Archive for category Writing

Why I Hate “The Giving Tree”–But How This Story Makes Us Better Writers

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I’m going to say something possibly unpopular and perhaps a bit strange. I hate the children’s book The Giving Tree, even though oddly, it was my favorite book. I remember being five and reading the story and just weeping for the tree, feeling devastated. Understanding what she was feeling. I recall hating the boy and the self-centered narcissist he grew up to be. Taking and taking and never giving.

Why did the narcissist cross the road? Easy. She thought it was a boundary.

As a child I was obsessed with most of Shel Silverstein’s work, memorizing poems from Where the Sidewalk Ends. But maybe my early fascination with Silverstein highlights what good writers do for their audience, no matter the age.

While many people love The Giving Tree and hail it as a wonderful tale of unconditional love, there is also the other camp who finds the tale remarkably disturbing. But look at what this simple story says about its audience.

Point of View

First of all, I wonder if the story is much like those images we see in self-help books. One person sees an old hag and the other a beautiful young woman staring in the mirror. Does the child who comes from a kind and loving family see the maternal tree as a caretaker who loves no matter what? No strings attached? Or is the child seeing a reflection of the dance of codependency and narcissism around them?

Children are very smart. They see with much more honest eyes than most adults.

Reflection of Self

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of DualD Flip Flop

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of DualD Flip Flop

I’ve talked about this before in my post, Drop the Donkey. I honestly believe that stories we gravitate to as children says a lot about our fundamental nature, our strengths and weaknesses.

I always loved the parable of the Tortoise and the Hare, namely because one of my strongest traits is my persistence. I loved the parable of The Crow and the Pitcher because I was always good at finding clever ways to solve seemingly impossible problems. The stories I loved possibly reflected back personality qualities that even at a very young age, I possessed and was even proud of.

But then there was my dark side, a side I noticed even by the tender age of four when I was sounding out the words And the tree was happy. My tendency to people please (Old Man Whickutt’s Donkey) and my seeming inability to set a boundary with those who would take and take until I had nothing left to give (The Giving Tree) and me happily enabling my own self-destruction. The anger I felt toward the tree being a fledgling anger I felt for myself.

Why did the boy feel the need to take all the apples? All her branches? Why couldn’t he just take some? Why did the tree feel the need to offer all her apples and all her branches? Couldn’t he see he was killing her? Did he even care?

When it came to her trunk? Why didn’t she tell him to just go pound sand?

God, how many times have I done the same?

Less is More

As writers we are often guilty of too much brain-holding, of coaching the reader. We want to control every emotion, perception and description yet often less is more. When we leave blank space for the reader to fill in, the fiction can have room to blossom into something unplanned for. The story becomes richer and the experience more visceral because it transforms into an echo of the audience’s self-projection. Thus instead of one fixed interpretation, we get countless.

We end up with a story that is told and retold for generations simply because we all disagree about what it’s even about.

Shel Silverstein didn’t write The Giving Tree with plans that it was a cautionary tale against toxic relationships. He didn’t write it to be some Christ-like example of selfless love. He wasn’t writing a tale of capitalism run amok or misogyny. According to him, he simply wrote a story about the complicated dynamics of human relationships. We, as the reader, assign whether this is a tale of warning or wonder, horror or hope.

Good Stories Make Us Look at Ourselves

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Geriant Rowland

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Geriant Rowland

One of the reasons humans gravitate to stories is we learn through them. There is even scientific evidence to support that learning becomes far more embedded in memory when it is delivered in the form of story. We are wired for narrative. This said, we all struggle in certain areas and stories are a great way that we can experience cause and effect, trial and failure through others. We have a safe place to learn the hard lessons.

Often if I encounter something that upsets me or makes me angry I know it is because it is something that is bothering me about myself. Instead of avoiding the feeling or dismissing it, I have learned instead to explore it and ask why.

I think this is why good fiction is so vital. Yes there is a place for the fantasy character we all long to be. The market is filled with beautiful tough heroines who know Kung Fu and bake cupcakes the Navy SEAL men who love them.

But then there are the other kinds of stories.

Great fiction will not just tell our story (the one we plotted), but it will tell the story of our readers, too.

Empathy, Injustice and Grief

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Spawn when he realized Daddy was ordered to deploy to Afghanistan.

Our culture is guilty (my POV) of assuming that every child’s story is to serve as a role model. Don’t bully. Be a good friend. This is what happens when you learn to share. But literature serves a higher purpose.

Isn’t the point of being a parent to rear a fully developed person more than simply being an activities director? That we are charged with rearing a grownup with fully developed empathy and a sense of injustice? Doesn’t it say something when a child reads a story like this and is incensed at the injustice of it all?

The children’s movie Inside Out explored how dysfunctional we have become regarding human emotion. We aren’t permitted to be angry, sad, disappointed, jaded or hurt. We can be depressed (because there is a pill for that). Yet these “negative” emotions serve a purpose. It is okay to be angry and sometimes it is downright warranted. It is all right to be afraid.

Our culture has become obsessed with never being offended and yet being offended is vital. There are things that should offend us. That is when real change is possible.

Insulating entire generations from ever experiencing negative emotions is in a word? Psychotic.

Silverstein didn’t believe in happy endings being a necessity. He felt that set children up for failure, that things didn’t always work out. That if every book had an HEA then children would wonder what was so wrong with them. They didn’t always get an HEA in  their lives. What were they doing wrong?

Nothing, my Wee One. It is life. Fair is a weather condition.

