friday, November 21, 2014

bloopers



 This week I’ve been sharing some of the fun and interesting lessons on punctuation I’m learning from Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss, who’s wickedly funny. That made me think to end on a humorous note which I will do by displaying a few punctuation ‘horror stories’ Truss discovered:

“Next week: nouns and apostrophe’s! (BBC website advertising a grammar course for children)
Pupil’s entrance (on a very selective school, presumably)
Adult Learner’s Week (lucky him)
Pansy’s ready (is she?)
Cyclist’s only (his only what?)”

Do you notice grammar gaffs? Are you confident about your skills? I feel pretty good about mine in relation to everything I’ve mentioned here this week, but I’ve yet to read the chapter on the colon and semicolon, the one on dashes, or the one on the hyphen, which Truss calls ‘a little used punctuation mark.’ We’ll see how good I feel after reading those chapters…

Anyway. I hope you enjoyed my ramblings about this book, and the quizzes, and have a fabulous weekend!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Its vs it's




This week I’m talking about Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss…today I thought I’d bring up its vs it’s which seems to give a lot of people trouble but it’s (it is) really quite simple. “The rule is: the word ‘it’s’ (with apostrophe) stands for ‘it is’ or ‘it has.” Otherwise, ‘its’ is required. For example:

Contractive ‘it’s’
It’s going to rain (it is going to rain)
It’s gotten very wet (it has gotten very wet)

Possessive ‘its’
Luxury at its finest (because you wouldn’t say luxury at it is finest)
Time is nearing its end (again, you wouldn’t say time is nearing it is end)

Whose vs who’s and they’re vs their are follow a similar rule.

“If you can replace the word with ‘who is’ or ‘who has’ then the word is who’s:

Who’s that knocking on my door?

If you can replace the word with ‘they are’, then the word is they’re:

They’re not going to get away with this.”

Same with there’s – there is – and you’re – you are.

Got it? Good.

Now for your challenge. Try to come up with as many phrases using ‘its’ as you can.


*Yesterday's Punctuation Riddle:  Why did all the people stay away from the Giant Kid’s Playground?
Answer: Because they were scared of the giant kid!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The apostrophe and how to make it look daft



In 2001 the British show Popstars created the singing group Hear’Say, which according to Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves, essentially imprisoned the apostrophe in ‘eternal meaningless.’

It might not seem like much of a transgression at first glance, but the fact is, there is absolutely no justification for that apostrophe. Whoever came up with the name must’ve been…well, maybe a product of the grammatical apathy we talked about yesterday.

Prior to this debacle, the apostrophe first turned up in the English language in the 16th century when it was used to indicate dropped letters, like this: “’Tis a consummation devoutly to be wish’d.” (from Hamlet)

Then in the 17th century printers began using the apostrophe before the ‘s’ in singular possessive cases (the cat’s tail), and in the 18th century they decided to put it after the plural possessives as well (the cats’ tails). Which brings us to possessive determiners and possessive pronouns.

Now, I’ve heard of possessive pronouns (mine, ours, yours, his, hers, theirs, its), but I'll admit I hadn’t heard the term possessive determiners, which are apparently: my, our, your, his, her, their, and its. The nice thing is none of them require an apostrophe. Ever. And that’s a pretty easy rule to remember.

Your quiz for today (should you choose to accept it) is a punctuation riddle: Why did all the people stay away from the Giant Kid’s Playground?


See you tomorrow with the answer and another installment of my thoughts on Eats, Shoots & Leaves, a wickedly fun book on punctuation.   

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What IS punctuation?



Today I’ve got more from Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynn Truss, the lovely and witty book about punctuation I’m reading…


In the introduction, Truss gives a few definitions of what punctuation is. My favorite is this one: “Punctuation is the basting that holds the fabric of language in shape.”

But I also like her favorite which she quotes from a style book by a national (UK) newspaper: “Punctuation is a courtesy designed to help readers understand a story without stumbling.”

Truss comments, “Isn’t the analogy with good manners perfect? Truly good manners are invisible: they ease the way for others, without drawing attention to themselves.” Which is exactly what punctuation does when used properly; it makes us feel as though we're living inside the book, sailing smoothly along.

