Writing, promotion, tips, and opinion. Pour a cuppa your favorite poison and join in.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Book trailers: where to begin?

Thank you to Huntress and my fellow UBs for letting me kick of my mini blog tour here at Unicorn Bell!

I just launched my first Kickstarter project last night. One of the most important parts of a Kickstarter project is the video. Projects without one have poor success rates. It does not have to be anything fancy -- the website has a cheesy how-to video of their own to assure you of that -- but it does need to be interesting, informative, and "you," as they say.

What you're doing is, essentially, query-pitching the whole world. Like a query, a book trailer needs to lay out the conflict, the main character, and what's at stake. It needs to show the viewer what to expect in terms of tone and style, too.

Use your query
One of the most famous texts in a movie, the opening crawl in Star Wars, is only 88 words long. Bear that in mind. Images are far more efficient, so save those words for what you can't get a picture of.

That query that you put so much work into is a good place to start. You've already distilled your story down to a conflict, a character, and the stakes. Those are what you want to communicate in your book trailer. Which parts are words and which are images, that's for you to work out.

This is how you work it out. A storyboard, in the movie industry, is like a comic book of the movie. Its purpose is to succinctly describe the camera shots and the movement of people and things inside those shots.

Write out your storyboard, from beginning to end. Use text, or use stick figures and arrows to indicate movement. This will force you to work out the entire sequence. It may help to jaunt over to YouTube to watch some trailers and try sketching out the storyboards for them as practice.

Finding photos and fonts
If you have drawing skills, if you have photography skills, if you have a video camera and a handful of brave friends, GO FOR IT. For the rest of us, there's stock photography, fancy fonts and compromise. The chances you're going to find the perfect image of your hero or heroine on a stock photography site is slim. (But hey, you never know.) So be ready to settle for general accuracy rather than specifics.

On stock photography: get an account, buy some credits, read the license agreement. You're making a video presentation, which on all the sites I've seen means you can use the basic agreement and pay only the listed price of the photo. The extended license is for photos you are going to put on something you sell, or other specific situations.

Out of the pay sites, I use istockphoto.com because while it's more expensive than some, the pictures are better quality. Out of the free sites, I use sxc.hu because it's been around for a long time and has a good selection. Though its search function could be better.

Fonts: there are a million free font sites out there. I use abstractfonts.com because I like their ability to sort by multiple style tags -- "handwriting" and "horror" for example.

Then what?
I'm going to need a second post if you want details about video editing software and basic animation techniques (do you want details?)

But here's the most important part: don't think that you can't. You are a writer. You already have an eye for detail and the ability to clearly picture what you want to communicate. To be honest, those are the two skills no book can teach you. The rest is just learning how to use the tools.

DISCIPLE, PART I: For Want of a Piglet, is a gritty fantasy romance. There will be six parts total. See the book trailer, the back cover copy, and a sample at  my Kickstarter project! Backers' gifts include e-books, promotional bookmarks, and paperback editions of the final novel.

This miniature blog tour is to promote the fundraising project. You can also stop by my blog for a full index of all the stops.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

10 Nice Things You Can Do For an Author

In my opinion, the key to good social media marketing is not self-promotion, it's promoting others. Not only is it a nice thing to do, promoting others will pay off for you. It's not a new concept, but if you do good things for others, they are more likely to do good things for you. Even if they don't turn around and promote you, they'll remember your name. You're building your brand and building your network. Don't ask or expect people to turn around and do nice things for you if you do nice things for them, but it will happen organically if you help them genuinely - without expecting anything specific in return.

So start your campaign of niceness, here are some ideas of things you can do for other authors:

1) Review their book. This is number one for a reason. Yeah it's actually even more important than #2. Studies have shown that consumers pay more attention to customer reviews than almost anything else. Mid-list and independent authors are especially reliant on this free but effective form of advertising. After you read a book that you enjoyed, go ahead and review it. It doesn't have to be the most well-written review ever, just give your opinion. Then make sure and post that review on Amazon, B&N, and Goodreads.

2) Buy their book. This one is pretty self-explanatory, but important. Authors do really appreciate this. :)

3) Offer to interview them for your blog. Stephen King and Stephanie Meyer may not be available, but 99% of authors are not bestsellers. A good amount of mid-list, debut, and independent authors would be very appreciative of your offer, so it doesn't hurt to ask. Put yourself in their shoes. Somebody likes your books and is interested in you. It's free exposure and short blog interviews don't take very long. You'd probably say yes to as many as you could.

4) Promote their book on social media (and in other human interaction). Books rely heavily on word-of-mouth advertising. Even the big name books aren't sold like films or new cars. There are few commercials or billboards about them. But how many times have you asked a friend for a recommendation? So recommend the books you read! Amazon makes it really easy to share links on social media. And of course, don't forget to talk to your real live human friends.

5) Create lists. Any user can create lists on Amazon "Listmania" or Goodreads "Listopia". You can call it anything you like, such as, "Best YA Paranormal Romance Books of 2012." And then....when people do a Google search for "Best YA Paranormal Romance Books of 2012" they may actually find your list. Bam. You're an automatic expert.

6) Tag their book's page on Amazon. Authors and publishers can't do this themselves, so it's up to you! You will tag the book with search terms that you want the book to come up under. They might be things like "YA" "fantasy" "sci-fi" "zombies", etc. You can also vote up helpful tags that others have entered.

7) Like their book's page on Facebook. Yes, sort of an obvious one. But, yes, authors do like this.

8) Sign up for Amazon Associates. This one seems a little backwards, but hear me out. In my opinion, Amazon Associates is a great way to monetize your blog. Basically, you get money when you link to Amazon products (in our case, probably books) on your blog or social media. Chances are, you post about books anyway and include links, so this just gets you a little money for something you do anyway. How does this help the author, you ask? Trust me, when you know you might get paid for linking, tweeting, or posting book links to Facebook, you are a lot more likely to do it.

9) Like their book's page on Amazon. This one takes all of one second. Just push "like".