Good stories also serve as catharsis. We need to watch comedy because we do need to laugh, but you know what? Sometimes what we need is a good cry, too. And maybe we aren’t yet “evolved” enough to cry over what is going wrong in our own lives, but we can cry for a beautiful tree that was rendered a stump.

And that makes us all just a little bit more human.

What are your thoughts? Did you love or hate The Giving Tree? Do you find yourself reflected in that story? Have you, too, struggled with not allowing people to take every single apple and branch? What other works of fiction left blank spaces you were allowed to fill? Or allowed you to be angry or maybe even cry?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, 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).

Check out the other NEW classes below! Including How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis/Query Letter TOMORROW! I have also included new times to accommodate the UK and Australia/NZ folks! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

NEW CLASS!

TOMORROW! Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn.

WEDNESDAY October 5th Your Story in a Sentence–Crafting Your Log-Line

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

Those who miss being in the first ten will get a deeply discounted workshop rate if they would like their log-line showroom ready.

SATURDAY, October 8th Blogging for Authors

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

This class is going to cover:

  • How author blogs work. What’s the difference in a regular blog and an author blog?
  • What are the biggest mistakes/wastes of time?
  • How can you effectively harness the power of algorithms (no computer science degree required)
  • What do you blog about? What topics will engage readers and help create a following?
  • How can you harness your author voice using a blog?
  • How can a blog can help you write leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner?
  • How do you keep energized years into your blogging journey?
  • How can a blog help you sell more books?
  • How can you cultivate a fan base of people who love your genre.

Blogging doesn’t have to be hard. This class will help you simplify your blog and make it one of the most enjoyable aspects of your writing career.

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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49 Comments

Adding Depth to Your Fiction—Body Language 101

Dog Body Language

Image by Gopal 1035

Today regular guest writer Alex Limberg is back with a post that will make any of your dialogue scenes sound so much smoother. His piece is about body language. Raise your eyebrows and drop your chin in delight, because Alex is about to help you get under your readers’ skin with your dialogue. Also, you should definitely check out his free checklist about “44 Key Questions” to make your story awesome. Now clap your hands: 3… 2… 1… here we go:

***

“Crossing my bridge on your flying rhinoceros? You better reconsider that,” the troll said and raised his fist.

When you are reading the sentence above, you know immediately what the situation is about: The troll is threatening the other person (and a flying rhino is coming your way). And the reason you know exactly what’s up is, you guessed it, the fitting description of body language. Body language is added in just four tiny words. But those four words add a lot of depth to the scene.

The physical snippet makes your reader visualize the scene; it puts the graphic image of a big, green, threatening troll fist in his head.

It also brings some nice variation to your dialogue; it’s more interesting than a plain, boring dialogue tag (“the troll said” or “the troll shouted.”)

It introduces character and overboiling emotion – you know it’s better not to tangle with the green guy.

And finally, it adds some physicality to your story, as opposed to just “blah, blah, blah” dialogue and scenic description. It makes for well-balanced speech.

Troll Warning

Image by Gil

All of this is the power of using body language.

Here is a short Body Language 101 that will help you with “puppeteering” your characters’ bodies:

1. Use Body Language Only From Time to Time

If you use body language too much, it will become annoying and obvious and lose its subtle qualities. Instead, only describe characters’ facial expressions and postures from time to time. Make them smoothly blend in with the dialogue and the other scenic description.

Sneak your body expressions into the mix unobtrusively. Remember that you have several other options to “tag” and break up your dialogue lines:

  • You could use a dialogue tag (“Let’s go to the party then!” Sandra squealed.)
  • You could describe what the characters are doing (“Let’s go to the party then.” Sandra held the invitation out to him.)
  • You could describe what else is happening in the scene (“Let’s go to the party then!” Suddenly the doorbell rang.)
  • You could just leave the dialogue line standing alone (“Let’s go to the party then.”)
  • You could describe a facial expression, posture or movement of the character who is speaking and put it directly before or after his dialogue line, to let the reader connect the dots himself (“Let’s go to the party then.” Sandra’s face lit up.)

Try to vary these options, so none of them gains the upper hand and becomes annoying. That way you will get a well-balanced and structured scene that pays equal attention to dialogue, characters and descriptions.

When you insert body language, always do it in passing and don’t give any extra weight to what you describe.

2. No Explanation, Just Body Language

If you want to look really stupid, you could write like this:

“So surely you can tell me where you were on the evening of the twenty-second of October?” George asked with eyes narrowed to slits, because he felt very suspicious about Blake’s story.

This example does both, showing and telling. That’s one too many, and the too many one is the telling part! Cut out “because he felt very suspicious about Blake’s story.

When you write like this, you also take your reader for stupid. Let her connect the dots herself – if she has followed the story, she will know why Georg’s eyes are pressed to slits.

Try it like this:

“So surely you can tell me where you were on the evening of the twenty-second of October?” George asked, his eyes narrowed to slits.

That’s much better, now we don’t even have to go inside George’s head artificially, we can just describe objectively what the reader sees.

Whenever possible, don’t name the feeling, but just show the body language. And definitely never put both of them (body language and description of feeling) together in the same sentence.

Showing, not telling is sometimes not easy to do when you are caught up in the writing process. That’s why I created my free checklist about “44 Test Questions” to make your story great. It’s a comprehensive, no-holds-barred list about what I learned makes a good story, and you can download it right away.

Body Language 1

3. Have a Very Clear Idea of What Your Character Is Feeling

Take a look at this ambitious description of body language:

“Randy held one hand in his other behind his back, then suddenly stroked his throat while he was leaning towards Linda.”

