Archive for category Writing

Caveat Venditor—Five Mistakes KILLING Self-Published Authors

Rise of the Machines Human Authors in a Digital World, social media authors, Kristen Lamb, WANA, Rise of the Machines

All right, it’s about to be a brand new year and many of you are wanting to finally see your books published. ROCK ON! But, I am the friend who will tell you if there is toilet paper hanging out of your pants. Writing isn’t all glitter and unicorns and I want to warn you of the most common stumbling blocks, because I really DO want you to succeed.

When I began writing I was SO SURE agents would be fighting over my manuscript. Yeah. But after almost fourteen years in the industry, a lot of bloody noses, and even more lessons in humility, I hope that these tips will help you.

Self-publishing is AWESOME, and it’s a better fit for certain personalities and even content (um, social media?), but we must be educated before we publish. In fact, my last book Rise of the Machines (cover above) is much more than a social media book. I dedicate a large portion of the book explaining how the various forms of publishing work, because you need to make the best choice for YOU.

I want that decision to be an EDUCATED decision.

Moving on….

Mistake #1 Publishing Before We Are Ready

The problem with the ease of self-publishing is that it is, well, too easy. When we are new, frankly, most of us are too dumb to know what we don’t know. Just because we made As in English, does not automatically qualify us to write a work spanning 60,000-100,000 words. I cannot count how many writers I’ve met who refuse to read fiction, refuse to read craft books, and who only go to pitch agents when they attend conferences at the expense of attending the craft sessions.

Additionally, too many new writers I meet do not properly understand the antagonist. They don’t grasp three-act structure, and most don’t have any idea what I mean when I mention POV, Jungian archetypes, or the phrase, “scene and sequel.”

I see a lot of new writers who believe their story is the exception, that the rules make for “formulaic” writing. No, rules are there for a reason, and, if the writing is too formulaic, it has more to do with execution than the rules.

****And YES, we can and SHOULD break rules but that is another post. Every musician has to learn to play the instrument before reinventing music as we know it.*****

Three-act structure has been around since Aristotle, and there is a lot of evidence in neuroscience that suggests that three-act structure is actually hard-wired into the human brain. Thus, when we deviate too far from three-act structure, it confuses and frustrates readers.

Stories have clear beginnings, middles and ends. Without a clear story objective, it is impossible to generate dramatic tension, and what is left over is drama’s inbred cousin, melodrama. Yet, many writers start off writing a book without properly understanding the basic skeleton of story.

Heck, I didn’t and I deserved every rejection I got…

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Writing fiction is therapeutic, but it isn’t therapy. Yes, characters should struggle with inner demons, but that does not a plot make. Struggling with weakness, inner demons, insecurity, addictions are all character arc, not plot arc. There should be a core story problem that we can articulate in ONE sentence. The plot arc should serve to drive the character arc. If the character does not grow and change she will fail, but it is the core story problem that drives this change.

No problem, no crucible.

Yes, we are artists, but we need to understand the fundamentals. I played clarinet for years, and yes it was an art. But this didn’t excuse me from having to learn to read music, the finger positions and proper embouchure (the way to position the mouth to play).

The better we are at the basics, the better we know the rules, the more we become true artists.

I’ve received contest winners whose first pages were filled with newbie errors. Yet, when I sent them my critique filled with pages of corrections, I would then receive a reply telling me that the book had already been self-published.

OUCH.

Sometimes there are reasons we are being rejected and we need to take a hard look and be honest. Self-publishing is suffering a stigma from too many writers publishing before they are ready. If you really want to self-publish, I am here to support you and cheer you all the way. Heck, I did it. Will probably do it again.

But remember, though the stigma IS fading we have to write better than the traditional authors.

Mistake #2 Jumping in Before Understanding the Business Side to the Business

I see a lot of writers rushing into self-publishing without properly preparing to be a small business, yet that is exactly what we are. When we self-publish, we take on new roles and we need to understand them. We need to be willing to fork out money for proper editing, cover design and formatting.

One of the benefits to traditional publishing is they take on all the risk and do the editing, proofing, etc. When we go it alone, we need to prepare for some expenses and do our research.

We can be told a million times to not judge a book by its cover, yet that is exactly what readers do. Additionally, we may need to look into becoming an LLC. We need to set up proper accounting procedures and withhold the correct amount of taxes, unemployment, state taxes and on and on.

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Mistake #3 Believing that, “If We Write it They Will Come”

There are a lot of writers who mistakenly believe that self-publishing is an easier and faster way to fame and success. Yeah, um no. And those magic beans are really just beans. Sorry.

Self-publishing is A LOT of work, especially if we are starting out this way. If you didn’t defect from traditional publishing and can’t slap New York Times Best-Selling in front of your name? Prepare for a ton of work.

Not only do we need to write good books, but we need to write prolifically. When we self-publish, we need a much larger platform because we don’t have New York in our corner. This is one of the reasons self-publishing isn’t for everyone. We need to look at how badly we want the dream, and then ask how many hours are we willing to work? What are we willing to sacrifice?

Image from the movie "Office Space"

Image from the movie “Office Space”

Mistake #4 Misusing FREE!

There are a lot of problems with giving books away for FREE! We shouldn’t be giving away our work unless it serves some kind of a strategic advantage. There are ways to effectively harness the power of FREE! but too few writers understand how to do this and they just end up giving away their art for no tangible gain. This goes with my above point of us needing to understand the business side of our business. When we do choose to give away stuff for FREE! it needs to serve longer-term business goals.

Mistake #5 Shopping One Book to DEATH

One of the BIGGEST problems I see with self-published writers is that they publish one book and then they focus every bit of energy on selling THAT book.

They fill up all the writing hashtags with link spam promoting their books. They keep futzing with the cover, the web site, the promotions. They do blog tours until they drop, and they do everything except what is going to help that book sell a ton of copies…write more books.

Here’s the thing. Self-publishing, in many ways, just allows us to accelerate the career path of the author. Even in traditional publishing, it usually takes about three books to gain traction. In traditional publishing, this takes three years because we are dealing with a publisher’s schedule.

In self-publishing, we can make our own schedule, but it still takes THREE BOOKS MINIMUM. I know there are exceptions, but most self-published successes hit at about book three. The ability to offer multiple titles is a huge advantage.

Just make sure they are good books ;).

This is why it is critical to keep writing. Not only will writing more books make you a better writer, but once people discover they love your writing, they have a number of titles to purchase. Being able to offer multiple titles is how we make money at self-publishing. It also helps us maximize the whole FREE! tactic.

Even I am putting my nose to the grindstone to come out with more books in the next six months. I don’t tell you guys to do anything that, I myself, am unwilling to do. I have two books in a series already written, but I’ve made the decision not to give them to a publisher or publish myself until I have a minimum of THREE finished titles.

This is a profession, not a playpen.