10) Vote on "helpful" reviews on Amazon. The reviews that are voted most helpful appear near the top. If you like the book, then we can assume that the "helpful" reviews are the positive ones. :) 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

All About My WIP

I grabbed this meme from Chantele Sedgwick a few weeks ago (I took out a few questions) and thought it would be great to get to know our readers styles better. Answer the questions in the comments to help us plan posts that are relevant to YOU. 

1. What is the name of your book?

2. Where did the idea for your book come from?

3. In what genre would you classify your book?

4. Give us a one-sentence synopsis of your book.

5. How long did it take you to write your book?

6. What other books within your genre would you compare it to? Or, readers of which books would enjoy yours?

7. Tell us anything that might pique our interest in your book.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Interview with author Michael Panush

Michael Panush - Author Pic
Today's visitor is a published author several times over and only JUST graduated from college. My 22 year old self is totally jealous. Michael is known for his hardboiled crime series, The Stein & Candle Detective Agency, Vol. 1: American Nightmares and the very unique pulp YA adventure, Dinosaur Jazz (Jurassic Club). He's also joining me on my blog next week to help me host the Murder Mystery Bloghop.

Congratulations on recently graduating from UC Santa Cruz! If you don't mind me asking, what was your major? Was it writing related or something more "practical"? What do you plan to do next?

Thanks! My major was very writing-related – I was in the Creative Writing Concentration of the Literature Department. I had met some wonderful writers and was lucky enough to have classmates and professors who were more than happy to read and critique my genre-heavy work. They were all very supportive and helped me improve my craft greatly. For my Senior Project, I actually used Dinosaur Jazz. A lot of the excellent changes I made to Dinosaur Jazz come from my wonderful workshop group in my Creative Writing class. Next, I’ll be working at Sacramento City Year, where I’ll be tutoring and mentoring elementary school children. After that, I’ll probably continue my education in some way.

Your books are known for their stylistic throwback to the pulpy heyday of the twenties, thirties and forties. If you could live in any time period, which one would it be and why?

That’s a tough one. Our own era has a lot of plusses, like great technology, enviable comforts, and while racism, sexism and corruption are of course major problems, they were much worse in the past. I’m pretty happy living in our era. However, if I had to pick, I think it would either be the 1920s, because I like the fashion, music and culture so much, or the Victorian Era, because I like the verbose means of talking and the insane level of manners. I wouldn’t mind living in the 1950s setting of Stein and Candle either – but mostly because of the food. I’m a big fan of steaks, burgers, hot dogs and all the outrageously unhealthy fare that filled the diets of the time. Couple that with the era’s copious smoking and drinking and it’s a recipe for health disaster –but it would still be a fun ride.

Being a modern fellow, how are you able to capture the essence of other time periods in your writing?

I actually find it easier to write fiction set in the past than in the present. Each past era has a specific culture that we can study and understand. We can try to do that for the present, but we’re most likely going to fail. When I do a story set in the past, I immerse myself in the era by listening to period literature, watching films set in or made in the era and listening to the music of the time. I study slang, the politics and attitudes of the time. For Stein and Candle, I read a lot of hardboiled literature – both contemporary works by Mickey Spillane, Raymond Chandler and more modern works like James Ellroy. Looking at those stories showed me another, more noir side of the seemingly wholesome era. I hopefully communicated the nastier elements of the Post-War Era through Stein and Candle.

I'm sure it's been tough to find time to write when you're already writing lots of college papers. How do you make the time and how have you stayed motivated?

It was often tough to find time for school and writing. But because I was a Creative Writing major, I was able to sort of ‘double-dip’ and get great feedback on my stories. However, when I wasn’t taking a Creative Writing class, I just had to rely on discipline. I would set deadlines and keep them, saying that I’ll have a story finished in this many days. I did schoolwork early, so I’d have plenty of time for editing. I’m a firm believer that it’s important to always be writing, always be practicing and always be improved. I tried to uphold that throughout my time at UC Santa Cruz.

Tell us a little bit about your publishing journey. How did you get started, and how did you get from there to where you are now?

I started writing in high school, more for enjoyment than anything else. Eventually, a friend told me about this website called Fictionpress where I could post my stories for the world to see and get reviews. I had a lot of fun writing and posting on Fictionpress and getting some reviews, as well as a few dedicated readers who enjoy almost everything I’ve created. I realized that I deeply enjoyed writing and decided to self-publish my first book, Clark Reeper Tales, for my Senior Project in high school. I published Clark Reeper Tales and had a lot of fun marketing it, doing press and readings in local bookshops and schools. I kept writing, but I figured that I wouldn’t self-publish anything else and would instead keep improving my work and submitting it to major publishers. Then, in my second year at UC Santa Cruz, I received a facebook message from Curiosity Quills. They’d ready my work on Fictionpress and wanted to publish me! I could hardly believe it. We’ve been working together ever since and they’ve been great about putting my work in some excellent packages and giving them the marketing and publicity that they need. I look forward to putting out many more books from Curiosity Quills!

Stein & Candle Detective Agency Vol 2: Cold Wars will be released on July 8th. What are some of your favorite quotes from the Stein & Candle series?

For dialogue, there are a few great lines that I feel really explain the motivations of the characters. In the story Crimson Catch, the recurring villain Joey Verona appears to menace Morton Candle again – and help bring about the end of the world. Mort tells Joey that he’s helping a creepy fishman sorcerer to destroy the world and the response is: ““You know, Morty,” Joey mused. “That sounds A-okay to me.” That calm, cold exchange, with its hint of madness, perfectly sums of Verona’s new nihilistic outlook and why he’s such a dangerous foe for Mort and Weatherby in these stories.