She also bemoans the state of punctuation in her country and the fact that “…for over a quarter of a century, punctuation and English grammar were simply not taught in the majority of schools…” Unfortunately, this ‘grammatical apathy’ occurred immediately before the explosion of the internet and personal devices. Now everyone and anyone can be a writer, post reviews, like this one:

I watched this film [About a Boy] a few days ago expecting the usual High Grant bumbling…character Ive come to loath/expect over the years. I was thoroughly surprised. This film was great, one of the best films I have seen in a long time. The film focuses around one man who starts going to a single parents meeting, to meet women, one problem He doesn’t have a child.’ 

Your quiz today is a little different. Take that review and make it shine. Polish it up with proper punctuation and no more than say…ten extra words (there’s 68 as it stands). I'll post my revised review in the comments. Anyone else game?

Tomorrow, I’ll be back with more from Eats, Shoots & Leaves :)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Can we eat Grandma? A few more words about punctuation…and a quiz!




This week I thought I’d tell you about a fabulous book I’m reading, Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss, throw in a few lesson on punctuation I found helpful, and maybe a quiz or two because now that we’re older, quizzes are way more fun than they used to be, right?

Anyway. I’ll start with the Preface, written by the author, which explains her obsession with proper punctuation.

“I don’t know how bad things are in America, “ she says (she's British, btw), “but in the UK I cannot emphasise it enough: standards of punctuation are abysmal.”

She goes on to give examples, among them her favorite, a roadside warning that says: CHILDREN DRIVE SLOWLY. “Evidently, this sign – inadvertently descriptive of the disappointing road speeds attainable by infants at the wheel – was eventually altered (but sadly not improved) by the addition of a comma, becoming CHILDREN, DRIVE SLOWLY – a kindly exhortation, perhaps, which might even save lives among those self-same reckless juvenile road-users; but still not quite what the writer really had in mind.”

At which point I’m snickering and in complete admiration of Truss’ wit and style, because the truth is, I can totally relate. I may not be the Princess of Punctuation but whenever I see a public display of bad grammar or punctuation, it grates on my nerves, irritates me like a pea beneath my mattresses.

If you feel the same way or want to improve your punctuation usage, I highly recommend this book.

And now for the promised quiz!

Identify the punctuation problems in the following:

1. Two weeks notice

2. Can you spare any more records.

3. Readers Outlet.

4. The judges decision is final.

5. Childrens Home

6. One months notice

7. Please do not lock this door between the hour’s of 9am and 6:30pm.


Tomorrow I’ll be back with more thoughts on Eats, Shoots & Leaves and maybe another quiz :)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Words of Advice to My Younger Self

There are things I wish I had known when I started writing my first novel years ago. I guess I didn't really know what I was getting myself into. I didn't know the hours upon hours I would spend reading, writing, and polishing that manuscript and subsequent manuscripts. Here is the letter I would write to my younger self. Maybe it will benefit some of you as well.

****


So you want to write a novel?

After all these years, you're finally ready to do it. Don't be scared. Don't think you'll fail, even though at times you might. Don't be too hard on yourself, you are, after all, still learning.

Allow yourself to be inspired by the things around you—conversations you hear, people you meet, songs on the radio, maybe even a perfect sunset. That's what will make your writing unique—everything YOU see, hear, experience, feel, will be different from someone else. The story you have to tell, will be different.

Hour after hour you will plug away at your laptop. You will fill pages upon pages of words that only you will see. Line by line, page by page, a story will unfold. A story that captivates you, leaves you sleepless and longing for more hours with the characters you've created. And then one day, it will be done—and yet, far from finished. You will spend hours, days, weeks, even months polishing your manuscript. Rewriting scenes, taking out characters, adding motivation and ensuring there's a visible character arc. You may find that you need to step away from this novel for a while and come back with fresh eyes and a new perspective. Do it. That time away will be invaluable.

In the end, you may think your writing is no good. You many want to burn that manuscript or erase that document, but don't. Celebrate what you HAVE accomplished—you finished a novel. Something many aspire to do, but few are able to achieve!