Remember Why We Do This

Self-publishing is a wonderful alternative. Just because we self-publish doesn’t mean we cannot publish other ways, too. I’ve been saying this for a LONG time, but it bears repeating. I feel the author of the future will actually be a hybrid author, and I do believe that the ability to self-publish is challenging all of us to come up higher.

We are striving to be better writers, to be better entrepreneurs, to get better at organization and time-management and to write more books and better books. If we can learn from these mistakes and grow, then the future is ours for the taking.

A little humor from the fabulous David Kazzle

What have been some of your challenges with self-publishing? In what areas is it forcing you to grow? Have you had to outsource? What sacrifices have you made? Tell us your story!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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79 Comments

What Are the REAL Odds of Being a Successful Author?

Image via Flikr Creative Commons Hakan Dalstrom

Image via Flikr Creative Commons Hakan Dalstrom

I didn’t even consider becoming a writer until 1999 after my father passed away suddenly. Funny how death can make us take a hard look at life, right? Anyway, I recall feeling soooo overwhelmed. I mean my odds of even getting published were about as good as winning the lottery. And the odds of becoming a best-selling author? Well, mathematically speaking, I had a slightly greater chance of being mauled by a black bear and polar bear on the same day.

It was all I could do not to give up before I began.

But, after over 14 years doing this “writer thing,” I have a new perspective. Often it feels like we are the victims of fate, at the mercy of the universe, when actually it is pretty shocking how much of our own destiny we control. The good news is that if we can get in a habit of making good choices, it is staggering how certain habits can tip the odds of success in our favor.

Time to take a REAL look at our odds of success. Just so you know, this is highly unscientific, but I still think it will paint a pretty accurate picture. I will show you a bit of my own journey. And, to be blunt, this DOES NOT ONLY APPLY TO WRITERS.

Did you know most entrepreneurs fail at least three times before getting traction? Most new businesses don’t make it a year. They are fortunate to survive THREE years and if they can hit The Golden Six? Smoother from there. But WHY?

The 5% Rule

It has been statistically demonstrated that only 5% of any population is capable of sustained change.

I remember when I was a rather young writer and NYTBSA Bob Mayer introduced me to this idea. I was AGHAST! No, writers just needed nurturing, cuddling, and help. Trust me, it pains me to say he was/is right.

***But Bob is generally right and that is often why it ticks me off to admit this.***

I worked for years with self-professed writers who refused to learn, listen or even work. They had the skin of a grape and wanted to make it in an often undervalued profession that is NO place for the idle or thin-skinned.

Thus, with that in mind…

When we start out wanting to write, we are up against presumably millions of other people who want the same dream. We very literally have better odds of being elected to Congress than hitting the NY Times best-selling list. But I think that statement is biased and doesn’t take into account the choices we make.

As I just said, in the beginning, we are up against presumably millions of others who desire to write. Yes, millions. It is estimated that over ¾ of Americans say that they would one day like to write a book. And that is only ONE continent. Much of Europe, Australia and New Zealand are burgeoning markets in the new digital paradigm.

That’s a LOT of people. Ah, but how many do? How many decide to look beyond that day job? How many dare to take that next step?

Statistically? 5%

So only 5% of the millions of people who desire to write will ever even take the notion seriously. This brings us to the hundreds of thousands. But of the hundreds of thousands, how many who start writing a book will actually FINISH a book? How many will be able to take their dream seriously enough to lay boundaries for friends and family and hold themselves to a self-imposed deadline?

Statistically? 5%

Of that 5%, how many will join a critique group—A GOOD ONE—and learn instead of sulking?

5%

Okay, well now we are down to the tens of thousands. Looking a bit better. But, finishing a book isn’t all that is required. We have to be able to write a book that is publishable and meets industry/reader standards. When I first started writing, I thought that everyone who attended a writing critique group would be published. I mean they were saying they wanted to be best-selling authors.

But did they?

Or, were they more in love with the idea of being a best-selling author than actually doing whatever it took to succeed? I would love to say that I was a doer and not a talker, but I don’t want to get hit by lightning. There were a number of years that I grew very comfortable with being in a writing group as a writer…but not necessarily a professional writer.

I was still querying the same book that had been rejected time and time and time again.  I wrote when I felt inspired and didn’t approach my craft like a professional. I was, at best, a hobbyist and, at worst, hopelessly delusional.

I didn’t need craft books *snort* I spoke English, so I knew how to write. Geesh! *rolls eyes*

I was a member of two writing groups, and had grown very fond of this “writer life.” We hung out at I-Hop and drank lots of coffee. We’d all chat about what we’d do with our millions once we were bigger than Dan Brown. We talked about new ideas for books that never seemed to get written. Or if we ever did sit to write one of these ideas, we would get about 30,000 words in and then hit a wall.

Hmmm…and I thought that idea had so much promise.

Yet, after four years hearing the same talk from the same people shopping the same novels, I had a rude awakening. Maybe I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew. Maybe being a copy writer and technical writer and editor didn’t automatically make me a novel-writing genius. Maybe I needed to take this dream of being a best-selling writer a tad more seriously and not rely on bluster, BS and glitter. Maybe I needed to read craft books and scrape up enough money to go to a conference.

So, of the tens of thousands of writers who write a novel, how many read craft books and get serious enough to take classes, listen to thoughtful critique, and attend conferences?

You guys are good….5%

And of those who attend a conference (and want to traditionally publish), who are asked to send in page requests, how many follow through?

Likely, 5%

How many will land an agent right away?

5%

And of all of those authors rejected, how many writers, determined to impress, are willing to GUT their novel and wage wholesale slaughter on entire villages of Little Darlings? How many are willing to put that first novel in a drawer, learn from the experience and move forward with a new book…which they FINISH?

5%

And of the writers who land an agent or are brave enough to go indie or self-publish, how many of them get dead-serious about building a large social media platform?

Again? Probably 5%.

And of those writers who are published and doing social media, how many of them are effectively branding their names so their name alone will become a bankable asset (versus taking the easy way and spamming everyone in sight)?

5%

Of those who self-publish, how many will keep writing more books and better books until they hit a tipping point for success? (versus beating marketing one book to death)

5%

Of writers who self-publish, how many will invest in professional editing and cover art?

5%

Thus, when we really put this dream under some scrutiny, it is shocking to see all the different legs we control.

We control:

Taking the Decision Seriously

Writing the Book

Editing the Book

Finishing the Book

Learning the Craft

Developing RHINO SKIN

Networking

Following Through

Not Giving Up in the Face of Rejection

Writing Books

Writing More Books

Yes, Writing Even MORE Books

Doing Everything in Our Power to Lay a Foundation for a Successful Career

I am not saying that finishing a book is easy. None of this is easy.