Another one of my favorite lines is from the end of War Stories, which is a flashback to WWII. It shows Mort and his squad protecting the young Weatherby from a ferocious Nazi commando force. They finally manage to get Weatherby back to American lines and General Patton (who gave Mort the mission) asks him if Weatherby behaved himself. Mort answers ““He never complained. If he cried, he did it when no one was watching. He was grateful, and good to the men, and we all liked him. He gave us hope. He’s the bravest person I’ve ever met, general. And one of the best.” I like this line because it shows what Mort really thinks of Weatherby – instead of the weary, somewhat annoyed way he usually treats the kid. Mort really does have a deep respect for Weatherby, and Weatherby responds by thinking about Mort like a hero.

The line that closes the other flashback story, Business Proposition, is another of my favorites. Weatherby is writing a note to his sister, Selena. He writes “You believe I am still a child and perhaps that is true. But I fear my world is no place for children, and so I will have to grow up quickly. If you see this as a tragedy, then I urge you not to cry. We have troubles enough, without stopping to lament my situation.”This lines sums up Weatherby’s outlook on himself. He’s trying to be mature and brave, when he really is little more than a kid. He tries to cloak that kind of naivety in arrogance and his knowledge, but he does occasionally let his vanguard down. He’s a sympathetic character. I think that, along with all the 1950s hardboiled style and kooky monsters and magic, is why Stein and Candle works.


Michael, thank you so much for joining me! Right now, you can buy The Stein & Candle Detective Agency, Vol 1 for $0.99 for a limited time.

Please join Michael and I next week for the Murder Mystery Bloghop. Create a suspect and then solve clues to find the killer!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Characters should act their age

A while back I read (well, skimmed) Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies. Two things stood out to me. 1) My book wasn't really YA and I was screwed (a story for another post) and 2) Making your character act, think, and talk like the age they're supposed to be is a skill that's not limited to YA writing.

A novel that is truly Young Adult should have three components.

1) A main character that is 18 or under.
2) Voice consistent with the way teens speak and think
3) Themes consistent with the adolescent experience

It got me thinking, using these three components, you could write books targeted toward any age group; thirty somethings, empty-nesters, etc. The key is ensuring that your character is acting age-appropriate, not only in voice, but in the way they think about things, what they worry about, etc.

Writing to an age is especially tough if you're not currently in the age group you're writing in. I don't like to make it easy for myself. My debut novel is New Adult and written from the perspective of a 18 year old male. My WIP is written from the perspective of a 43 year old male. I'm a thirty year old woman. So, writing to ages (and gender) that are not mine has been a constant concern.

Last December, I entered a really cool blog hop on Brenda Drake Writes..., The Can We Guess Your Character's Age Contest. The basic concept was to post the first 250 words of your MS, remove any obvious age descriptions, and have people guess the age. It was such a creative idea and it helped a lot. In my first version, some people were guessing too high. I made a few changes to my final entry and actually ended up getting an honorable mention. It made me think about all the little things that impact how old someone sounds. Here are some great tips on defining character's age from the judge Gabriela Lessa:

Can We Guess Your Character's Age and Why Does That Matter?
Interview and tips on voice from judge, Gabriela Lessa for Can We Guess Your Characters Age? Contest

Here are my suggestions for fine-tuning your character's age:

1) Play the blog hop game. Have someone read a portion of your MS and guess the character's age. Make sure they explain why they guessed how they did. If you're writing YA, they shouldn't be more than a year  off. For adult, just make sure they're in the right life stage.

2) Write (or at least imagine) some deleted scenes with your character at different ages. I have a lot of fun with this one. If your character is twenty, come up with a scene for how they were when they were 14 or even 17 (remember in the YA spectrum, just a few years makes a difference). How were they different? What personality traits shine through regardless? Then, head to the future. What will they be like at 40? Understanding your character at different points in their life not only makes them more complex, it helps you to understand which of the characters traits are age based and which are more permanent.

3) To fine tune this even more, put your character at different ages in the exact same situation. How do they act differently? How is their dialog different?

4) Create a test scene where your character interacts with himself at a different age, like in The Time Traveler's Wife. How do the two characters perceive each other?

5) Having a character who is "mature for their age" is no excuse for incorrect guessing. If your character is a mature 14 year old, they should sound like a mature 14 year old, not a thirty year old. Think about mature young characters like Lisa Simpson and Hermione Granger. Smart and mature yes, but their inexperience and youth shine through.

6) As important as age is, don't forget that it's a secondary characteristic. There is no use in trying to create a generic 17 year old girl. Create the character first and then make sure they are behaving as they would at that age.

7) Do some research. Pay attention to how people in your age group talk and behave. Interact with a specimen if you can, eavesdrop, or at least read or watch other fictional takes of the age group. Pay attention not only to how they behave but how they are different. Two seventeen year old girls can be extremely different. How can you tell that they are both seventeen? How are they different now than they might be in ten years?

8) If you have been the age of your character, think back to that time in your life. Maybe even interview your old self. How were you different? How where you the same?

So, shall we play? I included some snippets with characters of different ages from my own work. Neither of the gentlemen I mentioned above appear in these scenes. Can you guess their ages? If you want to play too, feel free to post your own segment in comments.

1) Patrick stood on the edge of the family room and watched his “brother” peruse their bookshelf. The family room had been hijacked. Xavier's presence there made it impossible to pass into that particular section of carpet. But not for Emmy. She blew past Patrick like a stiff wind of cherry vanilla body lotion. She came from behind Xavier and grabbed his arm. He jumped and pulled away but she wasn’t thwarted. She grabbed his arm again and pulled him away from the bookshelf. Patrick almost told her to lay off…because she should…but he let it go to make sure it was clear what side he was on.

“When is your birthday?” she asked him.

Emmy was used to getting her questions answered, but Patrick wasn’t sure if she would this time. Xavier looked at her like the sound her voice was no more than an annoying buzzing sound.

“October 17th,” he said finally.

“That was just a week ago,” Emmy said.

He stared at her without response.

“Happy Birthday, I guess,” Emmy said.

“Thanks,” he said. He looked at the bookshelf, then back and Emmy and Patrick in turn, to see if the exhausting one-question interrogation was over. He didn’t know Emmy.