Now is the tough part. You have to let your baby go, out into the world for other eyes to see. You need other's perspectives. You need to know what works, what doesn't, and where lie the plot holes and lack of characterization. Don't be offended if your best friend or critique partner has a very strong opinion about your main character. Don't get upset if your spouse or beta reader thinks your story "needs some work." Take the advice, thoughts, opinions of others and sit on them. For a while. You'll know what advice to take and what to leave behind. Think about what feels right for your story. And don't forget, most importantly, that this is YOUR story. Not theirs.

And after all that polishing, all that work, your manuscript will finally be ready. Will you choose to query agents? Or will you submit to publishers? Or perhaps the indie route is the way for you. Whatever you choose, you will celebrate the moment you can share your work with the world.

In the end, it comes down to one thing and one thing only. If you want to write a novel, then write.

**Originally posted on my blog, Swords and Stilettos, on October 1, 2014 as my contribution to the eBook anthology IWSG Guide to Publishing and Beyond, which will be released in December.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Quintessential Comma Question

I have a love/hate relationship with commas.

Does anyone else feel this way? Do you ever comb through your manuscript and think, "wait, am I supposed to have a comma there?"
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Or maybe you're one of those who flings commas around like they're going out of style.

Either way, a few misplaced commas isn't going to be an automatic rejection from an agent, but it can be a red flag, especially if spotted in a query or the first few pages of your manuscript.

So, how can you be sure you're using commas correctly? Here are some hard and fast rules you can apply to your own writing.

1) Oxford Comma—I assume we've all heard of the Oxford comma that separates items in a list.
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Ex: I bought bread, milk, and eggs at the store. (Correct)

The Oxford Comma also helps to resolve ambiguity.

Ex: I went to the movies with my husband, Jay Leno and Keira Knightley. (Incorrect)

Now, I'm sure everyone knows that my husband is NOT Jay Leno, so therefore it should read like this:

Ex: I went to the movies with my husband, Jay Leno, and Keira Knightley. (Correct) Now there's no ambiguity, and it's clear that Jay Leno is NOT my husband. Just like Superman and Wonder Woman are NOT my parents.

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2) The Appositive—What the heck is an appositive? It is a noun or noun phrase that renames the noun right beside it.

Ex: I saw a cardinal, the state bird for Virginia, on my jog this morning.

Since "the state bird for Virginia" renames "cardinal", it therefore needs commas around it. Think of it as a group of words that could be put in parenthesis and have the same meaning—that would be your appositive.

Here's another example using nonrestrictive and restrictive appositives:

Ex: My sister, Laura, is running a race.  Since I only have one sister, I need commas around her name since it's a direct renaming of my sister. This is a nonrestrictive appositive.

 However, if I have two sisters, it would read like this: My sister Laura is running a race. This helps to establish which sister is running the race. This is a restrictive appositive.

3) String of Adjectives—When you use a string of adjectives, you normally separate them with commas.

Ex: She is tall, pretty, and blonde.

Ex: She wrapped herself in a soft, fuzzy blanket. A comma is needed because both adjectives describe the blanket. The blanket can be BOTH soft and fuzzy.

General rule: If you can reverse your adjectives or put "and" in place of the comma and the sentence still makes sense, then the comma is needed for the string of adjectives. She wrapped herself in a soft AND fuzzy blanket. OR She wrapped herself in a fuzzy, soft blanket. Still makes sense, right? Therefore, the comma is needed.

But sometimes, a comma is not needed in a string of adjectives: 
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Ex: The custom striped ottoman is in need of repair.
Ex: That was a tough three-mile jog.

If you try to put "and" in between the adjectives, it doesn't really make much sense. Ex: That was a tough AND three-mile jog. Doesn't sound natural, right? Therefore, you DO NOT need a comma.


4) Independent Clauses"An independent clause is a group of words with a subject and a predicate. It expresses a complete thought and can stand alone as a sentence."
                                                                                             —Taken fromYourDictionary.com

*When you have two independent clauses joined by a conjunction, you need a comma.