This job is a lot of hard work and sacrifice, which is exactly why most people will never be genuine competition. When we start out and see all the millions of other writers I think we are in danger of giving up or getting overwhelmed. Actually, if we focus on the decisions we control, our odds improve drastically.

This job is like one giant funnel. Toss in a few million people with a dream and only a handful will shake out at the end. Is it because fortune smiled on them? A few, yes. But, for most, the harder they worked, the “luckier” they got. They stuck it out and made the tough choices.

In the Sahara there is a particularly long stretch of desert that is completely flat. There are no distinguishing landmarks and it is very easy to get lost. To combat the problem, the French Foreign Legion placed large black oil drums every mile so that travelers could find their way across this massive expanse of wasteland one oil drum at a time.

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

 

Want to be a successful author?

Take it one oil drum at a time.

What are some oil drums you now see ahead? Does your journey to author success seem easier now? What makes you feel overwhelmed? What inspires you?

And some HOLIDAY fun with KRISTEN LAMB!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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173 Comments

Why Are Certain Stories Timeless? What Scrooge Can Teach Us About Great Writing

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One of my all-time favorite movies for the holidays is The Muppets Christmas Carol. I believe I’ve seen this movie a few hundred thousand times. I’ve worn out three VHS tapes and at least three DVDs. I play the movie over and over, mainly because, well, duh,  MUPPETS! I drive my husband nuts playing this movie over and over…and over.

I’m worse than a three-year-old.

Muppets aside, I also can’t get enough of the music. I love the story of A Christmas Carol no matter how many times I see it, no matter how many renditions, and I am certainly not alone. Charles Dickens’ story of a redeemed miser is a staple for holiday celebrations around the world and across the generations.

This story is virtually synonymous with “Christmas,” but why is it such a powerful story? Why has it spoken so deeply to so many? Why is it a story that never grows old? Today, I want to talk about a couple of the elements that speak to me, because they rest at the heart of great writing.

A Little Background

A Christmas Carol is a beautiful story, but I find it’s true beauty when it’s explained in the Christian context that inspired it. My son was watching Bubble Guppies and they tried (dismally) to tell the same story inserting “holiday” so as not to offend anyone, I presume.

Yet, the story fell flat.

The PC had ruined the beauty of this tale and made it more of a lesson about embracing shallow commercialism once a year than a story of love’s power to redeem the irredeemable. Thus, this post will use scriptural and religious references to explain why I believe this story is so moving and timeless.

The Power of Names

Naming characters can be vital. Great writers use the power of parsimony. Each element should serve as many purposes as possible. A name is more than a name. It has the power to be a story within a story.

I recall the moment I was first introduced to what would become my favorite hymn, Come Thou Fount of Many Blessings. One verse stood out:

Here I raise my Ebenezer

Here by Thy great help I’ve come

And I hope, by Thy good pleasure

Safely to arrive at home.

Ebenezer? Raise an Ebenezer? I needed to know more. Ebenezer is actually אבן העזר, Even Ha’Ezer, which literally means stone of help or monument to God’s glory and is referenced in the book of Samuel.

Thus, when Dickens chose a name for his protagonist, he chose the perfect name for the redeemed sinner. What is a better testament to a God of grace, than the hardened heart melted by the power of love? The current climate of political correctness aside, A Christmas Carol is most definitively a Christian story and the theme is reminiscent of Proverbs 25:22:

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat

and if he is thirsty give him water to drink

for you will heap burning coals on his head

and the Lord will reward you.

Very often this verse is misunderstood. “Yeah! BURN ‘EM! THAT’LL TEACH THEM TO MESS WITH ME! COALS! BURN BABY BUUUURN!” Yet, if one looks to the ancient Hebrew, the heaping burning coals is literally the holy fire of LOVE that melts the hardened heart so it can be remade (think of melting a weapon of war to remake it into something of beauty or a tool for healing or farming).

The path to redemption is love, for only love holds the power to redeem those who have committed grave wrongdoings. Only love can repair what’s been broken and “remake” it into something entirely new.

The Christian story is a story of love, of redemption, of second chances and not because one has earned it or deserved it. Scrooge is a dreadful man, yet as the story unfolds, not only does Scrooge’s heart begin to melt as he’s faced with the truth of who he is, but our hearts melt toward Scrooge as we travel through the past, present and future and see what has created such a embittered, cruel person. We empathize and start to have compassion and love the unlovely.

Scrooge has done nothing to earn redemption, but his redemption is precisely why we cheer at the end.

The spectral visits serve to show Scrooge the truth, which again is reminiscent of scripture; and then you will know the truth and it is the truth that will set you free (John 8:32). Scrooge cannot change what he cannot see and it is the three ghosts who come to reveal what he’s failed to see on his own.

Repentance is not the mumbled and counterfeit “Sorry.” Rather, it is finally seeing the truth of who we are and what wrong we’ve done. It’s a decision to make things right and turn away from wrong.

By the end of the story, Ebenezer is truly repentant. He’s a changed person determined to share the love and grace that was freely given to him when he didn’t deserve it.

Again, what a wonderful testament to God’s love. What a lovely “Ebenezer.”

Jacob Marley is another symbolic name. Jacob Marley is the name of Scrooge’s old business partner, and it is he who intervenes to try and redeem his old friend before Ebenezer is sentenced to share Marley’s fate. The name “Jacob” actually means “thief and liar.”

In the Bible, Jacob stole his brother Esau’s blessing, then manipulated, lied, stole and connived until it came back to bite him multiple times  (Jacob later wrestled with an angel until he could be given a new name, Israel and he’d become the father of a great people). What better name to give someone sentenced to roam as a specter for eternity carrying the weight of his ill deeds than a name that literally means thief and liar?

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The Power of Symbol

When the ghost of Jacob Marley visits Scrooge:

The chain he drew about his waist was clasped about his middle. It was long and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge observed it closely) of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel…

Why cash-boxes? Why deeds? Why purses? In life Jacob was a money-lender. He was ruthless in his dealings and never forgave a debt. Yet, Matthew 6:12 (part of The Lord’s prayer) reads: Forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors.

Jacob forged his chains in life. He refused to show mercy, compassion, or kindness. He was ruthless and legalistic, thus he has sealed his fate. God has promised to forgive us the same way we forgive others, which is why the scripture pleads for grace, compassion and mercy. Also, forgiveness of debts is the heart of what Christmas is about, for unto us a child is born.

Christians believe God sent His only begotten son (God in the form of Man) to pay a debt we cannot hope to pay. God loves us as His children, and our actions have left us hopelessly out off our depth, incapable of paying our debts. Yet Love cancels the debt. Christ’s last words on the cross, “It is finished” literally translate “Paid in FULL.” Jacob turned away from the grace freely offered, so now he wanders, burden by the debts he cannot pay.

Jacob now finds opportunity to warn Scrooge of the chains he is now forging with his actions (and inaction), chains that are longer and heavier than even his. The only way for Scrooge to free himself is to learn to value himself and his fellow human beings.

