Posts Tagged Rise of the Machines

Should Authors Have to “Market Themselves”?

"Crap. Revisions tore my hose. But I need to sell more books and 'market myself'…"

“Crap. Revisions tore my hose. But I need to sell more books and get out and ‘market myself’…”
Image via Darwin Bell, Flickr Creative Commons.

All right, don’t stone me, but I feel some of the marketing “buzz words” range from terrifying to annoying to outright offensive. For instance, every time I read “target your demographic” or “target your readers” I wonder if this comes with a Predator Drone or at least a laser sight.

I don’t know about you guys, but I get creeped out being “targeted.” It makes it seem we (seller and consumer) are opponents—one the cunning victor and the other the hapless dupe who landed in the marketing crosshairs.

But the one that’s gotten my hackles up over the past week or so is when writers are beating themselves up. They write things in my comments like, “I know need to try harder to market myself” or “It’s no longer about marketing my books, I have to market ME.”

NO.

If I’ve in any way contributed to this feeling, my deepest apologies. I hope this post will clear things up.

The Difference Between Market Norms and Social Norms

Two norms guide all commerce. Market norms are cold, driven by data. We pay the price on the tag. There’s no emotion, and no relationship. All purchases and exchange of goods and services is simple. We don’t go to buy a computer then are hurt because we thought Best Buy was our BFF and could have made us a sweeter deal.

Social norms guide relationships. If I open the door for you, I don’t hold out my hand expecting a tip. When I make dinner for Hubby, I don’t bring him a check with 20% gratuity factored in because I have to clean the kitchen, too. If Hubby paid me after fooling around, he might suddenly go mysteriously missing.

Transition

In the 1990s, as the TV-Industrial complex began to crumble, we saw more and more businesses blending market and social norms.

Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

For corporations, using social norms can be beneficial. If we (consumers) like a company, we are willing to pay higher prices and can have greater loyalty. BUT, this company has a much steeper obligation. Don’t call us family then exploit us. Not only will we complain, we will raze your brand to the ground on-line. Companies can’t have the benefits that go with harnessing social norms, then forget the greater responsibility.

Evolution of Commerce

In the olden days, we didn’t have a lot of choices. When I was a kid, if you wanted to buy a new TV, there were about three brands to choose from. There were also three kinds of spaghetti sauce. Most household cleansers were manufactured by the same company. Ma Bell issued a phone when you activated a line in your home. If my parents wanted a different phone or a newer phone or a phone repaired? They called the phone company.

Image courtesy of Clemson via Flickr Creative Commons.

Image courtesy of Clemson via Flickr Creative Commons.

And had THREE colors to choose from :D .

Yet, as markets opened up bringing increased competition, this presented a problem to The Big Guys who’d enjoyed gouging consumers who had no other place to go. Cheaper and even better options came along and the pseudo-monopolies began to crumble.

For instance, my husband has this COOL remote control car that can do speeds in excess of 55 mph and is extraordinarily maneuverable. When I was growing up, if you wanted a remote control car, you went to Radio Shack and took out a second mortgage on your house to buy one…and generally it worked once then died.

Remote control cars were The Great Class Divider—those who could afford one and then the rest of us.

Image courtesy of Gazanfarulla Khan via Flickr Creative Commons.

Image courtesy of Gazanfarulla Khan via Flickr Creative Commons.

Now? In 2014? I can’t believe Radio Shack is still around. Sometimes I think it’s only because we still have a population over age 70 who still shops there. My grandfather, who is almost 90, still goes there to buy batteries, proving old habits die hard.

Yet, as the years passed, emerging markets offered newer, better and cheaper options. We could have all colors of phones. CORDLESS phones. Eventually phones with an answering machine built in and then Caller ID. More and more features and bells and whistles for less and less money.

When the Internet arrived, this only exacerbated the problem. And, as computers became more affordable, Internet service did too. E-Commerce arrived. Consumers no longer wanted to browse the window of an electronics store when they could purchase on-line cheaper and get free shipping.

Thus, with the explosion of options, market norms became highly problematic. To rely completely on market norms is a race to the bottom of who can give away the most stuff and the best stuff for free. How can companies mitigate this?

Let Me Introduce “Social Norms”

When we had only a handful of choices for coffee, we bought the one mom did. We chose between caffeinated, decaf, and instant. Fast-forward 20 years.

In an endless sea of coffee choices, manufacturers didn’t want to compete on price if they didn’t have to. Thus we now pay more than double if a coffee is “Rainforest Friendly” or “Organic.” Our purchases have come to reflect our values. Case in point, the new Follow the Frog campaign:

Is it non-GMO? Gluten-free? Environmentally friendly? Recycled? Does the manufacturer donate a portion of profits to charities we support?

Even large companies are realizing Facebook can be an asset and that people don’t want endless spam and promotion. We want a company that includes us and represents our values. We are willing to pay more to those kinds of companies. We want to like who we buy from.

We gravitate to companies with a real person behind the tweets and posts. Smart companies are recognizing they need to keep a finger on the pulse of their social platforms.

When I was ready to throw the first Mac I bought through the closest Apple Store window, I tweeted about my frustration. Guess who replied? Guess who worked tirelessly to make sure I was happy?

Guess who now uses Apple almost exclusively and has become a VERY good customer?

Kristen Lamb, writing teacher, WANA

Yes, Hubby even downloaded a game for the CAT.

I was willing to pay more for a company that not only solved my problem, but actually seemed to care about it. When the HP I owned had issues (and I’d had several HPs over the course of a decade), HP ran me through and endless maze of chasing my own @$$ with confusing and impersonal on-line forms that went unanswered. They used the information to spam me instead of solving my problem.

In the end? I knew I’d pay more with Apple (and wouldn’t have any new clothes for at least five years), but I chose the company that made me feel they were on my side, that I was more than a number.

Back to the Eternal Question—Do Authors Have to Market Themselves?

We have to remember the distinction between a business and a human being. When humans start “marketing themselves” it drifts into Creepy Land. Bluntly, it makes me feel like I need fishnets, heels and a red light that hides my smile lines. Or maybe I need to take up juggling fire while wearing a costume and swallowing swords.

We strongly suspected Earl had a book for sale… Image courtesy of Rafael-Castillio via Flickr Creative Commons.

We strongly suspected Earl had a book for sale…
Image courtesy of Rafael-Castillio via Flickr Creative Commons.

Granted, all of us on some level “market ourselves.” When we apply for a corporate job, we know that we have to wear the right suit, the right smile and have the right answers in an interview if we want to land the job or promotion.

But what if we had a plan for “marketing ourselves” to make friends? A bullet-point reference to make others like us. Worse still, how ookie does it get when we actively put together a plan for people to like us so they will buy something from us?

Hey, Baby, you wanna date book?

Writers are not Geiko. We are not AFLAC or P&G or Apple. We are people. A company is a non-living thing striving to connect and be personable. Companies have always been in the goods and services business filling needs. Companies have always been driven by market norms and that’s never been a question of ethics.

When human interactions are driven by market norms? That’s called slavery and prostitution.

Writers are people. A person is a person. When I actively make a plan for people to like me so they will buy my book? I need a shower and counseling.

All Humans Have a Brand

My brand. Spongebob, Green Lantern and NERF---oh, and I write books, too.

My brand. Spongebob, Green Lantern and NERF—oh, and I write books, too.

Brand is merely what comes to mind when we think of a name. When I think of AT&T, I see red. It brings to mind hours of runaround with customer service and the half zillion times they have screwed up our bill (where we live we have no other option).

When it comes to people? They also have a brand. They could be our vegan friend who competes in triathlons or our zany friend who collects action figures and goes to ComicCon.

I don’t call Such-and-Such in an emergency because he’s a notorious flake. If I have a bad day, I call Thus-And-Such, because I know she is kind and will set down everything to let me cry.

I avoid Uncle Burney because all he talks about is baseball and is utterly oblivious to the fact that I am chewing my leg off to escape the conversation. On the other hand, I love Uncle Olaf, because he invites me to play video games with him. He laughs a lot and asks me about my writing…and cares about my answer.