Ex: I am happy to be here, and I am happy to help out.
Both independent clauses can stand on their own as a sentence, therefore, a comma is needed.

You DO NOT need a comma if written like this:

Ex: I am happy to be here and happy to help out. 
There is no subject after the conjunction, therefore, that last part of the sentence in NOT an independent clause.

5) Adverbial Phrases—An adverbial phrase at the beginning of the sentence "sets the scene" for the sentence. A comma is needed after an adverbial phrase at the beginning of the sentence.

Ex: After breakfast, I will take a walk.
Ex: In my house, we like to celebrate holidays.
Ex: Under the basket, the bunny is hiding.


6) Direct Address When you directly address a person, a comma is needed.

Ex: Thank you, Laura.
Ex: Goodbye, Susan.
Ex: Helen, you are the best cook!
Ex: Should we go to a restaurant for dinner, John?

If you don't use a comma correctly in a direct address, someone could lose their life...


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So, that wraps up my comma explanation. But, when in doubt, I like to use a little thing called the internet to help me when I have a question about the dreaded comma. Here are some sites I frequent regularly when I'm editing my manuscript. Hopefully, these sites can help you, too.

Quick and Dirty Tips (and no, this is NOT a porn site): Grammar Girl explains when and where to use commas.

Grammar-Monster.com: Another great reference for anything grammar related.

GrammarBook.com: As it states on their website, "this is your #1 source for grammar and punctuation."

Questions for our readers: Any other grammar or punctuation that gives you pause? What do YOU have a love/hate relationship with?

**Disclaimer: I am still NOT a comma expert, nor do I pretend to be!! If you find mistakes in this post, please forgive me! :)

Monday, November 10, 2014

There's More Than One Way to Get an Agent

Last week Charity gave us an in-depth look at aspects of publishing, marketing, and even how to get that movie out of our heads and onto the paper. It was a week of sharing what she's learned with the rest of us.

Typically, I like to do author interviews, but since I'm in the throes of querying my YA novel right now, I'd like to take this week and share with you what I've learned. Except that my knowledge stems from my place in the publishing process. So, please, bear with me as I try to get these thoughts that have been going through my mind, out into some kind of collective format.

There's no right or wrong way to get an agent.

1) Querying-

Sure, it may be a little harder to stand out in the slush pile, but querying is one of the most common outlets writers use to get the attention of an agent. And many bestselling authors found their agents through the good old-fashioned time-honored tradition of the query trail. And lucky for you, our very own Huntress gives stellar query critiques when she hosts, so be sure to swing by on occasion.

So, if you're trudging along and aren't sure who to query next, here are some great sites to help you find agents to query:

Agent Query

Query Tracker

Writer's Digest

New literary agents are always a hot commodity because they are actively seeking to build their client list. If you are interested in staying informed of new literary agents, Writer's Digest does a great job of spotlighting these agents. Check the Writer's Digest website periodically or subscribe to their newsletter for updates.

2) Contests-

I didn't realize until recently how many online contests there are for writers. Everything from twitter contests to pitching contests, there are many ways to get your work in front of an agent. The key is to perfect your pitch, logline, query, and first 250 words of your manuscript because typically the contests will want one or more of these things.

Here are some great contests that provide wonderful opportunities for writers:

Baker's Dozen: Every year Miss Snark's First Victim hosts the Baker's Dozen where writers send in their logline and first 250 words. Those entries chosen will appear on her website where agents have the opportunity to "bid" on their favorites and request pages. Sounds fun, right? I mean, who wouldn't want a group of agents fighting over their work?


Nightmare on Query Street: Each year in October, bloggers SCMichael, and Michelle have an online contest. Writers send in their query and first 250. Those chosen to be on the teams will be posted on the blogs where selected agents can make requests. Visit Michelle's blog for more info.



Pitch Wars: Each year Brenda Drake hosts Pitch Wars. "Pitch Wars is a contest where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer suggestions to shine it up for agents. The mentors also critique the writer’s pitch to get it ready for the agent round." Stay tuned to Brenda's blog for info on the next Pitch Wars contest.