Smaller Truths Reveal Larger Truths

Dickens makes it a point to show us that Scrooge is a miser. Scrooge shows no mercy, has no warmth, shares none of his wealth…with anyone, including himself. Scrooge is a very wealthy man, yet he wears old clothes, lights no coals for warmth because coal costs money. His home is threadbare and his food measly and meager.

The full story of redemption is that Scrooge not only sees his fellow man differently—worthy of compassion, love and generosity—but in changing how he views his fellow man, his view of himself changes (and heals) as well. The three spirits not only heal Scrooge’s relationship with his Maker, but with himself and others. Scrooge, for the first time, becomes part of the human experience, no longer content to be “solitary as an oyster.”

The POWER of WORDS

This point should resonate particularly with writers. There is a REASON the Ghost of Christmas Future refuses to speak. Words have creative power. If one looks at the first chapters of Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth and all living things by speaking. “And God said…”

It was only humans he breathed life into. Everything else was created by speaking. Throughout the Old and New Testament, there are countless scriptures referencing the power of the tongue, of words, and warning they carry both the power of life and death.

This idea carries into Ebenezer’s story because, by the time he has this final visit, he still has choice over what his future will be. The specter cannot speak because words would cast his future and it isn’t for the Spirit of Christmas Future to decide.

Happy Ending

Scrooge deserves the death he’s shown by the Spirit of Christmas Future. He deserves to die alone with those “closest” casting lots for his garments. This is what he has sown with his lifetime of greed, hate and spite.

Yet, he is pardoned.

Scrooge is the resurrected heart, the dead brought to life. When God promises “everlasting life” it isn’t a promise that we get to float around on a cloud in Heaven after we die. Rather, it’s a promise that life begins at the moment we decide to accept mercy and love.

Scrooge has been “alive” but not “living.” He was existing. When he is redeemed, given a new chance, he changes. Out of gratitude for the mercy he is given, he reaches out to give what he’s been given. LOVE, MERCY, GENEROSITY.

Restoration

Sure, God could have rained down a miracle that healed Tiny Tim and landed Bob Cratchit a better job with a better boss, but Dickens saw God as a God in the business of finding and changing the lost, miserable and broken. Instead of giving the miracle to Cratchit and his family, God, instead, gives it to Scrooge, the least deserving of a miracle.

Why?

Because God is about working through people. Many of His miracles come from ordinary people performing extraordinary acts of kindness and sacrifice. By changing Scrooge, God could create a man who would become a benefactor. Cratchit has now a kind and generous boss, the community now had a passionate philanthropist, and Tiny Tim lives and the family thrived because one man’s heart could be melted.

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It is no great feat to love the lovely. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much (Matthew 5:46). This story is so powerful namely because it shows that every human has value and is worth and an opportunity for redemption. God is in the business of changing hearts, and Dickens wanted to show that. A Christmas Carol is a masterful exploration of the true nature of Christianity, what it should be, what it was meant to be. Love. Above all.

What is your favorite version of A Christmas Carol? What do you love about this story? What is your favorite part? I love The Muppet’s Christmas Carol (already told y’all that), but THIS is my FAVORITE part!

Also, here is my favorite hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. I cry every time I hear this:

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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56 Comments

Can Being Tired Make Us Better Writers?

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Image via Lauriesanders60 WANACommons

Last month I participated in NaNoWriMo even though it’s the holidays and, as many of you know, I am battling the last vestiges of Shingles which makes me tired, like down to the BONES tired. But, lest I go crazy, I had to write, because that’s what writers do. We aren’t happy unless we are writing something. 

I figured in the beginning I likely wouldn’t make the 50,000 word mark not only because of feeling puny, but I also have other writing that doesn’t count toward NaNo.

Yet, the interesting thing is, being tired can have benefits. If we wait until that celestial alignment when the kids aren’t sick, our pants fit, there isn’t a heap of laundry, the garage is clean, the junk mail sorted, and we feel energized? We won’t get a lot of writing done, so here is some food for thought next time you believe you’re too tired to write.

Embrace Being Tired

Okay, first I want to take a moment to acknowledge that we do need rest. We need breaks and days off. Shingles had taught me I am seriously HUMAN. It’s actually humbled me to be better at resting because I love what I do and this makes it easy to overdo.

I’m going to be writing a new NF in 2015, so I needed to REST my left brain and let RIGHT BRAIN have some time to play (ergo NaNo).

Your Body Will Lie to You

Beyond sickness and disasters, our bodies tend to be a bit lazy, and they like to lie. They tell us we need a day or two or twenty off, and the longer we’re away from the work, the easier it is to let things slip, to see a new shiny and start a newer, more exciting project. In this business, time is our enemy. Always remember this.

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Image via JulaiLimjl Flikr Creative Commons

It Will Never Be a “Perfect” Time

We want to wait until we’re rested, the kids are out of the house, until we have total quiet, a new computer, the list goes on. To do this job at a professional level, we have to learn to write no matter what. This is a profession, not a playpen. People often groan that NaNoWriMo is in November and there is all this shopping and cleaning and cooking.

Okay, well, I used to work in sales and they still expected my tail to be on the road selling industrial paper from Mexico to Missouri until that scrawny four days off for vaca. If I was sick? I knew when I came back, I had to bust tail to catch up. Family emergency? Okay, tend it, but then back to get your $#!& done.

Coffee was for closers.

Writing (for those who want to make a living at this) should apply the same rules as other professions. Granted, it’s a LOT harder because no boss is going to write us up or chew us out if we don’t write…and most of our family and friends secretly believe all we do is play with our imaginary friends and we don’t have a “real” job. We need A LOT more self-discipline than other jobs.

I write every day but Sunday with a preschooler whacking me 47 times with a NERF sword before breakfast, all the while Paw Patrol is blazing in the background. I’ve learned to un-see the dirty dishes, the laundry that needs folding, and the Christmas tree that was attacked by my cats in the middle of the night and needs triage.

Distractions=Death

The Spawn

The Spawn

Time is the Enemy

When writing anything (but especially fiction) taking time off can kill momentum. We need to go back, reread, familiarize ourselves with the story and characters (since we’ve slept since that last bit we wrote). This can lead to editing the beginning to death and stalls forward progress. We get bogged down in the first part of the book.

Take too much time? Likely, you’ll have to start all over.

I did. Yes, even NF authors are vulnerable to time. Back in 2011 I scored a premium NYC agent and over a year and a half later? The project was going nowhere. When I finally decided to self-publish my most current social media book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World, I spent more effort trying to retrofit work I’d done for my agent back in 2011 than I want to admit. Finally, I just scrapped the whole thing and started over. 150 pages of wasted work all because I didn’t keep writing.

My mistake. Won’t happen again.