2) Will Cole sat on the couch and put his head between his knees. He listened carefully for the sounds of the elevator so that he would have time to compose himself before the door opened. He figured all guys were scared to introduce their girlfriends to their mothers. But it was something else entirely when your mother was the President of the United States and your girlfriend was on the terrorism watch list.

He heard the sounds of the elevator moving closer and by the sound of the ding, Will was standing and posed with a smile. His girlfriend, Lena Lowell, along with several armed members of the Secret Service exited the elevator. Apparently, not phased by the small army around her, Lena approached Will and kissed him like they were meeting at a café for brunch.

“You look really pretty,” Will said.

“Is this outfit, okay?” She brushed invisible dust off the shoulder of a royal blue dress that was modest while still hugging her curves pleasantly.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Interview with Acquisitions Editor Krystal Wade + Giveaway!

Krystal Wade Author Picture

I'm back with another interview! This time I'm visiting Krystal Wade, the Young Adult and New Adult Acquisitions Editor from Curiosity Quills Press. Not only is Krystal an amazing writer (see below), she is deeply committed to her job in acquisitions. She considered submissions carefully and agonizes about her choices. In most cases, Curiosity Quills sends personalized rejections (at least for now! They can't make any promises as their slushpile grows) and is open to working with writers whose manuscript has promise but still needs work. Krystal is approachable and nice to work with...and I should mention that she reads books faster than anyone I have ever met!

1) Tell me a little bit about a day in the life of a acquisitions editor:

One word: BUSY. I'm not sure what every other acquisitions editor's life is like, but it's not just about reading and making decisions on books. We have to craft thoughtful rejection letters, or find a way to tell people we liked their story but we want them to "fix" it before publication, and then there's the pleasure of making people's day (and then answering a bunch of excited emails about the contract procedures)!

I labor over submissions. Sometimes I put off making decisions until I've at least voiced my opinions/concerns with a couple other staff members of Curiosity Quills. You see, opinions of books are subjective. What one of us may like, the other may hate. So, I attempt to get everyone on board with my decisions. Curiosity Quills does everything as a team!

2) What do you like most about your job? What don't you like?

What I like most is also what I don't like the most. I'm always reading. As a writer, this makes balancing everything that much more difficult. I do believe my time spent reading queries has given me a lot of examples of what "not" to do when subbing to a publisher, and at the same time, I feel like I've read so many soon-to-be best sellers. There are even a few authors who've rejected us that I occasionally stalk. (You know who you are!)

At the end of the day, I'm satisfied. That's all that matters.

3) What are some of the most common query mistakes you see? Any particular pet peeves?

Most common query mistakes . . . hmm. This is a tough one. I'm kind of funny when it comes to my "procedures". I don't really read the query letter until after I've read the first page or so of the manuscript. I do this because I've read some fantastic queries and then been majorly bummed by the writing. I've also read some horrible queries and then the writing pleasantly surprised me. However, the writing is what's important, right?

As for the first few pages, what I look for is plot/voice/style/editing (in that order). If your story is riddled with so many punctuation, spelling, etc errors and I can't "see" the story, I'm going to reject. But if you have a good plot and a nice voice, I'm willing to overlook a lot of editing problems. We have people who can fix that, and mechanics can be taught.

However, I have two pet peeves, and neither have to do with the writing: If I take the time to write a personalized rejection letter, don't yell at me when you don't get what you want. You'll surely never get published with a bad attitude. And if take the time to read over your manuscript, offer you a contract with slight editing modifications, and start working with you to make those changes, don't (and I repeat: don't) announce through a widely-used website that you've signed with a DIFFERENT publisher without at least first giving me notice. 

4) What do you wish you saw more of in your inbox?

I'd love to see more New Adult. I like teenagers, I really do, but fifteen/sixteen seems to be the going age. How about twenty-two? How about someone just out of college, trying to figure out what they want to do with their life while being blasted by a laser-beam of death . . . or something.

5) How do you know when you've found a project that you're going to offer a contract to?

Gosh. This is always such an exhilarating thing. I just KNOW. I read the book, and I can't stop. I read it and say "WOW. I wish I wrote this." I get nervous, and start thinking of all the ways the writer may say no. I know, right, the publishers actually worry. Who knew?

Once it hits me, and it's usually within the first fifty pages or so, I start looking at the story differently. What needs editing, who should edit, will the author want to sign with us, etc. I even dream up cover ideas, and no one has taken my advice yet. Boo. I come up with fantastic cover ideas, really I do.

Anyway, then I search out the author. Do they have a web presence. Are we going to spend a bunch of money on an author who cares not for self-promotion? I've even been known to nudge a few authors. ;-)

Then, I write an epic e-mail (length depends on what the author actually needs), and bite MY nails!

6) Curiosity Quills asks that you don't include writing credits or awards in your query. Why not? 

Does a degree in Creative Writing mean you're a good writer? Maybe, but why don't we let the words speak for themselves? You can tell me you sold 1.5 million copies of your last book on Amazon in a week, but that was the last book. You can be a member of hundreds of writing community sites, but does that mean the novel you are submitting is going to be a winner? No. Probably not.

We don't want to get our hopes up only to be let down when we start reading. This happens; trust me. So, rather than drool over awards, degrees, follower counts, etc, we read. If the book moves us, we accept it.

Krystal, thank you so much for taking the time to share those thoughtful answers! If you have more questions for her, please post them in comments. If you'd like to submit to Krystal, check out the submission guidelines.