#PitMad: #PitMad is a pitch party on Twitter where writers tweet a 140 character pitch for their completed manuscripts. For rules and more details, please visit Brenda Drake's website.

Here are the dates for their upcoming quarterly #PitMad events:
September 9, 2014
December 4, 2014
March 11, 2015
June 4, 2015
September 10, 2015
December 4, 2015
#PitMad starts at 8AM and ends at 8PM (EST or EDT, which is New York time).


Query Kombat: Bloggers SC, Michael, and Michelle have teamed up to bring you a Query Kombat tournament. It sounds like fun! Here is the info from last year's Query Kombat held in May. You may want to check the website periodically for info on next year's contest. 

"Query Kombat will host 64 kombatants in a single-elimination, tournament style query-off. Entries will go head to head (one on one) with one another until only ONE entry remains. There will be a total of six rounds in Query Kombat. 64 entries in round one, 32 in round two, 16 in round three, 8 in round four, 4 in round five, and 2 in round six."

3) Conferences-

Let's face it, if you're serious about getting published, you should attend writer's conferences. Some can be as lengthy as several days, while others might be a one-day workshop. Whatever you choose, just make sure you get the most out of it as you can. Does it offer agent pitches? Query critiques? Manuscript critiques? After you register for your conference, check the submissions deadline so you don't miss out on other important classes or critiques offered.

And another bonus is that the agents who attend the conference will give you special instructions on how to submit to them. Your query may even be pushed to the front of their reading pile just because the subject line of your email mentions the conference.

I went to my first SCBWI Carolinas conference in September and it was awesome. I mean, what is better than meeting a whole bunch of people who are as obsessed with writing as you are? And I got to chat with the amazingly talented Carrie Ryan (NYT Bestselling author of the YA novel, Forest of Hands and Teeth, who I hope to interview in the coming months. *keeping fingers crossed*)

Here I am pictured with other fabulous women I met at the conference.

















But one of the best parts about writer's conferences is the opportunity to meet and mingle with agents. If you can get up the nerve (and I highly recommend that you do), a conference is a great place to casually pitch to agents.

Now, I don't recommend going up to an agent and immediately plowing into your pitch. Instead, try starting up a conversation, maybe ask a question or two. If they're interested, they will ask what you're working on. THEN you can dive into your pitch, but make sure it doesn't come off as so-rehearsed that you sound robotic. And if you're super nervous about talking to an agent, the lovely Christa Heschke has some awesome advice on her website that really helped ease my fears.

So, in a nutshell, don't think you're limited to querying alone. There are many opportunities for writers trying to find an agent. You just have to find the right one. Good luck!

Questions for our readers: Agented authors-how did you get your agent? Any contests I missed? 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Writing for Middle Grade Readers

This class at LDStorymakers Midwest Conference was a lot of fun. I don't write for middle grade audiences, but after this class I've started thinking about it. You can have so much fun with it!

Okay, quick side note. There were so many instances of deja vu in this class that I almost ran screaming from the hotel! It was really freaky. No less than 4 moments out of the hour where I could tell you exactly who was going to say something next and what it was. Guess that means I was exactly where I was supposed to be? Either that or I didn't learn the lesson the first go around and the universe pulled a Groundhog Day on me. (Who got that reference?)

Adam Glendon Sidwell also taught this class. The format was probably the most fun I had all day. We came up with a story as a class, starting with a character, the problem and several attempts to solve it filled with twists. Adam really helped us look into the mind of a middle grade reader while doing this.

The keys for that class where:
1. Middle Grade is about kids who live inside a limited world, ie the safety of their home, their parents watchful care, the borders of their schools.

2. Middle Grade is about kids stepping beyond those borders.

3. The relationship with authority figures has to be part of the story. The protagonist children have to be given the opportunity to take the lead and be fully responsible for their own success or failure. They have to finish the quest alone (Luke Skywalker goes into the cave alone on Dagobah to face Vader. Dumbledore died). This is why you see so many orphan stories.