Sometimes Being Tired Produces Better Writing

I know a lot of you work day jobs, are full-time caregivers, and you’re squeezing in writing when you can. GO YOU! You’re superheroes, and always remember that. Keep pressing.

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Yet, one mistake we make is we don’t tackle the novel when we’re tired. We believe our work will be better if we’ve rested.

This isn’t necessarily true.

Candy runs a workshop she calls Fast Draft. In Fast Draft, you write your novel in two weeks. It is one of the toughest challenges I’ve ever done, but it works. No editing, no going back, just keep going forward. By Day Three, I promise you’ll feel like you’ve been tossed in a bag of hammers and shaken.

BUT…

One of the biggest enemies of great fiction is Conscious Mind. Our internal editor lives there and won’t let us move forward until we get rid of “was clusters” or add more detail to that “jungle scene.” Conscious Mind will have you “being responsible” and browsing the Internet looking at South American plants instead of writing.

Conscious Mind is the Bigger Sibling Who Constantly Calls Little Sister (Subconscious Mind) Stupid and Tells Her to Shut Up

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Image via Life Mental health Flikr Creative Commons

Subconscious Mind is the primal mind. It sees things we don’t, makes connections Conscious Mind, also known as “The Thinking Brain”, misses. Thinking Brain is a bit of a Bossy Pants and likes to shove Subconscious Mind around, give it wedgies and promise that it can jump off the roof with an umbrella and float down.

Hey, Penguin does it all the time.

The best way to get your Subconscious Mind to help you is to wear the bigger, bossier sibling out. This allows the Little Guy an opportunity to help you make magic without the bigger sibling butting in.

Conscious Mind is the Inner Editor, the Inner Critic, the Nit-Picker, whereas the Subconscious Mind (the Limbic and “primitive” brain) is the one who sees value in finger painting and advantages of glitter.

Subconscious Mind will thrust you deeper into the story. Subconscious Mind is like a toddler who jumps head-first off the couch. No fear. There will be greater emotion and the writing often is more visceral. Subconscious Mind plants Seeds of Awesomeness that you will see flower into something more amazing that you believed you were capable of.

But that won’t happen unless Conscious Mind is exhausted and too tired to argue and bully it’s littler sibling.

So if you’re struggling with the WIP, you might just be a little “too rested.” This isn’t to say we don’t take care of ourselves, but total immersion and pressing on even when we’re worn out and would trade everything we own for a nap does have major advantages.

It’s also why I didn’t kill myself to make the 50,000 words for NaNo, but am still plugging. If I take too much time away from the novel, I KNOW I can cause myself more grief than I care to deal with.

Have you ever done a fast draft? Did it help? Do you write even when you’re tired? What has that shown you? What are your thoughts? Questions? War stories?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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83 Comments

WHY Are We Writers? Understanding the Why Behind the Buy

 

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Now that NaNoWrMo is finished, congratulations to those who WON. I only made it to a little over 34,000 words *sad face*, but I did it with Shingles so I am grading myself on a curve :P . As a writer, being delusional is totally acceptable. I’m actually not too far from finishing the novel, so I’m happy I tried.

Anyway….

For those who might be tempted to go back and edit? I recommend stepping AWAY. Work on something different or the odds of you seeing the problems aren’t too great.

Which is why we are shifting gears here on the blog and we’re going to talk about branding and social media. Oh, the cries of despair! Hey, I am here. No worries *hands paper bag*.

Here’s the thing. Nobody has to do social media. I won’t force you. The only writers who need to create a brand and do social media are writers who want to sell books.

Simple :D .

A New Perspective

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

I think it was in roughly 2004 when I was fiddling around on Friendster and Gather that I saw the potential ahead. For generations, novelists had a DISMAL success rate. Why?

Unlike NF authors of the time, we had NO practical way to build a platform before the books were released. We also had a nightmare of a time keeping fan fires burning between books because NYC was tooled (and mostly still is) to produce about a book a year.

That was fine back in the 90s. We weren’t a society who could walk around shopping on our phones. We weren’t addicted to apps and gaga over downloadable content. By 2007, purchasing had changed and we needed to respect that to remain relevant.

Social media and the Internet fundamentally altered our culture. It’s a cake that can’t be unbaked. This means it’s our responsibility to change as well.

The Golden Circle

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve actually used Apple as an example since my first book years ago, because they’re a perfect illustration of what we’re talking about. One of the many reasons that Apple Inc. surpassed others in multiple industries is they understood the difference between innovation and novelty.

Innovation is long-lasting. Novelty is short-term. Rather than beginning at the outside of the circle, the WHAT, Apple began with the WHY.

Sure, a Mac had a great processor and was immune to most viruses and megabyte, tera-byte, whatever-byte….but look how COOL I look at Starbucks with my white laptop. I support innovation, creativity. I challenge the status quo…and I LOOK COOL.

Rather than relying on gimmicks and short-term novelty, Apple created a culture. A culture that was loyal and didn’t need a bunch of free stuff and was willing to cough up retail price.

Conversely…

Most of us remember the earlier days of cell phones. This one TAKES PICTURES. Oooh, this one is FLAT. The cell phones got so small it was simply ludicrous. Why? Because novelty is pretty easy to copy and maybe even “improve” upon.” Novelty is fleeting and rarely cements relationships.

One of the reasons Apple demolished the music industry was Apple appreciated the changes in the consumer climate. Tower Records was still scope-locked on creating and selling LPs. The problem was that music originally was something enjoyed at home…until the Walkman, then later portable CD players, MP3s, etc.

Music became portable.

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Consumers wanted to be able to go anywhere and enjoy their favorite songs, thus Apple spring-boarded off other technologies like the MP3 and made music personal. “A thousand songs in your pocket.” Personal, intimate, and simple. Apple invented the song industry. At first it was with the iPod, but then Apple merged music with our PHONES

Instead of blasting us with features we didn’t understand, Apple focused on WHY, not WHAT. Why carry an iPod and a cell phone when ONE is better than two?

What Does This Have to Do With Social Media?

One of the reasons I got into the whole social media business, was that it was clear that the consumer environment was fundamentally shifting. Yet too many companies were relying on tactics that either wouldn’t work, or wouldn’t work long-term. Any gains were (and still are) short-term.

Worse, the old methods are stressful for both the seller and the buyer.

To this DAY, I have to talk writers off a ledge when I mention social media.

My background is in sales, and I’ve witnessed this phenomenon time and again. Sure, lower the price. You’ll never be able to raise it. Give away free stuff, promotional stuff, t-shirts, free thumb-drives, pens, on and on and eventually? People are addicted to how much stuff they can get for nothing. There is zero loyalty.

This means one marketing tactic (algorithm) will work great…for a while. Then everyone starts using the same approach and it fizzles. This leaves the seller (author) with a panic attack and a migraine and less time to write more books.