We unfriend people on social media because they might be rude bullies who rant or complain non-stop. We gravitate to others because they make us laugh or are always positive. These people may or may not have a good or service for sale, but they DO have a brand.

When it comes to creating a “marketable author brand” I have zero interest in changing you beyond what would need to change in any normal social situation. Name-calling, negativity, bragging, self-centeredness, putting others down are not great habits for us to have in LIFE. Thus, we all need to ixnay them with social media or it WILL create a negative brand.

I understand some writers will have to press beyond being shy. But, being shy in our personal lives limits how much we can connect as well. I know. I used to have such bad social anxiety, the thought of talking to someone I didn’t know was enough to make me throw up in my shoes.

I attended five years of high school and five years of college and had no friends. If I didn’t want to be a loner all my life, I had to press past my profound fear of people to grow as a human being.

Self-Promotion 

We don’t like people who promote themselves in person. Why would we like them on-line? Granted, writers do have to strike a balance. I find we generally end up gravitating to extremes. Either writers blast non-stop deals, specials, contests and tours to tout their latest book or, the fact they have a book for sale is a Top Secret.

We need to find that balance. I was in Rotary for almost seven years. I knew who was a dentist, a surgeon, an accountant, or a veterinarian. I did business with them first because I knew them as people. They didn’t need to show up to our weekly meetings with flyers and coupons. They didn’t need to sit at lunch an pitch me how they were the best surgeon for removing suspicious moles.

The Two Basic Differences in a Regular Person Brand and an Author Brand

All this said, I will admit our brand is slightly different and I am going to use the word marketable extremely carefully. WANA isn’t here to slap your on-line personality in a short dress and digital body glitter.

Don’t come back until you’ve sold some books.

Yes, regular people have a brand, but most regular people don’t want to use that brand to sell books. Aside from being a nice human being, the crucial differences in a regular person’s “brand” and our “author brand” are:

Community is Part of Our Job

If a regular person disappears off Facebook for six months, it doesn’t matter. We as writers should have a goal of creating an authentic community, of creating relationships with those in our circles. Then, we are tasked with maintaining that community and hopefully growing it. If we only appear out of the ether when we have a book for sale, we become about as appealing as that cousin who never calls unless he needs bail money.

Authentic relationships will help us personally and professionally. We need a system of support. We also can be that support for others. Service is good for the soul and sound relationships are a two-way street. Book sales may or may not directly evolve from this, but it’s a better use of time than spamming victims from a purchased e-mail list.

Clarity is KEY

If a regular person wants to tweet using @I_LuvPandas, @LovelyKisses99 or @CarolinaChik, that’s fine. No one needs to know their name. Writers? If we are tweeting, blogging, whatever under a cutesy moniker? We’re wasting time. People cannot find our book if they don’t have OUR NAME.

The more layers of friction we add for others trying to find us/our books, the less likely we are to eventually make a sale. If I blog as Unicorn Fairy Hugs, tweet under @FairyGurl, am on Facebook under two or three different pen names, who can keep up with that?

People (readers) are pressed for time and will gravitate to those who don’t waste it.

When we use social media properly, our names become tied to our “brand.” In my case—social media for writers, craft, blogging, Star Wars, green juice, yoga, Gluten-Free, Lord of the Rings, The Spawn, zombies (notice my “author brand” is who I AM as a person as well).

But I’m not sitting around thinking, “Wow, I need a marketing strategy to market ME. I have to promote ME.” I’m simply doing what’s necessary to create genuine relationships. Beyond that? As a writer I have only two more necessities that distinguish my brand a) attendance b) coherence.

Same with you guys. Be present, be vested and be you. There will never be another ;) .

What are your thoughts? Does this notion of “marketing yourself” make you feel ookie, too? Does self-promotion give you hives? The creeps? Am I making too big a deal out of it? Have you bought books simply because you liked the author? Maybe it was even a book in a genre you never read? On the other side, have you avoided buying books from an author because you didn’t like them as a person? Have you ever had a business make you feel so good you were ever-loyal? Have you have a company you were loyal to take advantage of you and now you’re their best-worst advertising?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, 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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

For a LONG-TERM plan for a fit, healthy platform, please check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World

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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

When I began writing I was SO SURE agents would be fighting over my manuscript. Yeah. But after almost thirteen 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.

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.

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.

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. Without the problem, there is 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, but remember, 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.

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. I know Bob Mayer and Joe Konrath lecture writers to do less social media and more writing. To an extent I agree, but here is the thing. These guys were branded traditional authors who could slap New York Times Best-Selling in front of their names when they decided to go it alone. If you 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. We also need to work our tails off on social media. If you study the successes of the Amanda Hockings and the H.P. Mallorys, they worked like dogs. They wrote a lot of books and also created momentum with social media and newsletters.

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?

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

When Joe Konrath and Bob Mayer chastise writers to get off social media and get back to writing more books, they are giving fantastic advice. 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 #MyWANA and 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 part of why John Locke became successful.

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.

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 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

http://youtu.be/c9fc-crEFDw

My own story…

http://youtu.be/OnAbPbuFohw

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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). Comments for guests get extra POINTS!

I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital Worldand get prepared for 2014!!!!

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329 Comments

A Merry Klingon Christmas–Holidays for the ADD Nerdy Introvert

IMAG1286

I LOVE giving all year, but especially at Christmas. I so enjoy the thrill of listening to people throughout the year, paying attention to what they want or need or can’t bring themselves to buy (but they really want it). I especially love shopping for the Angel Tree and buying bags of awesome food for the food bank. There are few things more rewarding than standing behind someone in line who’s struggling and embarrassed they have to put things back…then stepping in and saying, “It’s all on me. Merry Christmas.”

Hey, I vividly remember being so broke I had no power and lived on .99 boxes of crackers. I wouldn’t trade those days for the world, because it makes blessing others a million times better.

This is why I want to be a bazillionaire. Not only so I can have a solid gold statue of Darth Vader, but it would just be too cool to sit in a restaurant and pay for someone’s meal and never say a word. Or buy someone’s groceries as a surprise. Or carry around hundred dollar bills and, when I see someone in need, say, “You dropped this” and wink so they know it’s a blessing.

Anyway, first I was kidding about the solid gold Darth Vader statue (plated is fine). I really wanted to talk about Christmas shopping.

I generally have one of two plans.

Plan A: Organized Kristen

This is where I make a list and, throughout the year pick up special items for each family member and put them in labeled boxes. In known Kristen History, this has happened three times. But one time might just be urban legend.

Okay, two times *hangs head*.

Plan B: Running-With-Her-Hair-On-Fire-Kristen

detest crowds. I am (believe it or not) an introvert and need to be medicated to shop in a store where there are more than twenty other people (aside from staff). For years, I did all my grocery shopping at 4 a.m.

Plan B is where I wait until 6:00 a.m. Christmas Eve to do all my shopping in an hour. Hey, so everyone gets Snuggies and Chia Pets, right? Kidding. In modern times, capitalists have learned to accommodate slackers like me. Often, stores restock and the selection is great, the prices better and NO PEOPLE.

SCORE.

I’m one of those people that does better shopping last minute, and not only because I’m lazy. I am terrible at waiting. If I get someone a super cool gift too early? They’re likely to get it at Halloween (and then I just end up shopping on Christmas Eve morning anyway). But one year, I did have the World’s Most Epic Present and I waited.

This was back when my dad was alive and I inherited this gene of “not being able to wait until Christmas morning to give the universe’s COOLEST gift” from him. For weeks we giggled, “I got you the BEST GIFT EVER. You are NEVER going to guess!!! Muah ha ha ha ha!”

The waiting was sheer torture for both my dad and for me. Then, finally….Christmas morning arrived. We squeeeeeeeeeed as we handed each other the PERFECT GIFT….

….and realized we’d both bought each other the SAME thing. A language series (tapes, dictionary, etc.) on How to Speak Klingon.