Here's the amazon link to CHUM. It's a good example of a kid going it alone, since 13 year-old Levi heads out onto a pirate ship without his dad or anyone knowing he's gone out to sea. Chum is a very upper Middle Grade story:
 

And, check out the book trailer for Evertaster. After watching you'll want to hire Adam for all your trailer needs. I mean seriously! *drools over the mad skills*

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Putting the Movie in Your Head Onto the Page

In September I was privileged to attend a class by this title at the Midwest LDStorymakers Writers Conference. The presenter was super cool--Adam Glendon Sidwell.
Okay, I'll be honest. I didn't know who he was at first, and you probably don't either. BUT trust me. He's very cool. Before becoming an author of MG fiction he worked in the movies. His title was something along the lines of Creature Technical Director. Yep, he used computers to create some very memorable characters. Here's a list of some of the movies he's worked on. Bet you've never heard of ANY of them.

  • Thor
  • Ender's Game
  • Pacific Rim
  • Tron, Legacy
  • Transformers, Revenge of the Fallen
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Speed Racer
  • I Am Legend
  • Pirates of the Caribbean, At World's End
  • King Kong
  • I, Robot

No, none of them? I didn't think so.

Anyway, Adam talked about the things he learned about timing, pacing and staging scenes from working on successful movies. Things that can help our writing tremendously.

He covered several things that movies don't do as well as books such as Viewpoint, Structure and Story. Why? Because when $150 million is on the line, directors stick to formulas that work. AKA sell movie tickets.

Movies can't delve into the inner workings of the mind as well as books. My personal example of this is The Host. Don't shoot me, but I loved the book, HATED the movie. The only thing they had in common were title and the characters had the same names. What made the book good for me was the inner struggle between Wanda and Melanie, but more importantly between Wanda and herself. All that internal dialogue was really lost in the movie. Among other things.

But, moving forward!

Movies do a great job grabbing your attention and keeping it. They use the setting and music to help set tone and mood. We need to do the same. Minus the music. :)

The part that stuck with me the most was this--

The Walking Down the Hall Scene

You know what I'm talking about, right? Sometimes as writers we feel the need to show every step from A to Z. Instead of cutting the scene where the main character leaves his office, walks down the hall, waits for the elevator, rides down, walks through the parking garage, gets in his car and drives to the restaurant (breathe)--in movies the MC is in his office, then he's at the restaurant.

See how much time we saved by not watching all the boring parts?

That's what I'm working on now. Cutting out all the stuff I wouldn't want to watch in a movie.

What do you think movies do well?
How can you translate that to your writing?


Adam with his wife.
In between books, Adam Glendon Sidwell uses the power of computers to make monsters, robots and zombies come to life for blockbuster movies such as Pirates of the Caribbean, King Kong, Pacific Rim, Transformers and Tron. After spending countless hours in front of a keyboard meticulously adjusting tentacles, calibrating hydraulics, and brushing monkey fur, he is delighted at the prospect of modifying his creations with the flick of a few deftly placed adjectives. He’s been eating food since age 7, so feels very qualified to write the Evertaster series. He once showed a famous movie star where the bathroom was.

Adam wrote every single word in the EVERTASTER series, the picture book FETCH, and the upcoming CHUM.



Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The 1 Hour Marketing Plan by Sarah Negovetich

Thank you Carol! She sent me a copy of the syllabus and guess what?? Sarah kindly provided all the steps she walked us through at the conference.

It looks like a lot. You might feel overwhelmed. Don't worry though. Just take things one step at a time. We did it in an hour and so can you!

Just remember, you need to go through these steps for EACH project you want to market. One plan won't work for everything. You also need to be flexible after you start working your plan. Things change. Be willing to reevaluate the effectiveness of your plan and try something else.

And now, from the totally awesome Sarah Negovetich!

The 1 Hour Marketing Plan

1. Step One: Set a Budget 
a. This depends on you: your desires, your income, your situation.
b. If your book goes into another print run or you earn out your advance, you can always create a second wave plan so don’t feel like you have to do everything at your launch.
c. Plan for the unexpected. Every budget needs a slush fund for last minute additions and unplanned changes.