Not only can the quasi-science of 90s-style marketing fail to cultivate loyalty, it can create something worse. Apathy. Beyond apathy, outdated marketing can poison a brand.

These tactics can create resentment, even hatred.

Just get 12 tweets in your feed about a free book and tell me you don’t see red.

Over the many years I have been doing social media, I have seen the same guerrilla tactics retooled and Bond-Oed. Marketing companies selling Facebook followers, Twitter followers, advertising, e-mail lists, promising reviews, etc. etc. And make no mistake, I’m not saying this stuff might not work. I’ve seen it work. Eh, kind of.

But what is the effect of years of making short-term decisions?

Which is WHY W.A.N.A. (We Are Not Alone) Began with WHY

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Why do people buy books? Why do regular people believe they don’t like reading? Why does traditional marketing not sell more books (and never has)? Why is spam SO ineffective?

Why do so many writers give up? Fail to finish? Why are they overwhelmed?

Once I began with the WHY, I could move to the WHAT and then the HOW.

And I am going to tread carefully here, because W.A.N.A.’s success has never been about me. Without YOU, it’s just me talking to myself (which I already do far more than is healthy :D ). But I saw so many writers running from the single greatest tool for success (a strong platform) out of fear, and this defined my WHY.

WE ARE NOT ALONE.

YOU are not alone.

I don’t build platforms or tweet for people or build fan pages. I don’t blog for people and have no services to sell that will find followers or score reviews. Never have. Never will. Yes, writers of The Digital Age need a strong brand/platform, but no one ever said you had to do it by yourself.

So today we are going to start with something SIMPLE.

WHY are you writing? What is your WHY? If it is to make money? Find another job or change the WHY. People are very sensitive these days and can smell manipulation a mile away…and it gives them digital HIVES.

So if our only goal on social media to hawk a book? Formula to fail.

We will start with my WHYs to make it clearer. This is VERY redacted for the sake of time. But our WHY is our foundation and it’s worthy of considering and even articulating. It’s our mission statement.

WHY do I write social media books and blog?

Because when I started as a writer I was VERY alone. I struggled because of poor or even totally false information. I had no system of emotional support to be there during countless rejections. I HATED being alone and never wanted others to feel abandoned and hopeless.

I also saw the “current” way of doing social media (roughly 2008) was short-term. I sought to INNOVATE the notion of how we did social media and REINVENT the idea of a brand. It was less about exposure and all about community and relationships. We’d learn to be deeper, not cheaper.

I blog because I love the community, serving, and if you guys don’t want to buy my book? Most of the information you need is free and in my archives, because my WHY is SERVICE.

***Though the book is a lot faster and I am not AT ALL opposed to you buying one :) .

WHY do I write fiction?

I love to tell stories and entertain. I like to escape, to enjoy another world, and want to use my gift with words to do the same for others. Take them on an adventure. Maybe I can even help them learn a little about themselves along the way.

So let’s talk about YOU. Why do YOU want to be a writer? Why did you choose vampires instead of werewolves? Why erotica? Romance over thrillers? Mystery over YA? Why children’s books? And why does this matter to your readers? Why should it? ;)

It’s there. We all have to dig deep for the good stuff and I would LOVE to hear your whys. You guys always inspire me, so DANCE CUTE LITTLE MONKE—-, um share your thoughts :D .

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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73 Comments

7 Essentials Every Author Needs to Know About Twitter

Hmmm, looks like a ticket to TWITTER JAIL

Hmmm, looks like a ticket to TWITTER JAIL

I’m still delusional that I might finish NaNoWriMo. I can write 16,000 more words in five days, right? Sigh. I’ve been away from the blog because I’m in the trenches with the fellow Nanos. Also I really needed to take a bit of a break. To help me with my pseudo-sabbatical? The AMAZING Social Media Maven Marcy Kennedy is here to help you learn how to use Twitter effectively. 

Using Twitter effectively is important. Twitter is a tool, but we can look like a tool or act like a tool if we rush in not knowing what we are DOING.

Great news is I have done all the dumb stuff so you don’t have to. Marcy might have, but I can’t speak for her (and she is kind of a Hermione) so she probably was smart enough to learn from MY dumb stuff…..

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“Marcy”

Take it away, Marcy!

***

Twitter often gets a bad reputation from people who don’t understand it or don’t know how to use it to its full potential to build an author platform. If we’re misusing it or not using it to its full potential, not only will it not help us, but we also won’t be having any fun. And social media should be fun!

So today I want to walk through the seven essentials every author needs to know about Twitter. When used correctly, Twitter can be one of the best tools for increasing traffic to our blogs and gaining new readers for our books.

Essential #1 – Which Tools Work the Best for You

Social media can feel a little like THIS...

Social media can feel a little like THIS…

When we are new to Twitter, we might not realize we have options for tweeting other than using the twitter.com website. Hint: You don’t want to actually use Twitter.com to tweet. It only gives you one column and very few options. We need something more effective to manage our tweeting.

There are two basic choices—TweetDeck and Hootsuite. (There are others, but these two are the best.) You’ll hear from people who love one or the other, so the important thing is to choose the one you like the most.

Essential #2 – How to Use Hashtags

Using hashtags allows people we’re not already connected with to see our tweets (and vice versa). Effectively using hashtags is one of the quickest ways to build relationships with new people on Twitter…if we use them well.

Since I don’t want this post to be as long as a novel, I’ll direct you to a post I did for Kristen earlier called “Twitter Basics–The Proper Care and Feeding of Hashtags.”

Essential #3 – How to Use Lists

SO ME!

Organize ALL THE TWEETS!

One of the most common complaints I hear about Twitter is that the amount of tweets is overwhelming. There’s a simple solution—Twitter lists. A Twitter list can be added to a column in TweetDeck or a stream in Hootsuite so that we’re able to watch only the tweets made by the people on that list.

Once you know how to use them, they become a powerful tool not only for making Twitter more enjoyable, but also for building a viable author platform. Twitter lists can help:

  • Make connections with agents, editors, or book reviewers
  • Build relationships with other writers in your genre
  • Keep track of subject matter experts; connect with writers who live in your area
  • Reciprocate for people who regularly retweet your tweets
  • Stay in touch with fans who contact you about your book or say something good about your writing.

Essential #4 – What to Tweet 

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We’re writers, so the temptation is to be the “all writing, all the time” channel. Tweeting about writing some of the time is fine because it helps us connect with other writers, but it won’t help us connect with readers.

Connecting with readers is about joining in conversations and tweeting links to material that your potential future readers might be interested in. If you’re writing science fiction, tweet about new scientific inventions, for example.

If you’re writing romance, your audience might be interested in posts about love and relationships, about the latest fashions, or about exotic locations. If you’re writing thrillers, you could find true crime posts and interesting tidbits from the news to share.