Screen Shot 2013-12-24 at 10.08.19 AM

Hey, I suppose the geek doesn’t fall far from the tree.

So, QISmaS botIvjaj ‘ej DIS chu’ botIvjaj!!!

(That’s “Merry Christmas” in Klingon. I’m going to put this on ALL my cards next year provided I am organized to send out cards next year. Might start now…)

So Merry Christmas to all of you. Thank you for your generosity and love all year long on my blog. You have no idea how much all of you mean to me. I love hearing your thoughts, ideas, opinions and just seeing you. I’ve had a really tough two years (orders for Hubby to deploy to Afghanistan, The Spawn’s accident and $20,000 of maxo-facial surgery, six deaths and three major surgeries, and on and on and…on).  I don’t think I would have made it without you guys. I couldn’t have remained positive without all the love you guys so freely give because you are made of AWESOME.

What about you? Do you have any cool holiday traditions that don’t involve bail money? Suggestions? Hey, I know when I am out of my depth and am humble enough to consult the World’s Most Brilliant Hive Mind (y’all, DUH). Any funny Christmas stories? Are you a slacker or are you organized? Have you ever had the situation of buying the same present for another person? What’s the best/worst gift you’ve ever gotten? What’s the best gift you’ve ever GIVEN? It’s okay to brag :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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). Comments for guests get extra POINTS!

I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World and get prepared for 2014!!!!

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68 Comments

The Best Horror Writers You’ve Probably Never Read (But Should): Part 5

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Mr. Muggles.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Mr. Muggles.

Today is our final segment from AMAZING author and WANA International Instructor Kevin Lucia. Why horror? If you’ve followed this series, you now know many of the books you might already love are actually horror, but tend to be classified under different names—science fiction, dark fantasy, noir, etc. So for us to shiver and say, “Oh, I don’t like horror” is funny because most of us have been enjoying horror for a long time.

Sort of like how Mom hides the green veggies in a cheesy casserole ;).

Oh, what vegetables? Look at all the CHEESE!*whistles innocently*

Horror is a very important, but often misunderstood and overlooked genre. Yet, it is one of the most powerful. Much of the literature that has endured for generations and even altered society and science can thank horror. A great example? Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (every ambulance now has chest paddles to use electricity to restart a heart). It took a horror author to wonder about death and what constituted life. Could it be prolonged? Should it be? Horror authors are known for asking the tough questions and are unafraid to give real answers sans candy-coating.

Take it away, Kevin!

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There are some writers’ whose work transcends the horror genre. And then there are some writers who can literally write whatever they please, virtual “jacks of all traders.” That’s the focus of today’s blog, a handful of writers who have written just about everything, and then some, “horror” being only one aspect of their talents.

Everyone should know Robert E. Howard. Hopefully, many folks reading this blog are nodding, thinking: “Of COURSE we do. He invented Conan the Barbarian. Solomon Kane. He wrote horror, sword and sorcery, Lovecraftian tales, weird fiction.  He wrote fabulous westerns, and probably helped invent the weird western. He’s ROBERT E. HOWARD, for Pete’s Sake.”

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 8.35.54 AM

However, if you DON’T know Robert E. Howard, you need to rectify that situation as quickly as possible. His bibliography is staggering, considering his career came to an abrupt end with his suicide at age thirty. And his prose his something behold. It drives with this rhythmic, pulsing power that, in anyone’s else’s hands would sound ridiculous and overwrought, but somehow, coming from Howard sounds powerful and unrelenting.

A caution: like Lovecraft, he did unfortunately indulge in racial caricatures at times. We don’t have the space to debate that here; but those who want to investigate his work should know that up front. That being said, “Black Canaan” and “Pigeons From Hell” are two of my all time favorite stories. For his westerns, I recommend The End of the Trail. For an eclectic mix of his fiction, The Black Stranger. For his Solomon Kane tales, The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane  and for a collection of his horror stories, The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard.

Who would I consider the contemporary equivalent of Solomon Kane? Well, even though he’s never neared the same kind of output, the obvious choice would be Norman Partridge.  First of all, Norman’s blog is one of the few author blogs I actually read on a regular basis. Never pretentious, though he sometimes writes about writing and offers advice, most of the time he writes about what he loves: Universal horror films, pulp and Noir fiction, cars…you name it, be he blogs about. His fiction is not to be missed, either. It offers that same hard driving, rhythmic pulse that Howard’s does…but Partridge has his own unique voice.

And his tales vary. He’s written some of the best Halloween-themed fiction I’ve read in recent years, and his Stoker Award Winning Novel Dark Harvest should become an annual Halloween read, along with his short collection that’s linked to the world of Dark Harvest, Johnny Halloween: Tales of the Dark Season. His collection Lesser Demons was like a crazy mix of Bradbury, Howard, Lovecraft and King, all in one volume. Slippin Into Darkness is a crazy-fun Noir/Crime/Horror/Ghost Story mix, and I’m not sure WHAT genre his Jack Baddalach novels Saguaro Riptide and The Ten-Ounce Siesta fit into, but that doesn’t matter, because they’re adrenaline-laced crime/noir/mystery craziness that read faster than greased lightning.

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Another writer whose reach extends past the horror genre is Al Sarrantonio. He’s written westerns and science fiction, but honestly, his horror fiction is the best. And, like a lot of the masters, his work has been re-released in ebook format, though used copies of  the paperbacks are still readily available.

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His “Orangefield” cycle (Horrorween, Halloweenland, Hallow’s Eve) novels invoke all the cider and autumn spice of Bradbury andare entertaining and lyrical. Totentanz, (think Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, but with bite) October and The Boy With Penny Eyes offer some fine, fine reading, and his short fiction collection, Toybox, offers short fiction that maybe outshines his novel-length work. And the best part? So much more Sarrantonio out there.

So we’re at the end of our journey, for now. I hope I’ve turned your attention on toward a group of horror writers who are (or, in some cases, were) among the best in the business. Again, I can’t claim I’ve read everyone, and there are still so many that need to read myself, but these are the ones I’ve discovered and read over the past five years that have impacted me deeply, as I hope they impact you.

THANK YOU, KEVIN!!!! *stands and applauds*

Horror Author Kevin Lucia

Horror Author Kevin Lucia

Kevin Lucia has worked as an Editor for Shroud Magazine and a Submissions Reader for Cemetery Dance Magazine, and is now an Associate Fiction Editor for The Horror ChannelHis podcast “Horror 101” is featured monthly on Tales to Terrify and his short fiction has appeared in several venues. He’s currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English at Seton Catholic Central High School and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles and his first short story collection, Things Slip Through is NOW AVAILABLE from Crystal Lake Publishing.

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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). Comments for guests get extra POINTS!

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21 Comments

What “Finding Nemo” Can Teach Us About Story Tension

Image via Pixar's movie "Finding Nemo"

Image via Pixar’s movie “Finding Nemo”

Storytelling is in our blood, it binds us together as humans. On some intuitive level, everyone understands narrative structure, even little kids. All good stories have a clear beginning, middle and end. Ever try to skip parts of a story with a toddler? Even they can sense on a gut level that something is wrong if we miss a fundamental part of the story.

Thus, often when I am teaching new writers how to understand narrative structure, I use children’s movies. Frequently the narrative structure is far clearer, as well as the Jungian archetypes that are present in all great fiction. Additionally, all fiction can be boiled down to cause, effect, cause, effect, cause, effect. But, beyond that, novels are broken into scenes and sequels. For those who missed this post, I highly recommend you go here.

So how do we know when to cut a scene?

How do we knew when to begin and end chapters? How do we know what to trash and what to keep? Structure and conflict are like two gears.

Gears cannot turn unless there is another key wheel turning the opposite direction. No opposition, no power, no momentum. Same with a story.

All scenes have action. Action is more than a car chase or a bomb being diffused. Action does not mean a “bad situation.” All stories must have one main story goal, a core problem that must be resolved for the story to end.

Find Nemo.

I love studying children’s movies because they make it very easy to see and understand fundamental story structure.