2. Step Two: Determine what success will look like 
a. Are you targeting a sales number? Amazon rank? Website hits? Print runs?
b. Know ahead of time what it will look like to be successful. This will steer you in deciding what tactics to pursue and help you determine what worked and what didn’t work.

3. Step Three: Brainstorm
a. Set a timer for at least ten minutes and write down as many ideas as you can.
b. Don’t edit yourself with “this won’t work” or “I can’t afford this”.
c. Think about things you’ve seen for other books and don’t be afraid to copy their strategy (you just can’t expect duplicated results).

4. Step Four: Time to narrow the list
a. There are no bad ideas, but some are better than others.
b. You can’t do it all, so we are going to narrow the list down. That doesn’t mean you can’t come back to some of these later on in your marketing stretch (an anniversary celebration?). When you cross items off, be sure you can still read them.

5. Elimination One: Know thy reader
a. Cross off anything that doesn’t reach your target audience

6. Elimination Two: Focus on your strengths 
a. If you aren’t sure what your strengths are, I recommend the book StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath.
b. Cross anything off the list that you don’t want to do or that isn’t something you would be comfortable with.

7. Step Five: Who do you know? 
a. Take a look at what’s left. Now scan you phone/email contact lists, friends and followers. Do you know someone who could help you with any of these ideas? Maybe you know a graphic 22 artist who could help you design a banner ad. Do you know someone who works in a library or bookstore, a book club coordinator, a PTA president, a journalist, etc.?
b. Add the names of people who could help you next to each item.

8. Step Six: Price tag
a. For each item remaining give it an F=free, $= a negligible costs such as mailing a reviewer a paperback copy, $$= for something a bit more expensive (ex. A $25 gift card, or an order of bookmarks and postcards, $$$= a high ticket item such as a $100 gift card or a purchased book trailer).

9. Step Seven: What do you want to do the most 
a. Marketing shouldn’t be all work and no play. Put a star next to the tasks that seem like the most fun to you

10. Step Eight: Decision time 
a. You need to narrow your list to the top five items you will work on to launch your book. Take into consideration costs, how much help you could get from friends, and what you want to do the most.

11. Step Nine: Breakdown 
a. Once you’ve identified the five focus projects, you need to break them down into workable subtasks.
b. Example: Target genre appropriate books clubs and offer an Author visit via Skype

12. Step Ten: Create a detailed budget 
 a. For each subtask, determine if there will be any cost associated and an estimate of what that will be.
b. Compare this to your initial number. If you’ve gone over, you need to decide if this is still an item that you want to include.
c. Don’t forget to add in incidental costs, such as gas and postage. These may seems small but they can add up fast. Swinging by the post office on your way to the grocery store is no big deal. Driving an hour each way to a library talk is going to cost you a tank of gas.
d. Add a line in the budget for all those unexpected costs.

13. Step Eleven: Create a calendar
a. Determine how long each subtask will take to complete. Working backward from your release date, decide when each one will need to be started.
b. Keep in mind that if you are using outside vendors, you have to work on their schedule.
c. Don’t forget to add in a little padding to account for sick days, tasks that take longer than you anticipated, or a day when you just need a break. Better to be ahead of schedule with a day off for a massage, than behind schedule staring at an all-nighter.

14. You’re Done (but not really) 
a. Now you have a marketing plan, but that doesn’t mean you’re done.
b. A marketing plan is a living document. Not everything on paper works out in real life. Be prepared to be flexible and make changes where needed.
c. Your launch isn’t the only time you need to market your book. We all hope to reach that organic point where our fans do our marketing for us by singing our praises to everyone who will listen. Until we get there, it’s up to you to get your book in front of readers. When you finish your launch plan, it’s time to work up your continuous marketing plan using the same techniques.

If you’d like additional marketing information, Sarah blogs about publishing and marketing at www.sarahnego.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Things I've learned about Kickstarter

Get ready to read me thinking out loud...

I set up and launched my first Kickstarter project last Thursday. Before I hit launch, I thought I was ready. The pledge levels were set up. I'd contacted the editor and received prices for services. I accounted for the cost of the books I would be giving away for rewards and so forth. There's even a video of me talking about the project.