Essential #5 – Avoid Connecting Facebook and Twitter

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We won’t have success on any social media site unless we’re there, actively participating and building relationships. That means that connecting any two sites so that what we post on one automatically shows up on the other is a bad idea.

But connecting Facebook and Twitter so that your tweets carry over is also a terrible idea because what people look for from the two sites is different. You might think you’re saving yourself time, but you’re risking coming across as a spam bot instead.

Essential #6 – What Can Get Us Sent to Twitter Jail?

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When it comes to Twitter, there are three big no-nos that can land us in Twitter Jail. Consider these the equivalent of speeding, driving down the wrong side of the road, and driving under the influence.

  • Follower to Following Ratios

People hit the magic number of 2,000 people they’re following and suddenly Twitter won’t allow them to follow anyone new. This happens when we don’t have enough people following you compared to the number of people we’re following.

If this happens, you’re going to have to go and clear out some of the people who aren’t following you back using a tool like justunfollow.com. If your ratio is so far off that you’ve been thrown in Twitter jail, you’re not going to get out just by begging a few more people to follow you.

  • Tweeting Too Often

I’m still shocked that people have this happen given that the technical limit is 1,000 tweets per day. However, this is also broken down into hourly limits. So if you think of it that way, you’re limited to approximately 83 tweets per hour. That might sound like a ridiculously high number you’d never hit, but if you’re taking part in some kind of Twitter party (e.g., a launch party for a book), you may actually find you hit this limit.

With the growing popularity of those types of events, as well as themed chats, you need to be especially careful about this limit if you’re the administrator of the event.

  • Spammy Behavior

Most of you are probably already aware of the major spam behaviors to avoid. Kristen has done an amazing job of educating writers about what counts as spam, but in case any of you are new to Twitter or don’t read Kristen’s blog quite as dedicatedly as I do, I really think these are essential to know.

Spam = If you post duplicate content over multiple accounts or multiple duplicate updates on one account.

So let’s say you created an account both for yourself and for your book and you post the same updates to both. That technically violates Twitter’s spam policy. If you post the same updates over and over again on a single account, it’s also spam and Twitter will suspend your account for this kind of behavior.

Spam = If your updates consist mainly of links, and not personal updates.

This is another reason why the conversation aspect of Twitter is so important. This is a social media site founded with the intent of both sharing information and providing people will a quick, easy way to voice their opinions and chat with others. Be aware that if you’re only posting links, you’re technically in violation of Twitter’s user policies.

Essential #10 – How to Connect Your Website to Twitter

Original image via Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of FEMA

Original image via Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of FEMA

Our home base on the Internet should never be a social media network. We should have a website (and ideally blog on our website as well) because that is a solid foundation to build upon.

Part of what we want to do is create a circle between our blog and our social media networks. We share material on social media, which draws people back to our blog, and they enjoy the content, so they return to social media and share it with the people they’re connected with. And the cycle continues and grows.

You’d be surprised how many people chop a hole in this cycle because they don’t enable sharing buttons on their blog or website. Make sure you have a button that people can click to tweet your blog post right from your website.

Want More Help with Twitter for Authors?

Please check out my book Twitter for Authors: A Busy Writer’s Guide (available in ebook and print forms). Building a thriving social media platform doesn’t have to steal all your precious writing time or cut into your time with your family. Twitter for Authors is about building a successful Twitter platform that’s sustainable for busy people.

In Twitter for Authors, you’ll learn…
• essential Twitter terminology,
• how to set up your account,
• the differences between TweetDeck and Hootsuite,
• techniques for staying safe on Twitter,
• how to build columns and lists and use them to find readers,
• the value of link shorteners and hashtags,
• what to tweet about,
• the most common mistakes writers make on Twitter,
• how to run a successful Twitter event,
• how to manage your social media time,
• and much more!

Twitter for Authors contains helpful advice for both Twitter newbies and long-time Twitter users who want to take their platform to the next level.

 

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38 Comments

Point of View—What IS It? How to Find the Perfect Voice for YOUR Story

Geiko Caveman.

Geiko Caveman.

Monday, we talked about the Three Acts of a Writer’s Journey. The first hint we might be tipping into The Apprentice Phase is we hear the word P.O.V. and panic. What is THAT? Prisoners of Vietnam? Pets of Vegans? Pals of Viagra?

We ALL know writing a novel is FAR from easy. We just make it look that way ;) .

Today, I’m putting on my editor’s hat. Many of you decided to become writers because you love to write. Duh. I’ll even bet most of you, back when you were in school, also made very good grades in English. Thus, you might assume that you naturally know how to write a novel that is fit for successful publication.

Maybe you do. But, if you are anything like me when I started out? You might not know as much as you think you do.

Why?

Our high school English teacher didn’t care that we used 15 metaphors on one page. Why? Her goal was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor…NOT to prepare us for a career in commercial fiction. Same with college.

The single largest mistake I see in new manuscripts is the author does not understand P.O.V. and often this is why agents and people like me only need a page or two to know the manuscript/writer isn’t ready to publish.

This is an easy mistake to make, in that, as I stated earlier, formal education classes aren’t neccessarily there to teach us how to be great novelists. Some writers pick up on P.O.V. intuitively, but most of us need to be taught, lest we leave the reader feeling as if she is being held hostage on Hell’s Tilt-A-Whirl.

P.O.V. Prostitution (A.K.A. Head-Hopping)

Let’s step back in time to the days before we all made the decision to become writers. I would guess (hope) all of us were readers. We loved books, and books were a large part of what prompted our career choice. Ask yourself the following questions:

Have you ever tried to read a book, but eventually had to put it down because it was too confusing? You couldn’t figure out who was doing what, and you needed Dramamine to keep up with the perspectives?

Have you ever read a story that was so good you actually felt as if you had taken on the character’s skin? His success was yours, as was his failure. By the final page, you were sad to say good-bye?

P.O.V. used properly can create entire worlds, and breathe life into characters. Used improperly, it can make your reader feel like she’s been bungee-corded to Satan’s Merry-Go-Round—not good.

First, we have to know what P.O.V. is if we hope to use it to our advantage.

P.O.V. stands for Point of View.

Although this literary device is one of the most vital tools an author possesses, it is probably the number one style problem I encounter as an editor. I cannot count how many new writers (and, sadly, some not-so-new writers) give me a blank stare when I write P.O.V. in big red letters all over their manuscripts (and H.H., but we’ll get to that later).

The best way to describe point of view is to think of your story as viewed through the lens of the video camera. How many people (characters) are going to be permitted to hold that camera?

Image courtesy of Jon Gosier, via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Jon Gosier, via Flickr Creative Commons

Is your camera going to travel with one main character through the entire story? Or, do others get a turn? Is “God” holding the camera? These are simple questions you can answer to help you select the point of view perfect for your story.