What’s happening here? Nobody knows, Randy’s behavior is too much. As far as we are aware, it doesn’t make any sense. It seems like the writer pays attention to the undertones so much, that in the end he is not really saying anything.

Don’t write so cryptically that nobody can understand where your character is coming from. A simple description of one piece of body language at a time is absolutely enough. You, the author, always have to be clear about what your characters are feeling. And their body language has to match those feelings.

4. Follow Your Intuition When Describing Body Language

But where can you take an accurate description for flattery or envy from?

Your best bet is to take it from yourself. Imagine you feel flattered by an enormous compliment, like the best compliment ever. What expressions would your face, your arms, your body be making? Totally immerse yourself in the feeling like a good actor, and see which body expression fits.

Remember the last time you felt really envious about somebody? Use that memory to immerse yourself in the feeling for a second and ask yourself how your body would react.

Reading a book about body language is also an excellent idea. The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease is a very systematic and comprehensive guide to everything you ever wanted to know about body language. I recommend it whole-heartedly.

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5. Several Types of Body Language You Can Use

Our bodies have several ways of giving our secrets away. Here are some examples and a bit of inspiration on what’s possible:

  • Facial expressions: The human face is an endless source of expressions. Think of raised eyebrows, tightly pressed lips, blown up cheeks, wrinkled noses, wide eyes, frowned brows, poked out tongues, widened nostrils… most feelings show through several features
  • Body postures: Crossed arms, legs wide apart, foot put forward, leaned back upper body, spread elbows, locked ankles, body pointing away, tilted head… all of these have something very distinctive to say
  • Body movements: Adjusting tie, nibbling on temple of glasses, whipping foot, raising hand with palm toward opposite, flicking the hair, putting hands in pockets, grabbing the other’s upper arm, scratching one’s nose… do you know what all of these mean?

Equipped with all of this knowledge, you now have an extremely elegant and effective way to describe what’s really happening under the surface of your scene. You can now go fill your characters with overflowing emotions and life.

Once you manage to describe how their feelings subconsciously pour out of them, your figures will automatically take on a life of their own and feel like they were standing next to you in your living room. And your reader won’t be able to keep from loving or loathing them whole-heartedly.

Photo, Alex Limberg

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Polish your dialogue, plot, characters and much more to greatness with his free checklist about “44 Key Questions” to test your story. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and in the movie industry. He has lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Thumbs up, Alex!

It’s Kristen again, and I’m back to ask you: Are you guilty of completely neglecting body language in your stories? Do you have a favorite body part or movement to describe? Aren’t knees so much cooler than elbows? Do you ever forget to jump up and down when you are happy?

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, 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).

Check out the other NEW classes below! Including How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis/Query Letter! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

NEW CLASS!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn.

Sign up early for $10 OFF!!!

Blogging for Authors

September 17th

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

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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23 Comments

Does FB Sell Books & Do Writers Need a Facebook Fan Page?

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Social media is powerful for connecting us (our books) with the very people we wrote them for to begin with. But, we are wise to appreciate that creating a brand and cultivating genuine and passionate fans is not going to happen overnight. The deeper the roots, the stronger the brand and the platform.

Why that is important is if we keep chasing the newest shiny, we fail to ever gain compounding results. We are chasing fad after fad. Thus a saner approach is to build places that are the most stable.

***Yes, we can build on Instagram and SnapChat and the like, but that will come with more risk and possibly devour time we need to write more books.

The blog is still the strongest and most resilient form of social media. Blogs have been around since the 90s and unless the Internet goes down? Blogs will remain.

But other than a blog (at least for the moment) Facebook is the next strongest and most resilient. I recommend Facebook because I come from sales and in sales we had a saying: Fish where the fish are.

The readers fish are schooling on Facebook.

But here is where I often get a disconnect with writers. The first thing I often hear is Facebook doesn’t sell books!

And this statement is both correct and incorrect.

ALL social media is horrible for direct sales. Why?

It isn’t the place for it.

Trying to conduct direct sales on social media is akin to me showing up to a friend’s BBQ and toting in a portable table, boxes of books and a cash box then setting up shop next to the potato salad.

It’s rude. I would be invading that social space with a selfish agenda.

However, this doesn’t mean that going to the BBQ is completely useless for book sales. As I talk and chat with people and they find out I am a writer, they get to know me (hopefully like me) and this sparks curiosity and interest that could likely turn into a sale.

Additionally, if the person likes my book, there is a far deeper loyalty because I am the author they are “friends” with.

Facebook Doesn’t Does Work

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Facebook, like a hairdryer, a screw driver or a jack hammer is a tool. Just because we are not getting the results we want doesn’t mean there is something wrong with the tool. We have to know how it works and how to use it for the results we desire.

We first need to understand the purpose of the fan page and this is where it can get sticky.

I do not recommend brand new authors with nothing yet for sale to have a fan page. First you don’t need one since you are not yet conducting any business. Secondly, it’s a formula to want to overdose on tequila and cookie dough when the only “fans” you have after three months are your mother and ten friends from your kids’ Aqua Tot class.

Building a fan page this way is excruciatingly difficult. This is why I recommend building your personal page first.

Your personal page is the foundation that will later support the fan page.

It can help you get to know people, and they get to know you and that you are a writer. Once you hit a couple thousand “friends” you can then build your fan page OFF your personal page.

This holds many advantages.

First, it makes navigation simple. You can simply switch back and forth across the two pages. Here is the view from the top of my personal page. I can switch easily and see if I have messages, etc.