Wilde's Army, by Krystal Wade - Cover

As I mentioned earlier, Krystal is also an author! Her debut novel, Wilde's Fire (Darkness Falls), was released in May and the next novel in the series, Wilde's Army is coming out on 7/4! To celebrate, she'd like to giveaway a couple of cool prizes. If you've already read Wilde's Fire, that's okay, we also have a Wilde's Army swag package with magnets and posters AND a digital ARC of Wilde's Army.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Voice lessons for the writer

How unfair is it that one of the most important skills a writer can have is also one of the most vague? VOICE. It seems like almost every agent is looking for "voice" and if you've ever been told you need "more" or "better" voice, you might be feeling kind of....huh? Some people believe that "voice" can't be taught, and that's sort of true. In many ways, good voice is synonymous with good writing and natural talent does play a part. But I believe that people can "find" or enhance their innate writing voice. And here are a few ideas:

1) Think of your character's voice, not your voice - So does "voice" mean the voice of the character or the voice of the writer? Well, really it's both. But a good writer can alter their "voice" based on the chosen character POV, genre and age-level they're writing in, flavor of the novel, and so forth. Different novels may have different voice, even if it's the same writer. So to simplify things, when thinking of voice, think of the voice of your character and the particular project you're working on.

2) Write in multiple POV - If you write your novel from more than one character's point of view, it forces you to make the voice of each section distinctive (at least it should!). Unless you're writing in an omniscient distant POV (which I don't recommend) each character's section should have word choice and personality specific to that character. If you don't write multiple POV, you can do this as an exercise by writing "deleted scenes" from another character's POV or trying suggestion #3.

3) Rewrite scenes from another perspective - Take a scene in your novel and write it from another POV. When you're done, the scene should be more than different in content, it should really feel like it's from another character's perspective. Each character should speak, act, think, and view the world slightly differently.

4) Don't make yourself the MC - In both of my major manuscripts, I have started writing from the perspective of the leading lady and both times I decided to switch to the perspective of the leading man. And when I did, it was almost magical how much my writing improved. Does this mean I'm secretly a dude living inside a woman's body? I'm not sure, but I'm going to go with no. I think it works because I'm writing as someone different than myself. At least for me, writing as someone whose voice is not like mine, makes it easier for me to notice it and make it stand out.

5) Exaggerate voice - This would only be for a voice exercise, not for your final draft MS, but if you're shaky on voice, try going over the top to flex your muscles. It might make for ridiculous writing, but it will help you discover what voice is and how to make it work.

6) Write as a crazy character - This is similar to #5. Choose the most wacky, over-the-top, exaggerated character in your novel and practice writing some scenes from their perspective. Or create a character just for the exercise. Again, choose someone absolutely nothing like you.

7) Turn off your internal editor - This one was important for me personally. In my first attempt at a novel, I was so insanely focused about following rules like not using passive voice and using active verbs that I basically edited out my voice. Now I'm not saying you shouldn't follow good writing practices, but try writing your first draft like you've never heard of these rules. It may help to lower your inhibitions and let your voice shine. You can always edit later.

8) Check your work - Write two scenes with the voice of different characters, and make sure you remove any obvious give-aways, and have someone who knows your novel guess whose voice is whose.


Use two scenes from your novel with the voice of different characters and have someone who doesn't know anything about your novel tell you what they think are the characteristics of each speaker.

9) Be yourself - I've been telling you this whole time to be your character, so what I mean by this is, is loosen up. Like when you're going out on a first date and someone tells you to "just be yourself". Voice is the FUN part of writing. It's the creative, artistic part. And that's what we're good at right?  Don't try to write like anyone else. Be fearless and trust yourself. If necessary, write a few scenes drunk. I'm only half-joking. Obviously if you're under 21 or a recovering alcoholic, don't try this at home. But if recreational drinking is something you do anyway, try writing a scene a two with a buzz. I've done this before with a sex scene I was nervous to write. I obviously had to do some editing later sober, but I think the fearlessness still shined through.

10) Make sure you understand what "voice" is - So maybe this shouldn't be number #10, because it's pretty important, but this section takes up a lot of space, so I put it down here. :)

Here is my definition:

Voice is the personality of the writing.

Types of voice:

Voice is like snowflakes or cow's spots, no two are alike, but to give you a general sense, here are some broad categories of voice:

-Age specific (writing for MG, YA, NA, etc.)
-Genre specific (literary, commercial, romance, etc.)


Okay, so I'm going to be a little egocentric here and use my own writing as an example of voice. :) Mainly because it's easiest for me and it's mine to use. Here is a somewhat random excerpt from my forthcoming novel, THE CHARGE.

With voice:

It was 5am and still good and dark, so he couldn’t determine the weirdness level of California just yet.  The highway was extra smooth from recent repair and they had new U.S. green highway signs alongside the old Texas Empire blue ones.  Eventually he had to pee, so made his first stop on Texas Empire soil.  The gas station sold guns and liquor, plus a lot of Texas Empire themed knick knacks which were either to entice tourists or frighten them into turning around.  One T-shirt had the entire North American continent colored in with the Texas flag and said “We’re coming for you.”   Another one said simply, “Screw you, America.”  Other than being verbally abused by T-shirts, peeing at a Texas Empire gas station wasn’t that different from peeing in an American one.  They had M&Ms and Doritos and Coca-Cola and Purell dispensers in the restroom. 

With less voice:

It was 5am and still dark, so he couldn't tell what California was like yet. The highway was extra smooth from recent repair and they had new U.S. green highway signs alongside the old Texas Empire blue ones. He needed a bathroom break, so he made his first stop in the Texas Empire. The gas station was different because it sold guns and liquor and Texas Empire themed souvenirs. One T-shirt had the entire North American continent colored in with the Texas flag and said “We’re coming for you.”   Another one said, “Screw you, America.” Other than the different T-shirt messages, the Texas Empire gas station wasn't that different from an American one. They had the same types of snacks and sodas.

Check my work as I suggest in #8. From the first excerpt, what can you tell me about my main character and novel from this section alone? How old is he? What time period does he live in? What is his world like? What is he like? How do you know? What do you learn from the voice example that you wouldn't learn from the less-voice example?