There is no wrong P.O.V., but we do have to be consistent. P.O.V. is a HUGE factor in determining our writing voice.

What are the types of P.O.V.? What are their inherent weaknesses and strengths? For the record, this is HIGHLY redacted for the sake of time.

A quick overview:

First-Person P.O.V—uses “I” a lot. Only one character (the narrator) has the camera.

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There are three disadvantages to this P.O.V.

1. This P.O.V uses a lot of “I” which can become repetitive to the point of distraction.

2. The reader can only see and hear what the narrator knows. This limits the flow of information. Probably good for a mystery, but if you aren’t writing a mystery this may not be the right P.O.V for you.

3. First-Person P.O.V is a bugger when it comes to tense. Why? Because First-Person breaks into two camps.

There is the I Remember When camp and the Come Along with Me camp.

One is in past tense, a recollection. “I remember the day my father and I were attacked by a pack of Mary Kay ladies gone feral….”

The other is in present tense, and the reader is along for the ride. “I walk these streets every morning, but today I am just waiting for something to go wrong….”

Note of Caution: It is extremely easy to mix the two camps together. Tense can be problematic…okay, a nightmare.

The benefit of First-Person? First-person P.O.V. adds an intimacy that no other P.O.V. can, and is useful for stories where we might want to withhold information from the reader.

Third-Person P.O.V—is when you, the writer, permit one or more of the characters to lug the camera through your story.

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Um…YES.

Third Person Locked allows only one character access to the camera. The entire story is told through what that particular character can experience through the 5 Senses. So, if your character’s eyes are “shining with love,” then she’d best be holding a mirror, or you are guilty of head-hopping.

Third Person Shifting allows more than one character access to the camera. Here’s the rub. Your characters must to play nice and take turns. Only one character with the camera at a time. When the next character wants a turn, there has to be a clear cut.

Think of the director’s clapboard ending one scene before shifting to the next. It is usually a good idea to limit one P.O.V. per scene. When we switch perspectives inside the same scene, that is called head-hopping, and it will confuse and frustrate our readers.

There are advantages to Third-Person Shifting:

1. It can add additional depth and insight to your story.

2. It can allow you (the writer) to hold back information and add to suspense.

3. Third-Person Shifting can allow other characters to take over during emotionally volatile points in the story.

For instance, if your protagonist walks in on her brother lying dead in a pool of blood, the emotions experienced are realistically too overwhelming to be properly articulated by your protagonist. In this scenario, First-Person P.O.V might not be the best fit. The scene might be more powerful if told from someone watching this protagonist react to discovering a deceased loved one.

Ah, but there are also inherent problems with Third-Person Shifting.

1. Your characters must play nice and take turns. Otherwise, your reader will likely become confused and eventually frustrated.

2. It is best to permit camera access to key characters only. The reader has to stay in one head long enough to feel connected. Too many perspectives can easily become overwhelming and dilute the strength of your characters.

Omniscient P.O.V is when “God” gets to hold the camera.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 7.33.18 AM

Oh stop mucking it up and give Me the camera…

This P.O.V is like placing your camera up high over all of the action. The narrator is omnipresent and omniscient. “If Joe had only known who was waiting for him outside, he would have never left for that pack of cigarettes.”

Joe cannot experience anything beyond the 5 Senses (third-person). So, unless Joe is actually Superman and possesses X-Ray vision, it takes an omniscient presence to tell us someone bad is lurking outside waiting to do Joe harm.

There are advantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

1. Omniscient can relay information that would be far too overwhelming to describe if limited to the 5 Senses. Epic battle scenes are a good example.

2. Omniscient can give information critical to the story that the character doesn’t have to personally know. For instance, in NYTBSA Bob Mayer’s Area 51 Series (which I HIGHLY recommend), he relays a lot of factual and historical information that is critical to understanding the plot. But, it would really seem bizarre to the reader if his characters just started spouting off the history of the pyramids like an Egyptologist.

To avoid this jarring scenario, Bob used an omniscient presence to relay the information so the prose would remain remain nice and smooth and the fictive dream could stay in tact.

There are disadvantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

1. Third-Person P.O.V. and Omniscient P.O.V. are VERY easy to tangle together.

2. Omniscient P.O.V. and Head-Hopping are not the same, but are easy to confuse. I’ve edited many writers who believed they were employing Omniscient P.O.V. In reality, they were just letting every character in the book fight over the camera simultaneously, leaving me (the editor) feeling like I was trapped in the Blair Witch Project.

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Whose head am I in? I can’t tell. Help meeeee…..

Proper use of P.O.V. takes a lot of practice to master. It is very easy to shift from one type of P.O.V. to another, or what I like to call “P.O.V. Prostitution” or “Head-Hopping.”

Key Points to Remember:

In First-Person—Come Along with Me stories can easily turn into I Remember When stories (or vice versa). Tense is a big red flag. Do you shift from present to past or past to present? Pay close attention to verbs.

In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting)—Characters will only play nice and take turns if you, the writer, force them to. Make sure whatever is happening in a scene is something that could be filtered through ONE character’s 5 Senses.

In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting) —“God” is really bad about grabbing your character’s camera, so keep an eye on Him. If there is suddenly information your character has no way of knowing through the 5 Senses, that is a big clue the Big Guy snagged your camera. Just remind Him nicely of commandment number eight, and ask Him to give the camera back.

In Omniscient—“God” is in charge. Be careful your wide-lens isn’t zooming in and out and making your reader dizzy in the process.

P.O.V. is one more reason it is critical for writers to read if they hope to become great authors. Read, read, read. Read all kinds of books by all kinds of authors using different P.O.V.s to see how it is done well.

EXAMPLES:

Suzanne Collins brilliantly employs First-Person in the Come Along with Me fashion in her Hunger Games Trilogy. Her choice of P.O.V. gives an intimate feel no other P.O.V. can, and, since it isn’t an I Remember When story, Collins is able to maintain reader suspense.

Stephen King does a great job of using first-person in an I Remember When style in The Green Mile. King chose this P.O.V. for a very specific reason, which I will not say so as not to spoil the ending even though y’all have had like, TWENTY YEARS to read it.

Dennis Lehane does an amazing job of employing omniscient in Mystic River. If you think you might want to use omniscient, I’d recommend reading him.

James Rollins uses third-person shifting very well in The Doomsday Key. Third-shifting is generally a great P.O.V. for thrillers in that it helps manage/reveal a lot of information that the protag may or may not know.

I would recommend Jonathan Maberry’s Patient Zero: Joe Ledger Series.  I HIGHLY recommend Iron River by T. Jefferson Parker. Both these authors mixed third-limited and first-person and the effect is impressive.

P.O.V. when used properly can take a story to a whole new level. Read, experiment and practice. I know I just touched on a handful of suggestions, so feel free to add your thoughts, expound, ask questions.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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