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Also, because folks have spent months getting to know us on the personal page, it is far easier to post a message:

Hey, finally getting an author page. Would you mind giving it a “like”?

The personal page has a lot more ability to socialize with others and this is the place you do the bulk of your initial networking.

Of course, you might now be asking, “Then why do we need a fan page at all?” Good question.

Why DO We Need a Fan Page?

YES. And the reason is that Facebook is very strict about keeping business and socialization separate. Now, this doesn’t mean we are the “all-selling-books-all-the-time-channel” on the fan page, then we only act like a human being on the personal page.

It only means that we cannot conduct commerce on a personal page without risking Facebook deleting our profile for violating the Terms of Service.

We CAN, however, post about books or classes for sale and promote them on a fan page. That is the purpose of the fan page.

Additionally, as your platform and fan following grows, eventually you will need a page that can accommodate over 5,000 people. A great problem to have, btw😉 .

We DO NOT Need to Pay to Promote

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A few months ago I attended a conference where I was not speaking, but I do enjoy learning from others so I attended the social media class.

*bangs head on wall*

This particular “expert” was busy scaring the bejeezus out of authors and telling them they needed to go to LinkedIn instead because no one sees your content unless you fork out cash to Facebook.

That was patently false.

We have to understand how Facebook chooses what goes in anyone’s newsfeed. Facebook runs the same way search engines do. They use algorithms to make sense of our behavior and give us more of what we interact with and less of what we ignore (because it assumes it is of no interest).

This holds true for the personal page and the fan page.

Recently, I posted a picture of my nephew on my personal page. I then got a distraught message from my aunt. All the other family members had gotten the image in their newsfeeds, but she did not. She was worried she’d offended me and I’d somehow blocked her.

I assured her it was not the case.

What happened was this aunt was very passive on Facebook. She never hit the like button or shared anything I posted (unlike other family members). Over time, FB assumed she was not interested so it no longer offered my content in her feed.

I told her that all she had to do to fix this was go to my Timeline and click like on a few things and maybe leave a comment or two and the algorithm should correct.

So Why Do Some Have to Pay?

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Why authors end up having to pay to promote is they are failing to appreciate how algorithms work and are choosing content that does not work in their favor.

They are using the fan page for direct sales and people don’t want that. They post a lot of BUY MY BOOK and talk about upcoming releases and book covers and events which is all fine within reason, but that is ALL they are sharing.

Most people will just scroll past and they aren’t likely to interact with that kind of content, let alone share it.

The fan page is still supposed to be social. The only difference is that we are allowed a book table at the back of the room without offending anyone.

What happens though is that writers keep posting content no one is interested in engaging with. How Facebook tries to help is it offers us the ability to pay to alter the algorithm back in our favor.

But mind you, we can do this for FREE on our own simply by engaging and acting much the same way as we did on our personal page. I regularly get over 80% engagement and I have never paid Facebook a dime.

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NYTBSA Lisa Gardner has an excellent fan page. Yes, she talks about her books, has everything easy to see and buy but she also talks about all kinds of other things that gets people talking and sharing and engaging.  Ann Rice is another author who ROCKS the fan page. Same with Jonathan Maberry.

By the time we are spending the lion’s share of our time on our fan page, we really are there for true fans so we get more leeway how much we mention books. But notice even ANN RICE still talks about ballet and recipes and feel-good stories. She isn’t the BUY MY BOOK channel.

There is a lot more to using Facebook for advantage, but we have to get these basics first or we will just end up frustrated. Once we understand how Facebook gets content in front of our audience, we can then adjust our behaviors to offer us the advantage.

Does this help? Were you getting frustrated with your fan page? For the newer writers, are you happy you don’t have to rush out and get a fan page today? I recommend looking at authors who do the fan page well and learning from them. No need to reinvent the wheel!

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, 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).

Check out the other NEW classes below! Including How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis/Query Letter! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

NEW CLASS!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn.

Sign up early for $10 OFF!!!

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 16th

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

Blogging for Authors

September 17th

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

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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60 Comments

Writer’s Block? How to Get Your Novel Unstuck

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We’ve all been there. When we started off with this brilliant story idea we just simply knew this was the one. This story we would finish. This time would be different.

*insert screeching breaks* (pun intended)

Then we hit a wall. We simply can’t seem to move forward no matter how hard we try. We might even go through the Kubler-Ross Stages of Death and Dying.

Denial

Oh it isn’t that bad. I just haven’t had enough caffeine.

Anger

What the hell was I thinking? A romance? No one wants to read about love. Love is dead. Readers want diet books and recipes with kale.

Bargaining

Maybe if I just go add in some super clever metaphors it will all improve. Can one use emojis in fiction? I find smilie faces spice up my Facebook posts. Brilliant!

Tiffany was thrilled Dane asked her to dinner😀😀😀❤❤❤😀😀😀

Okay, not brilliant. Note to self. Tell NO ONE you thought this might be a good idea.

Depression

I suuuuuuuuuck. I suck I suck I suck. I’m never going to finish a novel. I am just a pretender, a fake. A “real” writer wouldn’t have this problem.

Acceptance

Yes. Something is definitely wrong. Back to the drawing board.

I’ve been working with plot for going on ten years and not only do I have experience with countless writers who’ve hit a wall, but been there, done that and got the t-shirt. In fact, being a person who is obsessed with patterns, my own stalling was part of why I became so fixated on understanding plotting.

It seemed like I’d always go through the same process. First, caffeine. Duh.

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Then….