Vocal exercises and definitions from other people:


Monday, June 18, 2012

Interview with Editor Vicki Keire

I solemnly swear....
Vicki Keire

Hello all! You may not know me yet. I'm Sharon Bayliss, the newest contributor to Unicorn Bell. I am so happy to be joining this amazing team of writers! If you can't get enough of me, you can also visit my author's blog. This week I'll be hosting three interviews and two posts on craft. To start things off I would like to welcome a real-live editor! Vicki Keire is an editor at Curiosity Quills Press. She also happens to be a pretty amazing author...more on that at the end.

1) What is the editing process like for a novel at Curiosity Quills? What can a newly signed author expect?

Well, first, a great big welcome! But after that,we have a pre-editing process where the author makes sure his or her manuscript fits as best as possible with our house style guide. Then I like to find out what kind of expectations the author has for the book, because this is a really important element to me. Then I begin the editing process itself and get back to the author; we can repeat this part as many times as necessary, until everyone's happy. Then it goes to proofreading.

2) What are some of the common mistakes you run into when editing manuscripts?

Slow beginnings! Really, your first five pages should grab your reader and pull them right in. It's pretty common for writers to take a slower approach getting started, and by that time, our reader loses interest. Pacing is definitely something to watch out for, especially during the beginning.

3) What grammar/word use rules do you see violated the most?

Oh, comma splices and fragments! Commas are hard, I know. People capitalize improper nouns a lot, too.

4) In addition to be traditionally published, you have also self-published in the past. What editing tips do you have for authors who wish to self-publish?

It really comes down to two things: product, and marketing. You want to make sure you have the best, most polished product possible, especially a great cover. Marketing is mostly about effort, but it's an essential component. Befriend some book bloggers and get to know other authors in your genre- there's a thriving community of self-pubbers out there who are eager to help.

5) How does being an editor impact your writing? Does it make it easier, harder?

Both, actually. It's harder from a time point of view, because it's a job like any other, and I have to really guard my writing time. However, from a craft point of view, editing helps my writing a lot. I catch myself making mistakes and correct them as I'm going. It's also given me the freedom to know that writing is a drafting process, and that it's ok if a draft isn't where I'd like it; I'll have other chances to improve.

6) For people who are new to the series, tell us a little bit about The Chronicles of Nowhere.

Chronicles is about a girl who keeps having nightmares of a world burned to ash, and a strange boy who saves her from creatures that appear to be made of fire. Her parents insist it's just a nightmare, but when the boy shows up as a young man hell-bent on protecting her from those nightmares, she has to face a reality where the worst of two worlds now hunt her. It's mostly urban fantasy with lots of adventure and some romance too.

Vicki, thank you so much for sharing a little bit of your precious time with us. If you have more questions for Vicki, please post them in comments. The third installment in Vicki's Chronicles of Nowhere Series will be released soon, and as a shameless ploy to get you hopelessly addicted, the first two novels are discounted to only 99 cents for a limited time. Here they are!

Worlds Burn Through (Chronicles of Nowhere, Book One), by Vicki Keire

Shadowed Ground, by Vicki Keire - Cover 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Keep Going

How often have you told someone you're a writer to have them respond with something along the lines of I-wish-I-could-do-that?

I hear it a lot. So many people want to write a book, but they don't. They don't know how to start. They don't have the time. They don't think they can write.

What's the difference between those who wish they could and those that do? Those that do started and they had the perseverance to keep at it until they finished.

It doesn't matter how you do it. We all do it differently, after all. It doesn't matter when you do it. All that matters is that you try.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Jumping Projects

Writing is such an individual thing. We all do it just a little bit differently.

Some of us are plotters while others are pantsters. (For the record: I'm a plotter.) Some write longhand while others use a computer. Just about anything you say about how you write, there will be someone else who does it differently.

And then, you can change.

I used to be a one-at-a-time person. I worked on one story until I got to the end. I like to see one project through to completion. I thought that having more than one story going at a time would dilute both (or more) projects.

But then I discovered how jumping from one project to another worked. I didn't lose the story of one when I worked on another. It helped rejuvenate me. If I got stuck on one story, I could go and work on another story. Then by the time the other story was stumping me, I could go back to the first and find that whatever issues I was having before were gone. It was liberating.

My questions for today: Do you work on more than one project at a time? Have you ever changed how you write? Has that helped you write better?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Writer's Block Workshop

This week I'm talking basics. Not the basics of plot, dialog, character, et al. No, I'm talking the basics of sitting down and writing. Anything.

A schedule is a good thing to have, but it won't work if you don't have anything to write. Like, for example, right now I'm having novel issues. I know that I need a good climax to finish off my story, but it just isn't coming. I have an idea of where I need to go. It's the specifics that won't show themselves to me.

So, I've been spending a lot of time brainstorming. I have this thing I call my Writer's Block Workshop. I write about the problems I'm having. I write about where I want the story to go. I write. Sometimes it helps.

I'd like to take credit for the idea, but it isn't mine. I was first introduced to the concept in a newspaper article. Helpfully, Elizabeth George (the interviewee) posted it on her website, and it's called "Getting it Write".

Like most writing advice I come across, I modify it to fit me. And I throw out what doesn't work.

Do you have any good tips? What do you do when the words won't come?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Penciling It In

Writing something like a book takes a long time. It can't be done in one sitting. You must commit to spending weeks (months...years...) coming back again and again to the computer or pad of paper and work on that story.

How much of that story would get written if we waited for the right mood to strike us?

One piece of advice I read over and over was that one needed to commit to a schedule if one wanted to be a writer. I would have to set aside some time, at the same time every day, and spend that time writing. But this I could not do (at the time my work schedule would not permit me to write at the same time every day).

Like most writing advice, it was good in the general, but not so great in the specific. As writers, we must find what works for us, and what works for us might not be the ideal set-up for someone else.

I had to do something that would work for me. It couldn't be too much or I'd never get it done. Or, I'd get overwhelmed by the enormity of the task and I'd drop it like a New Year's resolution. Even a little writing done every day will get a novel written--it'll just take a longer time.

I started by writing a page of something, anything, every day. Some days that was garbage. But the most important thing was getting into the habit, and once I got into the habit, the habit stuck.