In the Pixar film, Finding Nemo, what is the story goal for Marlin (the Clown fish father and protagonist)? Find his only son. How do we know when the movie is over? When Marlin and Nemo are reunited and safe at home, right?

Who is the Big Boss Troublemaker in Finding Nemo? The BBT is the character responsible for the story problem (the CORE antagonist). The BBT is Darla the Fish-Killer, who we, the viewer, don’t even see until Act II. Darla is the horrid little niece of a dentist who likes to go diving. The dentist (Minion) collects little Nemo from the ocean as a birthday gift, beginning the adventure of a lifetime for Marlin and Nemo.

In Normal World, Nemo and Marlin live in a sea anemone. Overprotective father Marlin finally allows little Nemo to go off school (pun intended), even though everything in his life revolves around keeping his son safe. This decision to let Nemo go to school is the inciting incident. If Nemo never went to school then he would never have been taken by the diver dentist.

The turning point into Act One is when Nemo is taken. That gives the clear story goal and the journey of the story is clear—Finding Nemo.

Today we are only going to look at scene antagonists who drive the action.

Obviously Marlin will not find Nemo right away. That would make for very boring fiction. No, there are a series of sub-goals that must be met to find his son.

Marlin takes off after the boat, but then fails to catch up.

He loses the boat and all seems lost, when he runs into another fish, Dori, who says she knows which way the boat went. Marlin follows, renewed in the chase and hopeful he will find Nemo, but then his new ally turns on him wanting to fight. She is unaware why Marlin is following her. Marlin soon realizes the only link to finding his son is a fish ally who suffers short-term memory loss.

Great.

We, the audience, think the journey is over, but then she tells him she does remember where the boat went. Marlin wants to go after his son, but then Bruce the Great White interrupts.

At first Marlin and Dori look doomed, but then Bruce collects them to join him in the Fish are Friends Not Food meeting (think shark AA—Fish Anonymous). So instead of Marlin being able to continue on his journey, he must stop to attend this Shark FA meeting.

He has to play along lest he get eaten and not be able to continue his journey. To make matters worse, the FA meetings are held in a sunken sub that is surrounded by mines. So we have outside obstacles—mines—and character obstacles—the Great White addict needing a Fish Friend for his meeting.

Marlin wants to look for his son. Bruce wants a fish friend to attend his FA meeting. This is what Bob Mayer teaches as a conflict lock. Please check out Bob’s books if you want to learn more.

At this point, Bruce is not Marlin’s enemy, but see how he is the antagonist? Bruce’s wants are in direct conflict with Marlin’s. Only one party can get his way. Marlin is held back from achieving his goal.

Through a fun series of events, Bruce ends up losing it and going after Marlin and Dori with the fervor of any addict as his shark buddies try to keep him from totally “falling off the wagon.” Marlin and Dori swim for their lives and while running, Marlin spots the diver’s mask (The diver dentist who took Nemo dropped his mask). The journey, otherwise, would have ended, but a wild twist of fate has renewed the search.

They have a clue and apparently Dori, the Forgetful Fish Ally that Marlin was going to dump at the first opportunity, can READ. He needs her.  But they must escape Bruce and get the mask.

They escape Bruce by detonating all the underwater mines, but then both Marlin and Dori are knocked unconscious. They awaken and realize that they are pinned under the sub, which is now sitting precariously off an undersea trench. The mask and only clue to finding Nemo is wrapped around Dori. As they try to look at the mask, the sub starts to slide and they lose the mask.

Scene goal. Marlin wants to get the clue, but then the submarine sends them fleeing for their lives. Just as they grasp for the mask, it drops down into the deep.

See how Marlin is progressively worse off as the story progresses? He seems farther away from finding his son, when in reality these are the necessary steps to FIND Nemo.

All looks as if it is lost. Marlin goes to give up, but his unlikely ally encourages him to go on and swim down in the deep to find the mask. Marlin has a chance to give up. He could at this point go home and give his son up for lost, but that would make a seriously sucky story. Marlin is a control freak who is ruled by his fears. He has to learn to be the master of his fears in order to rescue his son. Hemust press on in order to find Nemo. He swims down into the abyss as all good heroes should.

Marlin WANTS to find the mask, but then he and Dori soon realize it is nothing but blackness and they cannot see to find the mask. All seems lost. Ah, but then they spot a pretty light in the darkness…which turns out to be an angler fish that wants to eat them both.

Marlin wants to find the clue (mask).

Angler fish wants dinner.

Do you see how every break the protagonist gets comes with a new test? This is why it is so critical for us to at least start out with our story’s log-line. What is our story about? Learn more about log-lines (BIG story goal), here.

If the screenwriters didn’t know that the overall goal was for a neurotic fish father to swim to Sydney, Australia to rescue his son from a dentist’s fish tank before Darla the Fish-Killer’s birthday…this would have been a booger to plot. In ways it still is. How do we get Marlin from the Great Barrier Reef to a dentist’s office in Sydney? This is where setting sub-goals (scenes) makes life easier. When we know the ending, the main goal then it is far easier to plot the course.

Each scene needs a key wheel—an antagonist—to provide the opposition that will drive forward momentum.

Bruce the Great White and fish-addict in recovery is not Darla the Fish-Killer (the BBT), but he does keep Marlin from his journey…finding Nemo, so he IS an antagonist. In retrospect, Bruce’s intervention was fortuitous in that they never would have been in the area of the ocean where the one clue—the mask—was dropped.

Every scene needs an antagonist. Scenes MUST have conflict. No conflict? Not story. No forward momentum. We must always take a good hard look at our scenes and ask the tough questions. Ask, “What is it my protagonist wants? Who is in the way?”

If no one is in the way, then who can we put in the way? Conflict can even be as simple as allies disagreeing about a course of action—chase after bad guys or call the police and play it safe? Will the Elves take the Ring of Power to Mount Doom or will the Dwarves?

If everything is happening easily and all our characters are getting along? That’s a formula to bore a reader. Scenes where we have our protag thinking? That isn’t a scene, that’s a sequel. If a character is thinking, it better relate to something that just happened (a scene) and what to do next (next scene).

A “scene” that has characters talking about other characters is contrived information dump, not a scene. We can offload information in dialogue, but that cannot be the only purpose. Scenes are sub-goals—action blocks—that lead to solving the final problem.

I have a class coming up in a couple weeks, Creating Conflict and Tension on Every Page if you want to learn how to apply these tactics to your writing. Use WANA15 to get 15% off.

Does this clear things up that might be a little murky? What are some of your favorite movies that demonstrate these same story tactics?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of August, 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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NOTE: My prior two books are no longer for sale, but I am updating them and will re-release. My new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE.

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The Personal Apocalypse—When are We REAL Writers?

Raise a glass to yet another BONK on the head.

Raise a glass to yet another BONK on the head.

It would be lovely if, when we decide to pursue our dream to become a writer, that friends, family and acquaintances would roll out the red carpet of support. Maybe some of you are fortunate enough to have had this happen, but I’d wager most of us could have joined a cult of UFO worshippers in New Mexico and received a better response.

New Level, New Devil (Thank You, Joyce Meyers)

Any time we seek to do something remarkable, something that deviates from “normal”… expect rejection. I was “fortunate” to experience a personal apocalypse so massive, that up was the only way to go. With a misdiagnosis of epilepsy, I’d lost my job, my home, my savings, my health, my identity, and my pride. I’d suffered such a sweeping personal extinction that I very literally had nothing left to lose.

Why not become a writer? I’d always wanted to, but was too busy trying to please those who would never be pleased.

Brief History of Kristen’s Failed People-Pleasing Attempts

I’d joined the military to make my father happy. He wasn’t. After being a high school drop-out TWICE, I worked my tail off and won a full medical scholarship to become a doctor and please my grandparents. My grandmother’s first words to me when I announced I’d won a $250,000 scholarship?

“They must have been short on their quota for women.”

I fractured my back in an ice storm in 1995. No more medical scholarship, so I majored in what interested me.