0-10K Words

I am a frigging GENIUS. THIS, THIS was the idea I’ve been looking for. What was I thinking with all those story ideas?

The words just come pouring out. In fact family members might have to knock you away from your keyboard using a broomstick or a board or some other nonconductive material (similar to rescuing someone who’s grabbed hold of a live power line).

10K-20K Words

All, right. It’s a bit slower, but that is to be expected.

The words are no longer gushing forth with the force of Old Faithful, but water word pressure is still decent enough.

20K-30K Words

Wow, this is getting tough. But, persistence prevails when all else fails. Is that a plot bunny?

Hello, little fellow. Aren’t you cute? Where are you off to?

31K Words

How the hell did an alien invasion end up in my women’s fiction. Right, the plot bunny. Damn.

35K Words

Skip writing and go straight to drinking. And this idea had SO much promise. Maybe that plot bunny was onto something. Perhaps I’m a sci-fi writer. What was I thinking writing women’s fiction?

Begins watching episodes of Ancient Aliens on YouTube.

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It’s okay. It happens to the best of us, even if you happen to be a plotter. Characters misbehave, the story veers off course and now you’re so lost you have no idea what to do.

With a novel? It is tempting to just start something new, but before you give up understand there are some common reasons you might be stuck and some tricks to get unstuck.

Yay!

I don’t like it when pros claim writer’s block isn’t real. It is real. Yes often laziness is mistaken for writer’s block, but sometimes it is our subconscious slamming on the brakes because it knows there is something fundamentally wrong that needs to be repaired. It is keeping us from digging ourselves in deeper by making us stall out.

It’s a Check Engine light and ignore it at your peril.

I also don’t like it when seasoned writers or teachers give the advice to just keep writing. Yes, we need to keep writing, but sometimes that alone isn’t enough.

It’s like the time was tired and accidentally got on the tollway in Oklahoma going north instead of south. If my goal was to eventually get from Tulsa to OKC, then to keep driving north was a ridiculous plan.

Granted it sucked when I snapped to in Joplin, Missouri and I felt more than a little stupid. But the best course was simply to turn around and get going in the proper direction.

Sure if I kept driving, in theory, I could have reached OKC, but maybe I didn’t want to traverse the north and south poles and come up through South and Central America.

Why You Are Stuck

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The biggest reason you might be stuck is you are being a perfectionist. Stop it. Go find your favorite authors on Amazon and read all the one and two star reviews and then you will realize there is no such thing as a perfect book.

Perfect is the enemy of the good.

But, beyond this? Some practical advice:

The Seed Idea

The good news is it might not be your idea. You idea might be perfectly fine, it just maybe was not robust enough to support the story you want to tell. Or maybe it was confusing. It needed more focus. Maybe it was too broad or even too narrow.

This is why I strongly recommend writers creating a log-line. Tell what your story is about in ONE sentence (For more go HERE).

I.e. A fraidy cat romance author must travel to the jungles of South America to rescue her sister from murderous jewel thieves before they chop up her sister and feed her to the alligators.

You guessed it. Romancing the Stone.

When I do my log-line class (one coming up) I can simply look at a log-line and not only tell if a writer is going to have problems, but can also predict what those problems will be.

If you didn’t do one ahead of time, that’s all right. Go back and make yourself create one and then instead of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, you will actually have an actionable plan.

If you have a log-line, go BACK to it. Revisit the story you were wanting to tell in the first place.

The Cast

It might be you’ve miscast your protagonist. Maybe at first it seemed like a good idea, sort of like when the second season of True Detective cast Vince Vaughn as a hard core gangster. Was a nice try, but yeah.

Maybe go swap out some of the major players with a different type of character and see if that helps.

The POV

My first attempts at The Devil’s Dance (at publisher now) were a train wreck. No one liked the female protagonist no matter how many times I rewrote it. So? I switched from third limited to first person and the change in voice alone was enough to solve the problem.

The plot might not be the issue, rather you’ve chosen the wrong POV to tell it in. OR maybe it is the correct POV but just rewriting a chapter or two in a different POV is enough to get you unstuck.

In the end, yes keep writing. No half-finished novel even became a NYT best-seller but a lot of finished sucky ones have. But sometimes, the key to finishing is working smarter not harder😉 .

What are your thoughts? Are you stuck? Do you have other tips for getting unstuck you’d like to share? Did you see yourself in any of this? Do you hit the same benchmarks? It’s kind of spooky isn’t it? I’ve found that it takes about 30K for plot flaws to become a game changer. If the plot is flawed we just won’t see it in only 20 pages.

If my tips aren’t enough, Icy Sedgewick has some different tips in her post How Do You Restart Your Stuck Novel?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, 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).

Check out the other NEW classes below! Including How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis/Query Letter! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

NEW CLASS!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn.

Sign up early for $10 OFF!!!

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 16th

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

Blogging for Authors

September 17th

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

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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37 Comments

Mastering Conflict—Hook Readers & Never Let Them Go

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sharon Mollerus

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sharon Mollerus

Last time we talked about how, if we want to sell more books, we need to give readers what they want—an excellent story. Very often writers believe they need to be clever and deep and super different and while all of that is excellent, it must all be built around delivering a terrific story…not simply being clever for the sake of being clever.

This said, we must always remember the beating heart of every story. Conflict. No heart? The story flatlines.

Conflict is not simply a bad situation.

I often get pages where it is almost like, “And this bad thing happens then the next bad thing oh and another bad thing.” It makes me feel like I’m trapped in a bad action movie.