Nowadays, I have weekly goals. I set my goals per page (between 600 and 700 words). In a week, I aim for 12 pages or around 8000 words. I break that down into three writing sessions. (The days of being able to write everyday are gone.) Some weeks, this is easy. Others (this one, for example), this task seems nearly impossible. But I keep at it. That's all I can do.

My question of the day: What does your schedule look like?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Getting Started

For the longest time, I wanted to write a book. I had story ideas swimming around my head. I dreamed of how I would explain scenes, writing them mentally. But for a long time, these thoughts remained unrealized.

Writing can be hard. Getting started is harder.

If you've found this blog, you've probably already started writing. You might even have a few finished pieces. You worry about editing your work and getting it right. Getting it published. And you think about the road ahead.

But for a moment, I'd like you to think about how you got here. How did you get started?

So many people talk about wanting to write a book. They have an idea. They read a lot and think they could write something. However, something keeps them from taking that first step. Starting. Sitting down and writing something, anything. Getting through those mental barriers that keep us from going for that one thing that we really, really want.

We may not realize how hard it was to take that first step. It was.

For me, I sat down and wrote a couple times, but it didn't go anywhere until I found a way to make writing a habit. Still, the first time I sat down and worked on something that was just a story I wanted to write, it felt so odd. Foreign. Strange. I didn't know what I was doing, and I didn't like that feeling one bit. It's a wonder that I kept at it.

Today I want us all to be encouraging to anyone who wants to write but hasn't taken that first step. How did you get started? How did it feel?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Use your Words

Hey. What’s going on here? It’s like she doesn’t have anything else to do besides spend all fucking day online! I’ve been stuck in that stupid generator room for two weeks!

Now, Anoria, Dear. You know she’s busy. Let’s just calm down. Would you care for some tea?

Tea? Are you joking? *sigh* Fine. I’ll have some some of your stupid tea. Who the hell are you anyway?

My name is Private Detective First Class Owen Straff. Very pleased to meet you, Anoria Lee. Now please. Have a seat. We have quite a bit to discuss.

And how the hell do you know my name, Mr. First Classawhosit?

Private Detective First Class Owen Straff. I would imagine that would be obvious. I’m a detective. Of the First Class. And your language is atrocious for a lady.

Look. I didn’t even want to fucking come. Bard made me. He figured it would be easier for me to answer your stupid questions. So. Can we just get on with it?

Do you have someplace you’d rather be? Back in the generator room with Mimi perhaps? I didn’t think the two of you were getting along.

What the hell did you put in this tea? It tastes like peppermint. And lemon.

*Cough* Mint Leaves. And Lemon.

Oh. Well. It’s ok.

I am so glad you approve. Now. Perhaps we can focus on the task set to us?

I suppose.

Wonderful. I'm pleased to have your permission.


What happens when you take all the distinguishing tags out of your writing?

 Can you distinguish between who's talking? Can you tell your characters apart? Do they have a distinctive voice? A distinctive personality? Can you picture their facial expressions when they say the things you script for them to say?

Did you answer No to any of these questions? If so...slap yourself upside the head and pay attention. 

These characters that we put in our stories, that carry our stories, that ARE our stories...They are three dimensional. They have stuffed up noses, bad hair days, cars that don't start (or dragons that don't fly...). They have histories. They have baggage. They get angry, sad, happy, scared, confused...every emotion you have felt. They have too.

When you write your characters with one voice, one emotion all the time...your reader will get bored and move on. If your "Good Guy" is always Confident and Smart and Strong and Beautiful and wins at everything he does. Gag me with a spoon. Same with the "Evil Guy".  Only, you know...in the evil way.

We've talked quite a bit this week on characters...getting to really know your characters. And hopefully...you can take that knowledge and use it here. Find what makes your character unique. Give them a voice that really stands out. And by proxy...

Give you a story that really stands out.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Open their Heads

Now we’re going to get inside our character’s heads.

It’s a dark and scary place. Be not afraid. You are not alone.

There are many ways to do this. Wine or Whisky is probably involved. But we won’t get into that...ahem....we’ll simply discuss two different ways of getting our characters to let us know who they are.

The most basic way to do this is, of course, an actual character interview. I was given a great one of these by mshatch. But couldn’t get it to link. However. A quick google search yielded up several other options. This Character Interview seemed to be pretty decent.

Now. Keep in mind. Not all of this information needs to be revealed in your story. Remember what we talked about, and worked on yesterday? And maybe your character doesn’t want the world to know that his deepest desire is to have 17 puppies and live on a small island in Puerto Rico, rather than fighting dragons off the white cliffs of Dover. His battle buddies would give him a world of shit.

These should be looked at as counseling sessions. Just between you and your character. Yes. Some of it will make it into your story. Some of it is very relevant. In fact, in reality. For you, the writer, it’s all very relevant. You need to know this character as well as you know yourself. How else are you going to write their reactions believable? If you don’t crawl inside their heads and reside there, your readers are never going to believe that that character is real. Which in turn makes the whole story and plot unreal.

The other way is more an exercise in word play and getting to know your characters. All in one! A while back I stumbled on a ‘thing’ people were doing in the poetry field called Six Word Bios. Interesting. Not easy. Every word counts when you only have six. The only problem I personally have is that I end up with a lot of adverbs and adjectives. For example. My personal six word bio:

Culinary: Indescribably painful yet beautifully fulfilling.

It does say what I want it to say. But is there a better, less adverb-y way? Probably. For me, though, the point of this exercise was to get down to the bare bones what I needed to say. What did I want to say about my self? How do I get across to my reader the experiences I had in my brief career, how do I condense it down?

This is why you really need to know your characters. Are you able to get this up close and personal with them? Do you know enough about them? This was just one aspect of my life. I could have chosen others to write about.

If nothing else, this exercise teaches you how to rethink what you may consider to be an important word. It helps you to really consider what it is you’re trying to say.