I earned a degree in International Relations, specifically Political Economy of the Middle East and North Africa. I was going to change the world! The day after graduation, I boarded a plane for Syria and lived with refugees and mingled among the Bedouin and tried to see how things could be “fixed.” They couldn’t. At least not by me.

Defeated, I returned home.

Lost as to what to do next, I went into sales to please my grandfather (the business brain of the family). I was terrible at it. And yet I kept trying to fit myself into worlds where my strengths and talents had no place. In trying to please others, my health deteriorated drastically from stress. I remember every day going to work and having to pull over and puke. I hated what I did THAT much.

After I lost everything due to that fateful misdiagnosis, I decided to become a writer. I’d been working on my tome for years. I was sure it would be a best-seller and shut up all my naysayers. It wasn’t. It was a train wreck. I realized this when I joined a critique group and they promptly filleted me and my manuscript.

Thus, in a new personal low, I reverted back to trying to please others and got another brilliant idea.

“I know. LAW SCHOOL.”

I bought an LSAT book but never studied. I guess I thought I’d learn through osmosis. Anyway, it would have been great if I’d tanked, but I didn’t. I scored a 168 without studying. Now I was truly in a panic. Until the day I received my scores, I hadn’t been honest with myself. I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I’d just thought maybe my family would let up on me for a while then I could write while I “studied” to do better.

But, no. I was accepted into one of the top law schools in the country.

CRAP.

Crisis Point

I’d always believed in service. I was a Rotarian and had done mission work and humanitarian work for most of my life. So, my mother (my sole advocate) and I went to talk to the church elder to get some advice about law school versus being a writer.

For some reason I expected him to support my writing dream, but was basically told I was a fool and most writers wash out and starve and that writing wasn’t a “real” job.”

*Makes mental note of how many BOOKS were lining his office*

When I left, I was in tears and ready to give up on writing. Had it not been for my mother, I would have. I’d have gone off to law school then later hurled myself in traffic because I would have been chained to yet another profession that wasn’t my calling.

How Could ONE PERSON FAIL So MUCH?

Faith is the belief in things ahead that won’t make sense until we look back. This is one of the reasons I blog so much to teach you guys more than craft, more than social media. I want to teach you that it isn’t over until we give up and that failure provides the necessary ingredients for success.

If I hadn’t been a high school dropout, would I have had the tenacity to never give up?

If you read my new book, it’s loaded with neuroscience, economics, epidemiology and humor. If I hadn’t majored in Neuroscience for three years, then earned a degree in Political Economy, would I have been able to tether all these concepts together in a book that could help artists?

The same analytical skills that helped me on the LSAT helped me pull apart what worked and didn’t work with selling books. Why don’t ads sell books when they sell plenty of mascara, diet plans and computers?

If my first novel had been perfect, would I have had to take on jobs editing and reverse-engineered every book I’d ever read to learn? Could I teach craft had I naturally been “brilliant” at it? If I hadn’t landed on my @$$ so many times, would I have developed the sense of humor that makes all these concepts FUN?

Failure as Fertilizer

When we first moved into our new home, our yard was essentially mowed field. The dirt was nothing but rocks and hard clay. When I planted my first flowers, they shriveled and died. So I planted different flowers and they died too.

So then I planted different flowers and they caught on fire and fell into the swamp died too. But, finally, after rounds and rounds of dead plants, the flowers started to thrive. All that had died had provided what was missing, the vital ingredients for life to THRIVE.

THEY LIVE! Only took FOUR YEARS to BLOOM.

THEY LIVE! Only took FOUR YEARS to BLOOM.

Your “failures” feel like bull$#!&, but bull$#!&  makes fabulous fertilizer :D. You just need time, work and patience to bloom.

Embrace the Apocalypse

Becoming a writer isn’t easy. We get called “aspiring” writers until we land a sweet three-book deal with Random-Penguin. No one calls a pre-med student an “aspiring doctor.” They don’t call a pre-law student “an aspiring lawyer.” So, as I’ve said before, screw aspiring. Aspiring is for pansies. You are NOT an aspiring writer, you are at the very least a “pre-published writer”.

Writers write, so if you are writing, you are a WRITER.

Ignore the naysayers. They’ll be your biggest fans one day when you prove them wrong. Raise a glass to your failures. They will provide the ingredients for magic in your future writing. Let the old fall away. A lot of an apocalypse is releasing the old, the out-dated and the junk that doesn’t work.

I had to let go of trying to please others. I had to let go of failing at destinies that weren’t mine. I had to let go of amateur thinking and take my job seriously, even if no one could walk into a bookstore and buy my book (yet). Know that you have stories only you can tell, subjects only you can teach or explore (for the NF authors). You were born to do this and ignore anyone who tells you any different.

If your friends and family don’t support you, the WANAs will. Join us on #MyWANA on Twitter or on WANATRIBE. When we try to hold onto the old and fail to embrace the apocalypse and embark on our true journey, we look a lot like this.

What are your thoughts? Did you have a personal apocalypse that prompted you to throw caution to the wind and become what you always wanted to be? Are you like me and struggle with people pleasing?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of July, 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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NOTE: My prior two books are no longer for sale, but I am updating them and will re-release. My new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE.

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100 Comments

Thrillerfest, The Publishing Apocalypse & Why Is There Cause to Celebrate?

My first signing at Craftfest. Um, never mind there are no books. I TRIED!

My first signing as a Craftfest presenter. Um, never mind there are no books. I TRIED!

Thrillerfest is a phenomenal conference packed full of experts and even heroes. It’s also a unique conference in that it takes place in NYC, right in the heart of traditional publishing. One of my major goals for WANA has been to serve writers—ALL writers. Publishing has been a One Size Fits All model for generations, and a lot of great writing has been collateral damage.

In fact, the paper-driven paradigm had driven many forms of writing to the brink of extinction—short stories, novellas, poetry, serials, pulp fiction, epic fiction, etc—simply because these types of works were a bad investment for a business that must turn a profit in order to survive and keep investing in new authors.

WANA LOVES ALL WRITERS

WANA has always made it a point to never make authors feel they needed to choose sides. Traditional is a better fit for some authors and indie isn’t for everyone. Self-publishing is far from a panacea. Each one has strengths and weaknesses and I explore that in Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World.

The key to building the perfect platform for your career is to make an honest assessment of which publishing path fits your personality, your work and your needs. WANA is not a Social Media Snuggie.

I’m a huge fan of the new paradigm, namely because we are seeing an explosion of creativity. New genres are being birthed and old forms are being resurrected. I’ve spent many, many blogs imploring NY to realize that self-publishing and indie publishing do not have to be enemies. Yet, last year I was excruciatingly frustrated when I returned from Thrillerfest.

Some people felt I was being mean in that post, but when you love something you sometimes need to be tough. Last year, when few seemed to be acknowledging the pink elephant (Amazon) in the room and some comments about self-publishing were utterly inappropriate, I was annoyed at the lack of foresight.

And, when I kept hearing mantras like, “E-books are a fad” “People love bookstores” and “Readers will always want paper”?

I wanted to scream.

Borders was already dead and gone and Barnes & Noble had been experiencing major losses. If things didn’t change? Authors would be hurt the most because (at the time), I believed leadership wasn’t looking ahead. They were too busy protecting what had always been.

I felt like Jerry MacGuire:

Help me, help you!

Thrillerfest 2013---Kind of a scary welcome. My blog wasn't THAT bad.

Thrillerfest 2013—Kind of a scary welcome. My blog wasn’t THAT bad.

“If You’re Not at the Table, It Means You’re on the Menu”

I read the above quote out of John C. Maxwell’s latest book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. It really spoke to me and helped me realize the root of my frustration with traditional publishers over the past few years. They’ve consistently refused to sit at the table of the new paradigm and that meant they were on the menu (placing its authors on the menu as well).

The Publishing Apocalypse

A federal judge recently ruled that Apple illegally conspired with five of the six biggest publishers to inflate prices in the emerging e-book market. Apple will be disciplined and the big publishers are certain to take a hit as well, though actual damages have yet to be ruled.