Oh there’s a fight scene, then a car chase, then another car chase and then another fight and OH! An explosion.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

If you have ever been to any family event, you have all you need for writing great fiction. Lots of personalities, baggage, history, and agendas all piled into one spot and BOOM!

Conflict.

Conflict is what hooks readers and keeps them turning pages. Every single scene needs conflict. Every page should have conflict. One of my personal mottos, is:

Bookmarks=DEATH

We should strive to never ever leave a logical spot to slip in a bookmark. No, we want to torture our readers and keep them up all night and sleep-deprived. We do this with conflict.

Humans don’t like unresolved problems. It is in our nature to want everything sorted out before we can relax. How do we keep readers up all night? Never let everything get completely sorted out.

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Conflict obviously will happen internally and externally. The internal conflict gets center stage in the sequel and external conflict steps up during scenes.

Scenes are defined by action (an outside tangible goal).

The protagonist wants X but then…

Sequels are the spaces between scenes where there is a bit of a breather and the character is internalizing what happened and making a plan of what to do next.

By eventually spacing out the sequels and then removing them altogether is how we as writers can control the pace and ratchet the tension as we careen into the third act. For more on scenes and sequels refer to Anatomy of a Best-Selling Story Part One.

But whether it is a scene or a sequel it must have conflict.

Situation

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Obviously the outside situation might generate conflict (and frankly should).

Example:

Fifi simply must get the deposit into the bank before end of day, but then she ends up trapped in a traffic snarl and gets there right as the motor bank closes.

Question: Are you making it too easy for your character to get from point A to point B? Can you dangle what she wants just beyond reach? Can you insert more misdirection/setbacks?

Personality

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Sure the situation can generate conflict, but our protagonist does not exist in a vacuum. His or her decisions will happen around other people and thus be influenced by them.

Example:

Fifi is a very plain, no-nonsense gal who is Type A and if she isn’t fifteen minutes early, in her mind she is already fifteen minutes late. Unfortunately she opened her cupcake bakery with her little sister who always looks like she fell out of a fashion magazine, who would never dream of going out not looking like a model and who, as a consequence is pathologically late.

Fifi loathes being late.

So not only did Fifi have to get to the bank, she was forced to take her sister because she needed something to be notarized with sister’s signature for the business. Sister was just going to “take a minute to freshen up.” Of course had Fifi’s sister just gotten in the damn car, they would have missed the fender bender that caused the traffic snarl and would have made it to the bank on time.

Question: Who have you cast with your protagonist? Are they too similar? Do they get on too well? Opposites often attract, so who could you cast against your protagonist to make life all that much messier?

Baggage/History

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Clearly you all have baggage (and I don’t mean carry-on only) or you wouldn’t be writers. Great characters have loads and loads of baggage and often that baggage appears during conflict.

Remember that sane and well adjusted people make for lousy fiction unless we cast one of those types and that becomes the source of conflict. But if both people disagree in healthy ways? Snoozefest.

Example:

Fifi: When you choose to do your makeup and hair when you are aware we need to be somewhere, it frustrates me. Your chronic tardiness makes me feel as if you don’t value me or my feelings.

Sister: Well I feel that when you insist on looking like a hopeless frump all the time that you don’t value me. Lord, I have to be seen with you and we could be seeing potential customers for God’s sakes. And for the record, I feel like throat-punching you when you use your therapy speak on me. Is this garbage what you pay all that money for?

Pretty clearly we see there is a lot of baggage here.

Question: In your scenes can you ramp up the tension with barbed mentions of any chronic behaviors? Unhealed psychic wounds? Most people don’t completely operate in the present, the past likes to bum a ride. Are your characters both dealing with disagreements like healthy well-adjusted people? If they are? Stop it!

Worldview

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Remember that there are all kinds of sources for conflict all around us that are natural and organic and don’t seem forced. Age can be a factor. A parent won’t see the world the same way as a child and won’t have the same priorities.

When I am trying to get out the door, my main priority is not whether or not I have packed enough Hot Wheels. For Spawn? That is critical and trust me it creates conflict.

I am a Type A control freak and I loathe being late with the power of a thousand suns. Yet my husband, when we are going somewhere? He has three speeds. Slow, slower, and DEAR FREAKING GOD ARE YOU EVEN ALIVE?

Granted he is good for me. He makes me slow down, pay attention to detail, maybe even *shudders* enjoy the ride…but in the meantime, he’s maddening.

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Yet there is some unspoken law that writers must marry engineers. Seriously, it is freaky.

Opposites attract and yet they also drive each other bonkers.

Question: Can you look at your cast then, using their worldview (age, personality, occupation) use that to create tension?

If you want a REALLY GOOD LAUGH???? Check out this quick video that perfectly illustrates differing world views.

I hope all of this has helped. Remember that yes, we must have a core antagonist who generates the singular story problem in need of resolution, but along the way we will need all kinds of micro-tensions and micro-aggressions to add depth to our story and keep readers riveted.

What are your thoughts? Are you a writer married to an engineer personality? Do you see all kinds of tensions flying about that you now can add to spice up your story? Are you leaving a lot of tension on the table?

If you want to become a master at plotting and tension, check out my Bullies & Baddies class below.

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 novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Check out the other NEW classes below! Including How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis/Query Letter! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

NEW CLASS!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn.

Sign up early for $10 OFF!!!

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

Blogging for Authors

September 16th

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

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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34 Comments

Want to Sell More Books? Give Consumers What They WANT

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Consumers and business models have all changed drastically in the past ten years. This demands that we as authors change as well. There were many elements we never had to think about twenty years ago. It was an agent/editor’s job to think about the consumer climate and whether or not our book would be something readers would want to buy.