Do you have any idea how uncomfortable I am in front of a camera? It took an hour and a half to make the 3 minute clip! Luckily, I think it turned out fairly well. Except when I hold up my books the words are backwards since I don't have 'mirror flip'. At least I don't think I do. (The video at the very bottom is my attempt at said video.)

*sigh*

Anyway. Although the process of setting up the project was easy, I'm not sure I thought it through completely. If you're planning on doing a kickstarter, here are some questions I suggest you think about, along with some of my false ideas.

1. What is the purpose of this project?

My first thought was--raise money to publish my book without any out of pocket expense. This would ensure continued marital bliss. Because this was my goal, I very carefully thought out the prices and then rounded up, up, up to cover any costs I hadn't thought of yet.

What I've learned--don't do that!

Once I stepped back and looked at what I needed, really needed, I tweaked the pledge amounts and rewards. What is the value of a signed copy of the book? I plan on selling it for $12 when it's released. That means the pledge for $12 is a good deal. You get exactly what you would pay if you stumbled upon the book on Amazon. Except I'll get it first and sign it for you.

There's still a slight mark up in some of the levels, but its minimal now.

2. Do you think FUNDRAISER or just raising funds?

I think that was also part of my problem from above. As a mother of four kids in school, I'm well acquainted with the FUNDRAISER. Companies double prices so they can make money and have some left over to give to the school.

Kickstarter is NOT a fundraiser. Just try to remember that. Preferably faster than I did. Your goal is to raise the money you need to publish the book. Not make extra to put in the bank. I need money to pay the editor/typesetter, renew my domain name, buy bookmarks and other swag as well as the print copies to mail as rewards.

3. Writer's brains aren't always the most mathematical

I'm still not sure I'm looking at the amount I need correctly. :) Since the pledge pays for the cost of the book, plus I added $2 for shipping, will I have enough extra to pay for the editor and the books? That twisted sentence matches my muddled brain! My guess is yes! The e-copies of books won't cost me anything (except I still need to pay for FADE INTO ME to be put in all e formats). *sigh* There should be enough. Until I have the final page count there is no way of knowing the cost of the print edition.

Suggestion? Have someone NOT a writer help you plan and carry out your project. Preferably someone logical and business minded. :)

Can you help me spread the word? The Project--FADE INTO ME an Urban Fantasy Novel

Blurb:

Aliens live among us. Their purpose: to protect and nurture their greatest mistake—mankind.

Caedan Frey’s family has fulfilled this duty for thousands of years, but it doesn’t free him from his obligation as prince of the Reparation. Although he doesn't believe humans will evolve to see the magic, much less control it, he has two months to marry one or face the wrath of the High Council. Bitter about a responsibility he thinks prevents him from marrying for love, he figures any human girl will do. He's ready to propose when his soul mate stumbles into—and right out—of his arms.

Human, Ryanne Killian might be his one shot at happiness while still fulfilling his duty. Unfortunately, she guards a dark secret within her co-dependent personality, and she thinks the only way to protect Caedan is to push him away.

Caedan must convince her she’s worthy of his love before the men who hurt her before steal more than her virtue. If she can see her own worth, she just might save herself and his people.

  Trailer:
 

Question for you: What are your honest thoughts on programs like Kickstarter and those who use it? 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Welcome to a Week of Information!

This week I thought I'd toss around some things I've learned recently. I wanted to go over my notes from the amazing classes I attended at my last writer's conference in September. However, my notebook (and even the class syllabus) has disappeared!

I'm really sad about losing my notes. One of the classes I attended was all about creating a marketing plan. During that hour we CREATED a marketing plan. Now I don't have that or the 12-14 steps I went through to get it.

Despite losing my notes, I'm going to do my best to share what I learned from three of the classes.

Here's what we'll cover this week:
  • What I learned by launching a Kickstarter Project
  • The 1 Hour Marketing Plan
  • Putting the Movie in Your Head onto the Page
  • Writing Middle Grade Novels
  • Reasons why you should attend a writer's conference near you