While the big publishers remain insistent they’ve done nothing wrong, it seems unlikely they will take on the Department of Justice a second time. This means Amazon is poised and ready to absorb even more of the book market.

William Lynch, CEO of Barnes&Noble resigned early this month after devastating earning reports made it clear that Barnes & Noble was losing the battle to Amazon. Their Nook had failed to keep pace with other devices like the Kindle Fire and the iPad, despite B&N’s partnering with Microsoft.

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Aaron Charlton

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Aaron Charlton

According to the New York Times article by David Streitfeld, E-Book Ruling Gives Amazon and Advantage, “The verdict in the Apple case might have been a foregone conclusion, telegraphed by the judge herself, but it emphatically underlined how the traditional players in the book business have been upended. Only Amazon, led by Mr. Bezos, seems to have a plan. He is executing it with a skill that infuriates his competitors and rewards his stockholders.”

Barnes & Noble, upon Lynch’s departure, appointed Michael P. Huseby former CFO to CEO. Additionally, according to another recent article by Julie Bosman in the New York Times Chief Leaves Barnes & Noble After Losses on E-Readers“Max J. Roberts, the chief executive of the college division, will report to Mr. Huseby, while Mr. Huseby and Mitchell S. Klipper, the chief executive for the retail stores, will report to Leonard Riggio, the company’s chairman.”

These decisions hint that this is a likely a step toward “separating the digital and retail divisions, as the company has indicated it might do. Barnes & Noble has been in talks over a potential sale of its digital assets, as well as its 675 bookstores.”

What Does This Mean?

All of this points to an ominous sign that the bookstores likely will be broken up, which is why I’ve been adamant that writers (and traditional publishers) stop relying so much on the brick-and-mortar-model, since it was clear from history (Tower Records & Kodak) that these retailers would likely experience record contraction or go away altogether.

(I doubt bookstores will disappear completely just reinvent as I mentioned in this post last year The WANA Plan to Save Bookstores & Revive Publishing).

This has been another reason I have been passionate in my crusade to educate writers how to create an author brand on-line using blogging and social media. If the bookstores go away or shrink to the point of inconsequence, our only lifeline for success is the Internet.

Historically, bookstores have been the main hub where readers discover authors. That has completely changed. If we fail to appreciate this, we plan to fail.

After All of This, Why Was Thrillerfest So Encouraging? Welcome to the “Lifting of the Veil”

Rather than bringing in a big publisher to talk about favorite books and ignore the consumer landscape, ITW (International Thriller Writers) recruited Russ Grandinetti, Vice President of Kindle Content and Kindle Direct Publishing to speak. They also invited Createspace to be an active part of the conference and allowed ME to teach blogging at Craftfest, which shows they are looking to the future (or that they need better security :D).

Grandinetti’s speech left me in tears.

FINALLY!

Grandinetti spoke about how it is a brilliant time to be a writer and how traditional and non-traditional don’t have to be adversaries (Sound familiar?). By using the new tools available, authors (even traditional authors) can keep fires burning with fans in between books and help big publishers reinvent and become more profitable.

Authors are now free to write serials, shorts, prequels and maybe even try new genres. Authors can stretch as artists after being in a severely restrictive business model for so many generations. We now are seeing the emergence of the hybrid-author, just as indie giants like NYTBSA Bob Mayer predicted years ago.

(And a major reason WANA never chose sides. I always believed one day they might work together).

I nearly passed out when mega-author-legend David Morrell asked for help understanding how to improve his metadata and when Anne Rice spoke about her love for Facebook. The energy this year was completely different. Rather than attending a wake, it was like attending a baby shower. The excitement for the future was palpable and it was a joy and it was an honor to witness this.

*and the choir sings*

Yes, an apocalypse can mean destruction—destruction of outdated operations, old thinking, ineffective models—but like a forest fire, an apocalypse also opens room for something new and vibrant and even stronger to emerge.

The fact that the biggest authors in the business were now looking at new ways of doing things? *happy dance* Finally, everyone agrees that stories and information, authors and readers are more important than keeping the status quo. YAY!

We are in scary but wonderful times and no matter which path you choose to take, please know two things:

1. ALL authors need an on-line platform.

2. It is the best time in HUMAN HISTORY to be a writer.

I knew NY had it in them. And, though the judgement against Apple and the major publishers does have a dark side (namely that competition keeps markets healthy), we can at least rejoice in this awakening and hope this leads to improved business creativity. Hey, NYC can learn a lot from writers :D.

What are your thoughts? Do you feel encouraged? Overwhelmed?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of July, 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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NOTE: My prior two books are no longer for sale, but I am updating them and will re-release. My new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE.

Also, Remember there is a class on Antagonists THIS Friday (recorded if you can’t make it). Use WANA15 for 15% off.

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59 Comments

Facing a Social Media Apocalypse? Sometimes We Need to Mend the Hearts We Hurt

Original image via WANA Commons courtesy of Cellar Door Films.

Original image via WANA Commons courtesy of Cellar Door Films.

When I wrote my new book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World, I picked the title for a very good reason (aside from the seriously cool Terminator reference). We are HUMAN authors in a digital world. We aren’t machines.

Since this week’s theme is “apocalypse” (carrying the torch for Piper Bayard), I thought this would be a good topic to discuss, because when we do screw up and hurt someone, it can truly feel like the end of the world.

Truth is, we are flesh and blood people with bad days and baggage. Granted, the lessons in the book (and this blog) are designed to help us navigate the sea of 0s and 1s with greater ease, but to assume we won’t ever oops, bungle, or just plain show our butt is unrealistic.

Last week I wrote a post Are You Alienating Friends on Facebook & Fracturing Your Platform. There was a writer, who quite unwittingly, offended me. Being overtired and touchy, I reacted. Now, I could have left my far-less-than-ideal response out of last week’s blog and looked like the Shining Pillar of Awesome, but one thing I’ve always striven for in my relationship with you guys is authenticity.

I want you to know that even “experts” have bad days. We check messages when we know deep down we need a pizza and a nap. We screw up.

Sigh. No Social Media Sainthood for Kristen.

Yeah, This is Gonna Hurt

We live in an age of authenticity, and to be authentic sometimes…well, sucks. I’d love for you guys to think I’m pink and fluffy and better than unicorn stickers. But I goof. Granted, I make it a point to goof as little as humanly possible, but sometimes? I stick my foot in it….and then in trying to get my foot out of it, stick the other foot in and then fall and get a mouthful and both hands and face stuck and….yeah, it becomes an On-Line LaBrea Tar Pit.

Original Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Spasoff

Original Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Spasoff

Even those of us who know better can get touchy and type before thinking. We err. It all goes with that “being humans and not robots” thing. Hey, I regularly tell you guys my book should be named I Did All the Dumb Stuff So You Don’t Have To. While it’s a humorous title, I am not kidding. I really have done all the dumb stuff so you don’t have to.

We can talk about ways to avoid these pitfalls, but I’ve already done a lot of this in my blogs and book. I think the bigger question today is, “What can we do when we’ve shown our butt and are staring down the barrel of a brand apocalypse?”

Own It

About two months ago, someone started a Facebook thread regarding a certain celebrity. The tone of the question that began the thread hinted that it wasn’t a serious discussion. Just a discussion of whether we thought celebrities were nuts. Yet, as the thread evolved, there became a distinct mixture of serious and joking banter.

Soon, it became difficult to decipher which was which.

Instead of me just shutting up, I tried to bring a balance of debate with humor into the thread. Big problem though. We don’t have the benefit of facial expression or tone of voice and humor can easily be lost or misinterpreted. I failed to see that point when I just needed to be quiet and I very unwittingly hurt some feelings.

My humor was taken as insensitivity and my passion on the matter was taken as bullying. I didn’t mean to bully. Doctors misdiagnosed me for two years with epilepsy (was actually a SEVERE gluten allergy). No matter how much I protested the diagnosis was wrong, the doctors were relentless.

They were top neurologists and what did I know?