There have always been writers too clever for their own good, but in the old model, likely they met with enough rejection to 1) give up 2) rewrite or 3) try again. These days? The onus is on us to give readers what they want.

We have to remember whether it is the book or the blog or even social media, that WE are not important. It is all about the reader and what he/she wants to consume.

A Tale of Two Parsnips

I remember being in NYC for Thrillerfest. It was our final day in the city and we were celebrating a member of our group’s birthday. Since I have a bazillion food allergies, we made plans to eat at a ritzy Asian-Australian “fusion” restaurant and the woman on the phone assured me they could accommodate.

This was a super fancy restaurant and the chef had even once won Iron Chef, so I didn’t eat that day, preparing for my first experience with fine NYC dining.

We get to the ordering and…*screeching brakes*

The chef refused to modify any of the dishes.

He claimed that removing the mashed potatoes (which contained dairy) “ruined the aesthetics of the dish.”

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I wish I were joking.

The waitress kept continually offering me the parsnip soup. I was ravenous and, finally, after fifteen times being offered soup I didn’t want? I lost my temper, scared the waitress and someone somehow convinced the kitchen to create an aesthetically unbalanced plate before I came back there and made an aesthetically unbalanced chef.

Texans. Can dress them up. Can’t take them anywhere.

But this story illustrates my point. We shouldn’t keep trying to serve others something they don’t want to consume.

***Side note: The next year when I returned to NYC? That restaurant was out of business.

Give Customers What They Want to Consume

But I carefully craft all my automated, preprogrammed tweets.

Great, you dressed it up, but it is STILL SPAM.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Neil Motteram

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Neil Motteram

If I don’t want to talk to a robot? Why would other people? If I hate spam? Why serve it? If I loathe being force-added to groups and newsletters and it ticks me off? Might not be a good plan to do to others.

When I wrote my social media book, it was because all the books out there were highly technical, boring and made me want to throw myself in traffic. I knew I couldn’t be alone. Why not write a book that was useful and fun? Repackage a boring topic into something people enjoyed?

***That’s thinking like an entrepreneur, btw😉.

Same with fiction. I didn’t like being forced to read The Great Gatsby (three times too many), so why write books similar to so many of the classics most of us only read because we had to? Guess what? Entertainers are “real” writers, too.

And inevitably I get an intellectual who wants to argue and it’s fine. If we want to write a modern version of Moby Dick, no one will stop us. If we want to write perspicacious prose only a handful of intelligentcia “get”? Write away!

Just don’t complain about sales numbers.

Readers, by and large, don’t want us to show off how clever we are. They want a good story.

Give Readers What They Want In a WAY They Want

We writers can be a hopelessly romantic lot. I get it. We love bookstores and the feel of paper. We don’t mind toting around a hardback so thick we could brain mugger with it. But WE are not everyone. Humans are busy and distracted and they dig e-books and audio and that is a GOOD thing.

I still have no idea why writers are even taking sides on this issue. If my readers want my stories acted out in interpretive dance? They prefer jazz hands over paper? And that could be profitable enough to finance me continuing to write?

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Presentation Matters

Every Christmas, Spawn opens his new toys then we spend the next hour with scissors and kitchen knives trying to break past all the anti-theft crap.

This is how info-dump, fish heads, needless prologues and extraneous flashbacks feel to readers. We have to get past so much stuff to get to what we want, that we move on to novels that don’t make us work so hard to get to the STORY.

One of the reasons I emphasize understanding the craft of writing is that novel/story structure is mythic. There is actually evidence that narrative structure is hardwired into the human brain. Yes, we can break rules and deviate, but we do this too much? We confuse the reader. It’s like serving them a blue steak. Blue steak is certainly clever. And, it could taste great.

But our minds won’t let us eat and enjoy something so very wrong.

But look how CLEVER it is! Really, it's YUMMY.

But look how CLEVER it is! Really, it’s YUMMY.

Keep Writing

Good books are good books, but I’ll be blunt. There are outside factors we can never anticipate.

I actually have a theory that this is part of why 50 Shades of Grey took off when it did. It was racy, mindless junk food that put readers in a world where someone else told them what to do (allowing them to escape from a real world where they have NO idea what to do). Whether the book was good, bad, or terrible made little difference. It clearly filled a need and a market emerged.

E.L. James gave consumers what they wanted.

This is why writing more books is critical. Maybe Book One isn’t selling well today, but in a digital world where shelf space is infinite? Might do better next year. We get better the more we cook write, and odds are, if we do it enough, we’ll discover our readers and they’ll discover us.

Have you ever had someone try to keep giving you something you DIDN’T WANT? A book? Food at a restaurant, bad mojo at a clothing store? Two words. Skinny jeans. Any sociological theories about the success of 50 Shades? Come on! Let’s play armchair psychiatrist! I am not a doctor, but play one on the Internet😀.

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 novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Check out the other NEW classes below! Including How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis/Query Letter! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

NEW CLASS!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn.

Sign up early for $10 OFF!!!

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

Blogging for Authors

September 16th

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

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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37 Comments

Ads are NOT a Brand and Promotion is NOT Platform—Understanding the Difference

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Ken.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Ken.

Very often when I write about brand and platform, writers assume I am talking about promotion and marketing (ads) and that is not only a false assumption, it can be a fatal one. When we hop onto Twitter or Facebook and are barraged with book spam, a big reason it annoys us (though not the only) is because the author is engaging in these activities with no solid brand or platform.