Feel free to post any Six Word Bios, for yourself or your characters, you may come up with! I would love to see them! As you can see...the adverb thing is a challenge for me, and I would love to see if you can overcome it!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Descriptions without Describing

If there is something that drives me crazy when I’m reading it’s the “looking in the mirror” description trope used by far too many writers. 

Rise Up! Break the habit! Our characters deserve better!

“She looked down at her small, 5’4” body and sighed. With a practiced gesture she moved her long, curly black waves over her shoulder, bending to pick up the step-stool. By stretching just right she could still just barely reach the glasses, and had just finished getting them down when her supervisor walked in.”

Not a great description. Yes. we know her height, hair color/length. I could probably have thrown in her eye color. We can tell she’s a bit annoyed at being so short, and she practices moves to draw people’s eyes away from her short stature. Yes. It’s description. But it’s stifling. Wouldn’t you agree?

Try this. Try describing your character simply by the actions that portray their physicality. This character is a shorter person. She needs a step stool. Or she wears high heels. I could say,

“Knowing the wine glasses were out of reach, Brenda went to get the dreaded step-stool. She kicked off her Louboutin’s and stomped up the three steps. “Stupid thing!” Carefully placing the glasses on the granite counter beside her, she had just about finished when her supervisor came into the room.”

Says the same thing in an entirely different way. In fact, you can fit a lot more interesting details in when you free yourself from having to Show description. Tell me what your character does. How your character moves about in the world. How they are awkward, or comfortable, in their own skin. How they trip over their own feet because they’re a teenager just getting used to their rapidly growing bodies, rather then saying “He is 13.”

A good practice exercise for this is to go to the mall, park, baseball game...wherever there are lots of people doing lots of random things. Pick two or three and write exactly what they are doing. How they are doing it. How many steps it took the really tall man to get from his truck to the porta-potty. How hard the short woman had to strain to lift her child up to the monkey bars. How the old woman with the cane braced herself against the car to load her groceries into the back seat. One bag at a time.

You don’t need to know that he was a 45 year old man with salt and pepper hair, blue eyes and a beer gut. That can come out later. When you show him at home in front of his tv, drinking a 6-pack.

Our readers are pretty smart. And they have imagination. It’s far more important for the reader to understand how a character will react in a situation, then to know how their hair is going to look.

So here’s your assignment class! Take the following description and change it, any way you want (just keep the essence the same), using tips I showed you.

“He couldn’t believe it. 42 years old. Oh well. At least his hair wasn’t too grey. He turned away from the bathroom mirror, feeling for his thick glasses. Shambling out to his lounger, he eased his massive body into the broken springs and opened a fresh bag of chips. Maybe this year he would lose the weight.”

Monday, June 4, 2012

Like it's 1975

Today is a National Holiday!  What? You’ve never heard of this holiday? You must live under a rock.

It’s My Birthday!

And in celebration of my Birthday I’m putting out this simple writing prompt. 

Show me some character development. Show me this person going through something. How life can lift you up or knock you down. 

Don’t think too hard about it. Just a simple couple of paragraphs in the comments. Here’s your prompt:

“All she wanted for her birthday was a beautiful dinner out with _________. However, …”

Sunday, June 3, 2012

By Any Other Name

Ah characters. Where would be be without them? The embodiment of those voices in our heads. The proof that we really aren’t insane.

That’s what we’ll be talking about this week.

And I’d like to start with a simple question.

Character Names. How do we come up with them?

Yes. There’s the Baby Name Book routine. I’m sure this has worked wonders for many a writer, and I’ll probably have to break down and buy one eventually. But as yet, never needed one. I’ll tell you why in a moment.

There’s the, Historical Fiction route. Which is pretty self explanatory. Just make sure you do your research, certain names were never heard of in certain times. And it gets a bit boring, and hard to keep track of four men named Harry.

The “Meaningful Name” bit. Tread lightly with this one. You can’t be naming your Lead Female Chastity and having her be the town whore. It would be like fingernails  on a chalkboard for the reader.

There’s the, what I lovingly refer to as, Scrabble Tile Method. Most often seen in science fiction or fantasy books. (I’m looking at you Weis) I swear the author reaches into a scrabble bag, pulls out three to five tiles adds a few vowels and Voila! A name! Who cares if no one can pronounce it! It’s fantasy! It’s a different planet! They’re a different Race! Foreign! All very good points..indeed. But. Let’s not go so far as to ostracise our readers. I’ve read many books where I have to skim over names, only catching the first few letters. Which works ok, until more than one character has that same first letter. Then it’s confusing.

You can put regional flair into your names. This is a great way of pulling culture, very subtly, into your work. Jacqueline Carey did this quite well with her Kushiel’s Dart series. She had the Roman element mixed with flares of French and a bit of Spanish. From the get go this set you up in a very subtle way for what type of book she was writing. Political intrigue (Roman), wrapped in a sultry (French) Magical (Spanish) world. Very subtle.

Or. You can name your characters whatever you damn well please and to hell with you all! Think of the success Charlaine Harris has had with Vampire Bill. A vampire. Named Bill. That is brilliant. Can’t you just IMAGINE the brain meltdown she had trying to come up with a name for him? You can’t tell me the first time you read that your brain didn’t go...”Huh. Bill. Really? HA!” But. It makes perfect sense. 

There are online resources to try. Seventh Sanctum is one of many name generators. 

What has worked for me, thus far, is wandering about cemeteries. Big. Old. OLD. Creepy. Cemeteries. The older the better. There are some wacky names in cemeteries. I keep a small journal with me. (Who doesn’t!) The ones I like the best I will try to say out loud as much as possible. Because, let’s be honest. You’re going to be with this character for a while. You’d best like their name. My parents are very fond of telling my sisters and I that we got our names by my Dad going out to the back yard and yelling a bunch of names at the top of his lungs. The ones they liked yelling, won. I suggest you do this with your character names.

Though, if they answer back...you could have problems.

Honestly. I’m not sure there is a surefire way to name a character. There is no secret formula. So I want to know. How do you name your characters?