Eventually, this misdiagnosis destroyed my career and my health, bankrupted me and left me homeless and unable to get a job because no employer was going to take on an epileptic (which is how I became a writer, ironically). It took nearly ten years to dig out of the financial mess and I still suffer long-term effects from taking medications I should never have been prescribed.

So I never intended to plow over people, but my own experiences have made me very wary of trusting everything a doctor says.

But looking back? This thread wasn’t the proper forum for that discussion.

The next day, when I realized some of what I’d posted had been taken very differently than intended, I feel I did two important things (that weren’t easy, btw). First, I clarified my position, but then I didn’t defend beyond that. I took the mea culpa and admitted I was wrong…because I was.

I was dead wrong.

Beware of Shifting Terrain

I believe as the digital world changes and evolves, sometimes we don’t see the Social Media Fault Lines until we are stranded under a pile of debris begging for someone to throw us a rope. It’s why I added this FB thread experience to my new book.

Oh, sure, I knew not to get in rants in blog comments or froth about politics and religion…but celebrities and medicine?

Never saw that going sideways. Seriously.

Original image vis Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Gabriel Pollard

Original image vis Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Gabriel Pollard

But I do now. Kristen CAN be taught! *happy dance*

I can guarantee I won’t make that mistake again (just New and Improved ones :D). I learned. I’ve seen similar threads since then and my first thought? Kristen, you do not have a dog in that fight. Even threads that look funny on the surface. If they are regarding something people can get emotional about? I steer clear. Hey, live and learn *shrugs*.

Do We Want to Be Right? Or Be Happy?

In my mind? I choose happy. The next day when one of my followers blogged about Mean Girls on Social Media, she didn’t name names because she was classy like that. She gave me an opportunity to own my mistakes.

Embarrassing as it was, I outed myself in the comments and apologized. I never meant to hurt anyone, but I did and that’s all that mattered. So I needed to apologize and ask forgiveness.

Same thing with the message from last week. My next message to this person after our tiff?

“Please forgive me for being a touchy @$$clown. I was tired and had the skin of a grape and there’s no excuse. I deeply apologize. What can I do to help you with your new book?”

I’m super happy I swallowed my pride because I made a new friend, FOR REAL. We have had so much fun talking and sharing content and this person writes in a genre that is one of my favorites. Just like this writer was going to miss out on a potential BFF by dissecting me from his FB following (and hurting my feelings), I very nearly missed making a BFF by being a touchy jerk (and hurting his).

Never Underestimate Falling on Your Sword for the Greater Good

Just like that writer had no idea he would hurt me, I’ve had times I’ve said things I had NO CLUE might wound others (like the notorious Celebrity Thread of DOOM). For me not to extend the digital olive branch would be hypocritical.

We all have bad days and if we want grace, we’re wise to be liberal at offering it, too. It’s no guarantee we can right the wrong (which is why staying out of trouble is still the best option), but it is still a step in the right direction. Building hearts is always better than trying to repair them.

We All Know the Basics

Don’t rant about politics and religion. Don’t rant when we get a bad review. Don’t leave mean/hateful comments. Don’t react out of anger. Most of us do a pretty good job of keeping that stuff straight. It’s the gray areas where we get in trouble. Sometimes it’s tough to sense when we are too tired, strung out and should just find a cave somewhere. Sometimes we are trying to be funny or poignant and blow it.

If we spend any amount of time on social media, we are guaranteed to step on toes and hurt feelings. The key is to remember that love should be paramount. Pride and “being right” is highly overrated. And often, when we do own our mistake and ask forgiveness, the relationship is stronger. So never be afraid to just say, “I’m sorry.”

What are your thoughts? Have you ever put your foot in it and had to make things right even though it sucked? Come on! I can’t be the ONLY one….please. Have you ever taken the high road and it worked out for the best? Have you fallen into some social media traps we might not be aware of? Have you ever been a super awesome person who forgave someone like me who acted like an @$$hat and were you glad you did?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of July, 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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NOTE: My prior two books are no longer for sale, but I am updating them and will re-release. My new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE.

Also, Remember there is a class on Antagonists THIS Friday (recorded if you can’t make it). Use WANA15 for 15% off.

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59 Comments

The Stuff of Legends—Creating a Character Apocalypse

"The Lincoln Lawyer" by Michael Connelly

“The Lincoln Lawyer” by Michael Connelly

My friend Piper Bayard is away for a few days and she asked me to pick up the Apocalypse Torch for the week. It is so tempting to write more about zombies and Kardashebola or Sharknado and maybe we will. But, today, we are going to talk about the apocalypse—what it is and what it means for really great writing.

When we hear the word “apocalypse” we think of doomsday prophesies, Mayan predictions, global catastrophes, and Mad Max movies. It conjures images of the end of the world. Yet, if we look to the original Greek word, an apocalypse, ἀποκάλυψις apocálypsis, from ἀπό and καλύπτω meaning ‘un-covering’, translated literally from Greek, is a disclosure of knowledge, i.e., a lifting of the veil or revelation (via Wikipedia).

When it comes to writing a great novel, the apocalypse must be present externally (plot) as well as internally (character growth). The story problem, created by the antagonist, is what provides the crucible that leads to change. There is an unveiling on two levels. First, the solution to the story problem (unveiled over time) and secondly, the protagonist has an opportunity to grow from regular person to hero.

Protagonists Need Baggage to Become Heroes

Most of us have done this. We begin with the uber-perfect protagonist. She is beautiful, speaks twenty languages and saves kittens in her spare time…and she’s utterly boring. Why? First, we can’t relate since most of us are far from perfect.

But why the uber-perfect character is dull is there is no room for an apocalypse. There is nothing to shake her out of the stupor of existing and introduce her to living. There is nothing personally at stake because there are no fears to face. A fully-evolved character has no room to GROW.

An apocalypse is most interesting when there is massive change we witness. For instance, if a tornado hits a junkyard, it just rearranges the existing mess. But when it wipes out half of Joplin, Missouri? We are moved and emotional because change is on such a large scale.

Now reverse this. If our character is too perfect to begin with, when the apocalypse happens….eh *shrugs*.

In Normal World our characters flaws are working for him, or so he believes. It’s the story problem that reveals the error of his thinking, that there is more inside him than he believes. The more baggage a character is carrying, the more interesting the transformation.

One of my favorite examples of this is Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer. Mickey Haller is a sleaze bag defense attorney who operates out of the back of a Lincoln Continental. He defends the worst of the worst because nothing frightens him as much as representing a truly innocent man. The guy is a total bottom-feeder who knows how to manipulate the justice system. But what happens when he comes face-to-face with real evil? Can he live with who he is?

Crisis point.

Crisis point.

Now, if Mickey Haller was a crusader who’d been fighting for justice since he was a small boy playing Superman in between earning badges as a Boy Scout? Boring. But a guy who defends drug dealers, murderers and pimps and can still sleep at night? The guy with no apparent conscience? THAT is an interesting character and one ripe for an apocalypse.

In The Lincoln Lawyer, not only does the story unveil an evil unimaginable, but it also unveils the most unlikely of heroes. The person who’s always been perfect to defend the bad guy now is the only one who can take him out.

Picking the Perfect Story Problem

This is one of the reasons we discussed beginning with the antagonist first this past Friday. If we begin with the antagonist and then create the story problem, it becomes far easier to envision the flawed protagonist who is the perfect guy or gal to solve the problem (and know precisely how this character must grow along the way).

When it comes to The Lincoln Lawyer, who better to destroy true evil than the guy whose been making a fortune defending evil? What is the threshold that causes someone as low as Mickey Haller to change? And since he believes he’s a slime ball, what can happen to change this internal belief so that, in the end, Mickey rises to be a hero?

Another great example is Ree Dolly in Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s BoneRee lives in the trailer park and has no interest in her future. She’s too locked in the hell that is her present. Unlike Mickey Haller, Ree is a good person. She takes care of a mentally ill mother and two much younger siblings, living hand-to-mouth while her father is in and out of prison for cooking meth.