It then either becomes white noise (invisible) or worse an irritation (negative branding). Writers trying to create a brand by serving up copious book promotion will have a brand all right. The brand of self-serving asshat.

The sight of the author’s face or book might even be enough to spike our blood pressure. We are far more likely to block than buy.

Why? What went wrong?

We have to look at what a brand actually IS.

What’s in a Name?

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Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Pierre Lognoul

The formula for a brand is simple:

NAME + PRODUCT + EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE

The last part is critical. In fact it might be the most critical.

Why do you think corporate empires pay so much for image consultants? Sure, Mylan once had a great reputation as a pharmaceutical company until they got greedy and decided to line their pockets at consumers’ expense.

Three years ago if we heard the term “epi-pen” we might have experienced good emotions. Oh it is a life-saving drug. Helping kids with peanut allergies. My cousin had an epi-pen and it saved her life.

Nowadays? Different story. Once we found out the top execs have been giving themselves HUGE pay raises while hiking the cost of the only drug of this kind from $100 in 2007 to over $600 today?

Consumers are now seeing RED.

Seriously all it will take is one competitor to offer something comparable and it might just be enough to bury Mylan because greed is now part of their brand. That will be a tough stain to remove.

Even though they had an amazing product, they took advantage of having a monopoly and fattened their paychecks. I don’t know if there is a PR firm who can ever undo that damage. I’m fairly sure they’re going to be relegated to the Food Lion Dimension of Shame.

This example is to point out how important emotional experiences with a brand can be, that it has never been just the product.

It isn’t just about a good book anymore.

Why Are Brands So Important?

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Most of us don’t have time to research each and every purchasing decision and thus, we as consumers, are prone to rely heavily on brands. Brands let us know what to expect.

When we buy Dolce & Gabbana shoes, we expect a certain quality. We go off the name and do far less inspecting and road-testing than we would for a designer/manufacturer we’d never heard of.

We are willing to order ahead of time and pay full price and even ridiculous prices for Coach, Ralph Lauren, Prada, Versace, Harley Davidson, Porsche, BMW, Mac Computers, John Deer, etc. So on and so forth.

Starbucks is hardly the best coffee, yet they’ve become almost synonymous with “coffee.” They also have branded a “coffee experience.”

But all of these companies (brands) did the same thing. They began with a name. Of course the name means nothing without a product. The name Harley Davidson would be just a name unless it came with motorcycles. But a name and a product alone are not enough.

Harley Davidson then had to go about crafting a unique emotional experience that was unlike its competition.

All of these brands we love have something in common, though. They built the brand and the platform first. Then any advertising or promotion is already advertising an existing brand. When we get a flyer that Levis are on sale, we know what Levis are. How do we know what they are? Levis is a brand.

All of these companies also have a platform.

What is a Platform?

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Alex Santosa.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Alex Santosa.

Platform is tethered inextricably with brand. If brand is the product, then platform consists of those most likely to consume that product because they emotionally identify with the brand.

Trust me, Harley Davison is not worried about consumers who love Vespas. Sure, they are both motorized bikes, but they are selling vastly demographics and experiences.

Authors are doing the same.

We know who Stephen King is because of his brand. Because of his brand (tons of books) we know if we are part of his platform or we aren’t. If we are the type of reader who loves a sweet romance? King isn’t trying to court us. Why? We might know his brand, but we are not part of his platform.

In the old days, there was only one way to create a brand (and consequently a platform) and that was the books. Lots and lots of books (brand) cultivated a body of people who liked our writing/voice (platform). Today that is still a great plan. With so much junk floating around, when readers find a writer they enjoy, they stick like glue.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Craig Sunter

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Craig Sunter

This is one of the main reasons that we need to keep writing. Stop promoting ONE book. ONE book is not enough to create a strong brand/platform.

Remember:

A brand is a collection of emotional experiences.

A platform is simply those who will enjoy that experience.

Modern writers hold the advantage here.

Before the digital age, it was practically impossible to create a brand outside of the books, because the book was the only source of emotional experiences with the author.

Readers rarely had contact with an author beyond the books. Book signings, maybe magazine or radio interviews gave only slight glimpses of the author beyond the book. Today, with social media? That is no longer the case. Every blog, tweet, post, video and interaction serve to create the overall brand.

This is how bloggers like Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess) were able to become runaway successes. Lawson already had a huge fan base from her blogs and her Twitter following before the first book was ever released.

Since we are writers our product is our words. This is how blogging can become such a vital part of our brand. But beyond that, it is also going out on social media (platform of your choice) and connecting. Create a positive emotion that goes hand in hand with our name. 

Hint: Spamming the crap out of people does NOT create a positive experience.

Write More Books

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Thus, whenever I mention building a brand/platform I’m in no way talking about promoting or advertising. Those are separate activities that come later and their success will rest largely on how well we’ve done our job with the brand/platform.

Once we realize this, we can breathe easier and know it is OKAY to keep writing books even if we have no mega-super-duper promotion/marketing/advertising campaign for that first book. It is okay to blog or even just hang out on social media connecting. That is a VITAL part of our job and if we skip it, then any marketing later will fall on deaf ears. In fact premature promotion can actually harm or even KILL a brand.

So relax😀 .

What are your thoughts? Do you feel a little better that you don’t need to rush out with an ad campaign? Did this clear up the differences in brand and platform versus promotion?

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 novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Check out the other NEW classes below! Now including a log-line class! Can you tell me what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t SIGN UP.

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

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

 

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

36 Comments

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