Stirring the pot can be fatal.

Stirring the pot can be fatal.

What is her flaw? She keeps her head down and doesn’t make waves.

There is an unspoken rule in hillbilly culture. Family is everything. Never turn on family. But what happens when family turns out to be the enemy? When Ree’s father doesn’t show up for court, Ree finds out he put up their home and the land it sits on as part of his bond. She must find her father—dead or alive—to save her mom and siblings from losing everything. Yet, to find her father she’ll have to take on the most terrifying adversary of all…her own family.

Seeking the truth is painful...

Seeking the truth is painful…

She can no longer keep her head down and get by. She has to make waves. For Ree, this is a personal apocalypse.

But again, notice how creating the antagonist/story problem reveals who the protagonist is and the precise way to create a hero. We begin with a hillbilly culture, steeped in secrets, and pit one of their own against them. The conflict is deep, intimate, ugly, personal and all the right ingredients for an award-winning story.

To Help

I am running an on-line class this Friday about antagonists. Use the WANA15 code for 15% off and the class is recorded if the time doesn’t work for you.

If your story isn’t moving, you’re stuck, plotting is making you want to OD on brownies, it might just be you need to alter or strengthen your antagonist. We will also talk about scene antagonists to keep the momentum increasing in your novel.

What are your thoughts? Questions? What are your favorite character apocalypses from books or movies? Why did they inspire you? Do you use these to inspire your writing?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of July, 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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NOTE: My prior two books are no longer for sale, but I am updating them and will re-release. My new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE.

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33 Comments

The Power of Facebook, Friendship & Why We Shouldn’t Use a Nail Gun to Slice a Pork Roast

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 2.55.52 PM

Yesterday we started talking about Facebook and ways to make friends and influence enemies. Just so y’all know, the writer who insulted me is now a peep. We kept talking. I apologized for having the skin of a grape and this person told me I was right and they had NO idea the tone of the message was as insulting as it was.

We chatted about social media and WANA ways and had a blast, and it was awesome to make a new friend. This writer felt super bad. But, I mentioned that it all worked out for the better because, had I not been insulted, we would never have talked and gotten to know how much we had in common (though I do not recommend insulting people to make friends).

See, told you guys sometimes tough love is in order ;).

So What’s the Deal?

I believe most of the problems with writers mishandling Facebook stems from a failure to understand how Facebook works. Between urban legends and plain dumb social media advice, writers are inadvertently making social media WAY harder than it has to be because they are fracturing their focus and diffusing all their efforts.

Thus, today we are going to start doing a little myth busting.

My Friends and Family Don’t Care About Writing Stuff

Okay, friends and family, regular people? That is code for “READER.” Writers all create one big happy writer party and talk to each other, but writers can only buy so many books. And frankly?

We are oversold and worn out.

If we only include writers, our platforms can easily become inbred and then all they do is drink cheap beer and listen to Tammy Wynette….then start firing a shotgun in the air. Keep it up and your platform will bring home a bass boat.

Moving on…

It’s estimated that as much as 75% of the population believes they would one day love to write a book. This means THREE-FOURTHS of the population believes they are writers….even though they aren’t writing. So if we cut out regular people, we are actually just cutting out people fascinated by writers and writing. They LOVE writers, even if it is to be a fly on the wall and maybe catch on to how we create the magic.

Sure friends and family might give us a hard time about deciding to write, but often this is birthed by jealousy. They believe they have stories to tell, they just haven’t found the bravery to do it. They will often be the best salespeople we have, even if they don’t read what we write.

Okay, Even If They Don’t Care

Humans are a helpful bunch. How do we show love? We give unsolicited advice, provide solutions, and answer questions. If Aunt Lola doesn’t like vampire books, but a lady in her sewing circle complains that she needs to get a gift for her granddaughter who is slap-happy in LOVE with vampires? Who will Aunt Lola INSTANTLY think of?

This is called “word of mouth.”

quilters

But I Will Fill Up Their Feed With Stuff They Don’t Care About

Remember I said you need to understand how Facebook works? Facebook wants you to have as pleasant of an experience as possible because…um, then you show up and get addicted and let dinner burn because you’re too busy quoting Bruce Campbell on an Army of Darkness thread on Kristen’s wall.

Newsfeeds will only show content from people we have engaged with. So if your family or coworkers could give a flying patooty about writing? Odds are they are never “Liking” or commenting on those threads, so guess what? Your stuff eventually won’t appear in their news feeds (and never underestimate the modern human’s ability to ignore stuff that doesn’t interest them).

This is why fan pages can be a serious sticky wicket. We can’t engage with a monument to someone’s ego.

If all I am posting on my fan page is information about my book or signing events or promotions, it’s more of the advertising we are all scrambling to escape. Modern humans are BOMBARDED with ads and can’t even go to the BATHROOM without an ad shoved up our nose. For more on this, read my post:

Why Settle for Your Reader’s Wallet When You Can Get in Her PANTS?

We don’t like ads. We don’t share them and we cannot connect with them. We are also in an age of information GLUT. How many of you woke up this morning and thought, “You know what I need? More crap to READ!” I hear social media experts tell writers to provide information. Be experts. Post links to articles.

For the love of chocolate, NO!

No offense, but novelists are not experts, you are storytellers. 

The blunt truth is that if we need to know something we will google it. But aside from that, I want to point out something VERY IMPORTANT. Information connects on the LEFT side of the brain, the analytical side. FICTION, however, is emotional.

***This works for NF writers, too, btw.

HOW EFFECTIVE IS IT TO SELL A RIGHT-BRAIN PRODUCT WITH A LEFT-BRAIN APPROACH? That makes no sense. Even home insurance commercials try to connect with emotion. They don’t pay for a thirty minute commercial about statistics. They post THIS:

Let Us CARE

This is why it is especially important for fiction authors to engage. Connect emotionally. You have an emotional product. People can’t connect emotionally to yet another DBW article about how Barnes & Noble’s stock is tanking.

They CAN however connect to kittens, Sharknado, tales of missing socks, superheroes, kid stories, pet stories, Mayhem and Grumpy Cat. They have more to say about bacon than Smashwords or our book being free on KDP.

There are writers who seriously believe that Facebook is out to get them because their fan pages are being hidden. NO. It’s just that, in the Digital Age, there is a steep price for being boring.

It isn’t your job to visit my author page to pay homage to Kristen’s ego.

Engage us, talk to us, stop selling to us and guess what? We will like coming to your page. And we will have fun and “Like” stuff, comment and SHARE your content. Then guess what?

And this is the cool part.

Since people will enjoy hanging out and talking on your page?  Your fan page (or personal page) will show up in their news feeds. You won’t have to pay to promote. Awesome, right?

Common Sense

How many of you loooooove hanging out with people who won’t stop talking about themselves? What? No one? *crickets chirping*

So if this behavior isn’t a good idea for dating, the workplace or a dinner party, then why in the name of marshmallow peeps is this considered a good plan on social media? How many of you have a family member or friend who never talks to you unless she is selling Amway, Avon or vitamins?

Do we like those friends/family members? Or do we filter their calls?

Use the Tool, Don’t BE One

Facebook has over a BILLION active users so it is highly advantageous for authors to use it, but it’s a tool. We need to use tools properly or we will wear ourselves out and look stupid…like using a nail gun to slice a pork roast. Makes a mess, is ineffective and renders said victim pork roast inedible.

In my new book talk a lot more about Facebook and the advantages and disadvantages of both the personal page and fan page and how to manage them without ending up on a roof armed and shouting, “This is my BOOM-STICK!”

Lisa-Hall Wilson, our WANA Facebook expert will also have classes up at WANA International sometime today. Her classes are FANTASTIC and she is super generous with Facebook tips every Friday on the WANA International fan page.

So any AH-HA! moments? Thoughts, observations? Tales about using a nail gun to slice a pork roast? (Please include pictures).

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of July, 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 novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NOTE: My prior two books are no longer for sale, but I am updating them and will re-release. My new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE.

At the end of July I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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65 Comments

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